As told to Jo Deahl of BBC 5 live
A few months ago, it occurred to me that I'd been taking a hormonal contraceptive since puberty. I’m 23 now, and had been on the pill since I was 16.
For years I’d whinged about weight gain, spots, low mood, low sex drive – all potential side effects of the pill.
The MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) states that"Psychiatric side effects such as depressed mood, depression and decreased libido are recognised adverse reactions for most hormonal contraceptives."
I realised I had no idea who I was without the pill’s hormones in my body.
A friend suggested I come off it. "What's wrong with condoms?" she asked. I reeled off my usual answers - ruins the moment, bit of a faff, not affordable for a long-term relationship. But then I thought, hang on a minute.
A study by the University of Copenhagen found women who take the combined pill are 23% more likely to use antidepressants. And for those aged between 15 and 19, it's dramatically higher - 80%.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when I started struggling with anxiety and depression.
I was young and in love with my long-term boyfriend, and, at the time, I put my lack of confidence, constant tears and mood swings down to being an emotional teenager.
But it got worse as I got older. I became obsessed with my boyfriend and felt like I couldn’t trust him. I was anxious, and struggled with my new job.
At 20, I was breaking down at work, staying in bed crying for no reason and having panic attacks.
By this stage, I was uncomfortable around my friends and was avoiding them. One of my best friends actually fell out with me because I was always cancelling on her. I turned up at her work with flowers and burst into tears.
Its just so embarrassing to admit you're a mess.
The lowest point came when I was on holiday. I was in Spain, sat in a doorway sobbing and having a panic attack. I was just unable to leave the house.
My boyfriend has always been supportive but he was honest with me, saying, "I just don't know what to do to help." I was just utterly miserable.
When I started having suicidal thoughts, I forced myself to ask my GP for help.
Therapy had a long wait, so I opted for antidepressants and hypnotherapy sessions. Several weeks later, I realised that I hadn't cried for a bit. I got back into a routine, settled into my long-term relationship and life was OK.
But I started wondering. As a 15 year-old I had been full of life. I was keen on rounders, happy with what I saw in the mirror, went to plenty of gigs and parties and spent way too much time on my phone chatting to boys. In my school report I was referred to as 'a popular young lady' who 'loves chatting'. I was unashamedly boy-mad. I was lucky because secondary school was a really happy time for me in terms of learning and making friends. Could coming off the pill return me to my pre-adolescent glory?
In January I stopped taking it. And, because I wasn't taking my daily contraceptive pill, I kept forgetting to take my antidepressants too. By February, I wasn’t taking anything at all. And I was ok. I'm still ok.
But I wasn’t ready to have a baby, so that needed thinking about.
When I started talking about natural contraception, my family was horrified. (My grandma was appalled that I spoke openly about it at all. Grandma, if you're reading this, I’m sorry - but I'm not that sorry, because this stuff needs talking about.)
The natural method is also known as natural cycles, AKA no sex on sexy days, AKA getting in tune with my body’s natural rhythms. It’s NOT about the man ‘pulling out’, or any weird chanting. I simply binned the pills in favour of learning about my body.
Since as early as 300 AD, women have kept track of their own fertility. If you want to avoid pregnancy, you don't have sex on fertile days. If you want to get pregnant, you do. Simple. That’s the theory, anyway. Like any contraceptive method, it doesn’t always work.
Natural methods won’t work for all women. Anyone who has an irregular cycle should be very cautious indeed.Dr Jane Dickson, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health
That said, health groups warn that while these apps might be classified as medical devices, that doesn't guarantee they'll effectively prevent pregnancy. And some experts are concerned there's not been enough research into fertility apps so far.
Dr Jane Dickson is Vice President of the UK's Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health.
"It’s important to treat fertility apps for contraceptive purposes with caution," she says.
"Not a lot of independent research has been undertaken into them. And natural methods won’t work for all women. Anyone who has an irregular cycle - maybe they’ve just had a baby, or they have polycystic ovaries or other hormonal imbalances like diabetes – should be very cautious indeed.
"Natural family planning CAN be as reliable as the pill. But only if it is used perfectly 100% of the time – and that’s hard to do. Any slip ups - you record the wrong temperature, or you just forget one morning - and the failure rate can be up to 24%."
My decision to stop taking the pill has been met with curiosity. Women want to know how it works, and often share their own stories of pill side effects.
My boyfriend is pretty sound about the whole thing. I sent him a text explaining that I was coming off the pill and he was totally fine about it.
I won't be going back on it ever again. I know that for certain. Whether my mood is related to the pill or not, I’m happy now and off anti-depressants.
I feel in tune with my body, and my sex drive and confidence have increased drastically. I actually want do it all the time now, compared to the past when I felt bloated and unattractive.
I still have spots, but I’m a stone and a half lighter than I was on the pill. Is it the pill? Is it just that the new happier me is running around more? I don’t know. But I like it.
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