Better Living Through Chemistry…?

So I’ve noticed something…odd. Ish.

Possibly it’s nothing at all, possibly it is coincidence or good self-esteem or…something or other along those lines, but it has recurred often enough that I am starting to wonder.

About five weeks ago, I had an IUD put in, and went off the pill. I have been on the pill since I was…Fifteen? Sixteen? Somewhere in there. Over half my life, anyhow. Which means that for over half my life, my body has a vague feeling that I’m pregnant, and now it means that my uterus has a vague feeling that I’m pregnant, and the rest of me not so much. I’m on the one with a progesterone thingy in it—didn’t really want to go cold turkey—but even so, I’m getting a much lower dose than I would with a daily pill.

If I needed any proof of this whatsoever, it’s that I immediately started getting acne again. Goddamnit. There ought to be a law—once gravity starts seriously affecting the boob-line, you ought to be done with acne. Seriously.

(It’s not nearly as bad as when I was a young nerd of pockmarked mien, but I notice it.)

I was anticipating brutal mood-swings and so forth, and I did get a twelve-day period out of the deal (o joy, o rapture) but no real problems there.

What I have noticed, however, is that I…err…this sounds corny, but I pass the mirror now and half the time I go “Awww, yeah.” I mean, it helps if I’m wearing clothes, but even so, I feel better about how I look.

I have changed nothing. I have lost less than a pound, well within the slings and arrows of outrageous weight fluctuation. I have been doing a fair amount of manual labor in the garden, but before anyone gets excited about increase in muscle mass, my pants fit EXACTLY the same. I am exactly the same exaggerated hourglass I have been for years. I got big hips, big boobs, and while my waist is substantially narrower, my stomach is about as toned as a goosedown pillow, so there’s some pooch goin’ on.

By standard BMI measurements, I am obese. (Mind you, according to those, I ought to weigh 140, and the only time I got within spitting distance of that, my friends were ambushing me with cheesecakes and words like “drowned rat” were being uttered. I looked badly unhealthy. 165 is more realistically my optimal weight, and I tell you now, it’d be a whole lot of celery sticks before I got down there again.) I’ll give you that I am somewhat overweight and quite definitely out of shape, though, and that certainly hasn’t changed.

And I still see myself in a long tank top and underwear and grin like an idiot. I have to be wearing a decently fitted bra, mind you, but them’s the breaks on this side of DD.

So now I’m wondering if there is some way in which whatever pill I was on was feeding a bit into a negative body image. It’s entirely possible that I’m nuts—it could be nothing more than a long run of good hair days, good boob days, and well-engineered undergarments. It’s not like I NEVER felt that way in the previous two decades, it was just less common. It could be the fact that I am starting to run out of give-a-shit on the body image front—sure, I’m chunky, but I’m a lot of fun and my career is kickin’ ass, and I think that’s probably a lot more fun to grow old with. It could be that I am finally over my ex-husband, who left me for being fat and boring (his words*) and that does tend to screw with you a bit, but hell, the best revenge is living well, or something like that.

But it seems odd that all that would hit in five weeks. One’s emotional growth tends to be a long-term struggle. And my experience with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs are that some very weird internal things that seem like they should be entirely in your head are easily tweaked with chemicals. (Who knew that they made a drug that made you stop having one-sided arguments with other people in your head? And if it hadn’t caused intense nausea, I’d still be on it! That was the quietest things have been in here in twenty years!)

So. Lower progesterone apparently makes me feel better about my body. Who knew?


*In retrospect, our wildly different understandings of “boring” may have been a source of contention. If things were any more exciting, Otter would refuse to go anywhere with me, for fear of a rain of bulls and fishes.

7 thoughts on “Better Living Through Chemistry…?

  1. Cate van Alphen says:

    The pill made me feel heavy and depressed, and now that you mention it – I haven’t had any tears in the bath “I’m so fat” incidents since I stopped taking it (although I am probably fatter now than then). Obviously this was not considered an important side effect to study.

  2. Heidi says:

    I find this observation of yours very interesting. When I was on the pill, I experienced all KINDS of terrifying side effects; cold tingling in my spine, ravenous and insatiable hunger, nausea, etc. Then I later got a copper IUD, reasoning that hormones were out to TAKE ME DOWN and I shouldn’t come anywhere near them without a weapon.

    But I felt a lot of what you’re feeling. I had been losing weight, so it could easily be attributed to a schmancy new body image, but it could be an interesting correlation.

    Once my body had had enough of the IUD, about 11 months into what was supposed to be a 10-year relationship, it kicked it to the curb, so I can’t know the long-lasting effects. I did feel markedly worse after it was gone, but, again, there were many extenuating factors: I was gaining weight again, for one.

    But also, I had to worry about pregnancy! This, for me, was the greatest factor in my feeling fabulously sexy: I could have sex ANYTIME, ANYWHERE (…well), and not have to worry about *shudder* children. Being able to have spontaneous sex without planning for contraception was totally liberating and made me feel like some sort of sun goddess, so maybe that was the euphoric effect of the IUD. For me.

    Glad it’s happening to you though. Sounds super.

    By the way, this is my first time commenting, but I read your blog faithfully and think you must be a fantastically fun person to be around. At the risk of sounding stalkerly, I even live in High Point and ponder sometimes what it would be like to run into you at a bookstore (figuratively).

    I LOVED your Red Riding Hood-inspired story and insisted my husband listen as I read it aloud.

  3. Brigid Keely says:

    A lot of women on hormonal birth control have depression and/or anxiety as a side effect, often low enough to color their lives but not be really noticeable until they’re off the hormones for a bit. Body-related blues can be a part of that.

  4. Kate says:

    I am suddenly pondering what it would be like to go off the pill, now. I’ve been on it for nearly 20 years now (dear gods, I’m coming up on feeling old) and I sometimes worry about long-term side effects.

  5. Helix says:

    Also a bit of a stalkerish lurker – but had to comment as the IUD for that dastardly STD (known as children) is my favorite solution.

    I tried hormonal birth control after my first daughter – and was a stark raving lunatic for about 2 years. Finally, my mother (who is also a big fan of the IUD) suggested I change. Hell, I didn’t even know an IUD was an option!

    I have the copper IUD – no hormones for me, thank you. I love the 99% effectiveness (for me, 100% – no oopsies despite LOTS of opportunity… :P), and love the nothing-to-remember, no hormonal crazies, easy-to-check ease of use.

    Comparing hormonal B.C. (Norplant – what a horrible idea), to the IUD and I can tell you there is a marked difference between how I felt about myself and my body image. As I’ve hit my mid-thirties, I’m now in full swing of hormone peaks and drops and PMS is a wicked, wicked bitch (combated nicely by licorice root tea) and my periods are rougher on me than ever – but I’m loathe to blame it on the IUD just yet. I honestly think it’s more due to my body’s last hurrah before peri-menopause. I’ve considered hormonal birth control again just to even out the roller coaster, but I just don’t want to risk the weight gain and the depression once more. So I’ll deal.

    Love’s me the IUD. Yes ma’am. Best wishes to you on it!

  6. Jenn says:

    I was diagnosed at 15 with polycystic ovaries, and we attempted hormonal contraceptives then to level out my wild hormones – *big* mistake. I had already known I could out-bitch anyone else I knew just before my period, but this was terrible mood swings and irrational behaviour. So we left it alone for a while, and I was like most other teen girls in the Bahamas. Then I went to Canada for college, and between real winter, homesickness and stress, I was a wreck! When I got home, I started what was to be about 8 years of birth control as hormone replacement. And life was good. 🙂 Apart from having to up the dosage when I gained weight, I had a regular cycle with little effort on my part. I realize now that I was probably minimally depressed for part of that time, but I could still enjoy myself.

    Then at the end of last year I got the bright idea that as I wasn’t planning on being sexually active any time soon ( well that didn’t last) I should take the opportunity to see if my own hormones would kick in now. So I went off the pill. And for a little while it was allright. Then I got spotty. I thought ‘Ok, lets see what happens. Use the drugstore stuff.’ Then I realized it had been 2 months since a period. But overall I still felt good, better than when I had been on the pill.

    Then I realized that after 6 months of no pill I had the worst acne of my life. And I finally carried my stubborn self to the dermatologist, and got started on treatment. Now I’m back on the pill (Diane 35), and looking at Retin-A as the last treatment I will try (I’ve refused any form of Accutane). One of these days I will be considered old enough to switch to an IUD (probably with progesterone), but as I’m only 28 that’s not considered an option yet.

    The most interesting thing about all of this, is that when I was off the pill, I felt super sexy, and initially the acne didn’t upset me. Before, there was no way I would have felt that sexy, and the acne would have shattered my confidence. But I gotta admit, I still feel pretty damn hot now too…I guess I learned a few things about myself this time around. And I’m grateful that I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. 🙂

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