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When Birth Control and Anxiety Meet

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January 19, 2018

When I arrived for my first appointment with Kansas State’s Counseling Services in October 2017, I cradled an iPad in my hands and filled out a digital intake form. It asked me how concerned I was about certain factors in my life, like my anxiety symptoms, personal relationships, relationships with my body image and food, and all that jazz. When asked about medications, I reported just one: the allergy medicine I’ve been taking since I was a child. I forgot to mention my NuvaRing; it was a new medication and, since it is not a pill, I forget it is actually a medication.

I wish I had mentioned it. Maybe my semester would have been smoother.

I have not been diagnosed with general anxiety or anything of the kind, but I do struggle with it from time to time. Last fall, my anxiety had been the worst it has ever been. I chalked it up to having a harder class schedule and taking on more responsibilities at my job and in other groups I am a part of. To alleviate the load, I resigned from one of my positions in September, but my mind kept telling me I had no time in the day to finish everything I needed to do. I would worry myself to sleep, dreading the day ahead with so many things on my plate and no time at all to do them.

Of course, I had time to finish homework and even relax on most days. But, I entered Counseling Services mid-semester to help myself deal with my anxiety.

Now, I cannot believe that I had not considered that my birth control could have amplified my anxiety. I started using the NuvaRing in July 2017, and my experience with it over several months was fairly positive. I felt protected, I didn’t need to take a pill every day, it was inexpensive, and I had less pain during my period. However, I never made that connection between a new medication and a rise in my anxiety. In fact, I thought it would make me less anxious since I would be less worried about getting pregnant.

Things didn’t click until after I switched birth control methods.

In early December, I spent about a week off hormonal birth control before receiving a Nexplanon implant. Though I had (nearly) no qualms about the NuvaRing, I knew that I wanted a long-lasting birth control method. Now that I have had the implant for several weeks, I have had less anxious thoughts, and when I do feel anxious and scared, I have been able to ground myself and help myself feel better — partial credit for that feat goes to my therapist.

I visited Counseling Services about five times between October and December. I don’t regret going to therapy — my therapist showed me some great ways to help manage my anxious thoughts — but I can’t help wondering that if I wasn’t using NuvaRings, would I have gone to therapy at all?

I really started thinking about this after reading Sindha Agha’s op-ed “Birth Control Your Own Adventure.” She writes about her experience with endometriosis and how different birth control methods affected her mental state. She tried the NuvaRing, among many other methods: “And the NuvaRing gave me generalized anxiety so severe and intolerable that after three months of ‘See how you feel,’ I threw all my rings in the trash … ”

To me, this made a lot of sense.

Agha recalled how each type of hormonal birth control affected her, and eventually she was prescribed a medication to help manage the anxiety symptoms caused by her birth control. “I had been waiting for ‘See how you feel’ to pass, waiting to get used to how I felt. Now I realized that maybe these side effects were not the sort of thing I could ever expect to get used to.”

I agree with the statement she ends her op-ed with: “Yes, I deserve birth control, but I also deserve better birth control.”

We need to emphasize that, even though effective birth control is a great medical achievement, not every method will work for everyone. We need to understand that these medications can affect us in negative ways, as any medication can. However, there is a line. I’m glad I realized that my NuvaRings were making my anxiety worse. Otherwise, I may have dealt with those side effects for even longer. And frankly, I shouldn’t have to put up with that.

I hope that birth control research can continue to improve and expand, hopefully leading to more effective, affordable options with minimal side effects. When birth control and mental wellness intersect, there shouldn’t be a need to compromise on either end.

 

Image via Pixabay.