We come bearing an apology and a very, very tardy column. A bit late for PASH to be ringing in the New Year, right? Let’s just say that we’ve been woefully lacking in muses here on the production side of things. But, with the support of the PASH team and my amazing, patient, absolute saint of an editor, on this fine Tuesday morning, I will be sharing a story with undoubtedly a little TMI: what led me to realize that I was having an adverse reaction to my birth-control pill.
It was the April of my first year at Duke, and there was this guy. He had a smile that lived on his whole face, cheeks kissed with dimples, and he made me laugh. So, naturally, I sped to Student Health as fast as my little freshman legs would carry me and requested that I be prescribed The Pill. I was surely on the cusp of a new chapter of life, and whatever decision I made, I wanted to feel safe making it. Turned out to be a false alarm on the whole new chapter of life thing. Things didn’t work out, and a month later, $179 was unceremoniously billed to my mother’s insurance, my own university apparently being an “out-of-network provider.” But, I decided to keep taking the pill, now prescribed by my friendly in-network gynecologist, because birth-control could regulate my periods and help with acne, and I certainly wouldn’t be saying no to less cramps and clear skin. It continued to be a staple of my daily routine throughout sophomore year, which is why it took me so long to realize that something was wrong.
I love my parents so, so much. However, there is one wrong they’ve committed that I have yet to forgive: choosing Ohio as the venue of my childhood. Ah, I jest. However, it speaks for itself that the most Black people my own age that I’ve seen in a single place is at Duke. The bar for a diverse environment is on the floor, to say the least. But, I was ecstatic—at long last, I was surrounded by peers who shared my lived experience, as they’d lived some iteration of it themselves. I think I was so busy breathing in the collectiveness of it all—those group brunches at Marketplace and arrivals to parties en-masse—that I didn’t notice the small, intimate cliques come into being. Until I found myself on the outside looking in: staring at laughing groups of girls, at friendships that I seemed to have missed my invitation to. I pored frantically over every aspect of my self and appearance, inventoried every contour and crevice of my personality. Because that’s where the answer was, I was sure. That I wasn’t pretty enough, funny enough to be friends with. That I wasn’t enough of anything to be worth knowing.
Loneliness is something impossibly sticky, something that leaves you completely powerless, because it’s inescapable until someone else saves you from it. It hurt every day, until eventually it felt like there was nothing left of or for me. That’s when COVID hit. We were sent home and told that we couldn’t even return for our clothes. While life as we knew it fell to ruin, all I felt was relief.
At home, I reached a cautious equilibrium. I didn’t wake up in tears every day. I was laughing again. Like I was back in my body instead of watching someone else move my limbs. But, I was different. In the past, I’d completed an art portfolio for my high school capstone project, and yet now, I couldn’t bring myself to hold a colored pencil between my fingers, much less create anything. I didn’t read, couldn’t fathom journaling and wouldn’t be bothered to leave the house. I was suddenly disinterested in the sum of things that made me myself. For a long time, I thought that this was just what life was like, what the world did to you after you’ve lived in it for a certain number of years.
When an in-person biology lab compelled my return to campus this semester, I found that the guy I liked was happily in a relationship. Ouch. It then hit me: there was absolutely nothing on my horizons that would necessitate me to take birth-control. And what if the self I’d been living with for the better part of a year and a half, the one without energy, without hobbies, without hope for good things, wasn’t really me? So much changed situationally for me sophomore year, which, birth-control or not, would have precipitated depression. But in the time since, my environment had changed for the better. Why did I still feel this way? Could it possibly be the birth-control? Crudely testing my theory, I stopped taking the prescription cold-turkey in the middle of the monthly cycle. And in the two weeks since, I’ve felt that quiet thrum of contentedness, the one I thought I’d never feel again, return to my chest. I wake up and have things to look forward to—not just sleep. Stopping my hormonal-based pill was the best decision I could have made for myself.
Please don’t go and say that the Vice President of PASH has told you that birth control is bad and to stop taking it. Birth-control provides freedom, autonomy, and agency. It allows you to engage in pleasure without compromising what you want from life and when. But it’s also a medicine. And medicine always comes with side effects. On the pamphlet attached to my prescription, which I still have a month and a half’s supply of, listed under the heading “Less Common Side Effects,” there it was: “Depression, especially if you have had depression in the past. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have any thoughts of harming yourself.” That’s exactly what I didn’t do: call someone.
When you look up “birth control and depression”, you find articles titled, ”No, your birth control won’t cause depression” and directly below, “Possible links between birth control and depression”. Who do you listen to when the evidence is mixed? Well, your body. You’ve lived there your whole life, haven’t you? No matter how rare the incidence of a side effect is, if it’s listed, it has happened to somebody. Don’t believe that the somebody can’t be you. If you feel like something is wrong at any point while taking a prescription, let someone else in, especially the person who prescribed it. If I had, perhaps two and two would have come together sooner. Oh, also, under less common side effects, “Problems tolerating contact lenses” is listed. If that’s you and you had no idea that it could possibly be related to birth-control, consider this fate and call your gynecologist.
PASH is a student-run organization providing resources for sexual health and relationship-building. Their column, “Let’s talk about ‘it,’” runs on alternate Mondays. This column was written by Carly Jones, a Trinity junior and Vice President of PASH.
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