Coming off the pill

This is something I had been thinking of doing on/off for the last few months.

I hadn’t really done much about it, because, you know, life..

But my housemate recently recommended ‘How the pill changes everything’ which I blitzed through in a few days on Audible. And it was pretty eye-opening.

One of the interesting points raised towards the end of the book is about how easy it is for women to get their hands on synthetic female sex hormones (which is effectively what they are) with not much thought about what effects it has, in contrast synthetic male sex hormones are banned in sports and incredibly hard to get your hands on because of the effect it has on men. Why the difference?

My pill history

I have been on a few different pills since my teens with varying degrees of success (well I didn’t get pregnant so I guess they have all been “successful”).

The first pill was Cileste, I had massively bad, low mood swings on these, I couldn’t stop crying.

Swiftly moved onto Marvelon, which was terrific for me, then after about 5 years my Doctor (who I don’t go to anymore, but who I am very surprised hasn’t been struck off with the amount of bad experiences people I know have had with him, but I digress..) told me Marvelon wasn’t available anymore but Gederal was, the same active ingredients, I was told, so I wen’t on that.

I don’t remember too much what my moods were on it, as a few years later I came off the pill completely for four years.

That was until March 2017, when I started seeing someone, it seemed like it was heading into a serious direction so I went back on Gederal. To begin with, I didnt notice the effects so much, I did notice some tiredness creeping in, but that was usual around my period/break week for me anyway.

That relationship didn’t last any longer than a month, so I came off briefly for a few months, until I started another relationship in the Autumn of that year, the energy dip was noticeable but I just didn’t make the connection. I also had some physical issues occur, like a very bad eczema flare up, I also felt like I had ‘burnt out’.

Unfortunately that relationship did not last either, and I think partly due to the fatigue and pain I was in from the eczema, less than two months later I was diagnosed with depression.

It was after this I noticed that halfway through the pack each month I’d pretty much have an emotional breakdown.

After around 5 months I went to the doctor having read about depression and mood swings on Gederal. I asked what was available similar, and that was when I discovered that Marvelon hadn’t been discontinued like my crappy old doctor claimed.

My mood swings disappeared after switching, but my skin was not happy. Fast forward 18 months later and here we are!

My plan is to update this regularly (or when I remember)

Week one – w/c 25th May 2020

So I have been weirdly excited about coming off having read about other women’s experiences about feeling like emerging from a fog.

I actually had some cramping in the lead up to coming off the pill which happens only very rarely.

I do tend to feel a bit less fuzzy during this week and a lot less apathetic than the rest of the month.

Which was one of the things that they mention in ‘How the pill changes everything’ that you don’t really feel excited about anything. So it will be interesting to see as this goes on if there is a change in that respect there for me.

This week is a bit moot in a way though as this would have been my usual ‘break’ week anyway.

It will be next week and the week after I imagine I’ll start seeing/feeling the differences.

Week two – w/c 1st June 2020

In the second week I started noticing that I was sleeping deeper, I have always had this issue of only getting into deep sleep at 4-5am which has often left me feeling fatigued and foggy during the day (well most days to be honest) so that’s a massive bonus.

I have also noticed my skin is improving, I have had a few spots, which I totally expected but these have been really minimal tiny ones and nothing like the deep cystic acne I have been enduring on/off the last few years. Also the texture/tone is improving every day. I know its early on in the process so we shall see.

I also feel like I have a bit more gumption, I was quite firey in my 20s and it just seemed to disappear. It kind of feels like the fog is lifting a bit. Which is great (although maybe not for everyone else).

I would also like to mention which vitamins and minerals I am taking to help with the transition, and it’s essentially all the ones the birth control depletes; zinc, magnesium, vitamin b6, vitamin a, vitamin d, folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin k, co enzyme q10 and fish oil for the omegas.

Yup the pill depletes all those. Crazy.

I have also started an Iodine supplement, which I have noticed a big change in my skin, and it’s not one you really think about, but I noticed a difference within a few days. A lot of people in general, not just those on the pill are deficient in iodine.

I have also been adding milk thistle powder to my breakfast to aid my liver in balancing my hormones.

Week three – w/c 8th June 2020

We’re into week three and my appetite has ramped up big time! Clearing plates of food I would usually leave half of. This is good for me as I am trying to put weight on anyway. And because I am eating more, I have noticed my energy increasing.

My skin has been up and down too, started the week with a few spots on my cheek but they have mostly gone, I do think the iodine is helping my skin heal faster, so thats a bonus, and its just not as dull either, I think the sebum production has gone down, I did have sone dry patches on my chin so I need to keep an eye on that.

Mood wise, I have felt very calm, I didnt realise until I came off but, it feels like a constant vice like pressure in my head has been released. It’s really the weirdest thing. I also feel I am starting to be more expressive with how I talk, and just generally a bit more vibrant.

So still so far so good! Lets see what week four has in store.

Week four – w/c 15th June 2020

I started week four with a small blemish outbreak, these were not cystic acne though, more surface level white head break-outs.

It’s probably worth noting I started using Bakuchiol around a month a go which acts like retinol and encourages skin turnover, so it could well be purging. Either way it’s still way more manageable than the cystic stuff I had on the pill.

I also take iodine drops and it seems to help my skin heal a lot quicker.

I am really trying to manage my expectations too, I know it can take 3-6 months for my body to rid itself of the hormones from the pill so skin fluctuations are to be expected.

The upside is that I am really sleeping deeper and finding it easier to get up in the mornings, I also am starting to feel my energy return. I really can’t emphasise the better sleep enough.

I also feel I am more emotionally responsive to things now, just reading about a sad story means I have tears in my eyes, whereas before I’d have to be really worked up to cry. Also, just feel much more positive as a person too. It feels like shedding an old skin off in an emotional sense.

Still very much hungrier than before and perhaps thats where I am getting that extra energy. Good all the same.

I do keep getting lower pangs, but as this will be my first proper period after three years its no surprise.

Week five – w/c 22nd June 2020

Week five started with my skin a little broken out from the week before, but everything is healing much quicker, and any acne I am getting are very surface level small white heads, way more manageable than what I have been experiencing over the last 3 years.

Mood wise I have felt in a pretty good mood this week, and I think this is from sleeping much deeper, it seems to be improving week on week, now even if I dont get 8-9 hours sleep I can still get up and do a full day without a constant jet lag feeling.

I also feel more me, that is obviously much harder to quantify than anything else, just a better sense of self, and much less anxiety about expressing that, I feel like my humour is returning, and just more comfortable in my own skin. It’s like I’ve taken off an ill fitting and constraining coat but it was low level anxiety. It’s freeing.

Still no period though.

Week six – w/c 29th June 2020

My skin started off the week pretty good but I made it worse using a new foundation which clogged my pores, so still a bit congested I am afraid.

However my period arrived this week, hurrah, but it arrived on my birthday, boo.

The first day was OK but the rest have really made me feel fatigued and just low in energy, I have also noticed my deep sleep isnt as good either.

My mood has been pretty normal but I do think the tiredness has overruled any fluctuations anyway.

I seem to be much hungrier in the mornings but not so much in the evenings, its almost as if I have to do all my eating before 5pm, a bit old persony!

In a way I am glad it finally appeared on my week off, but, I have felt incredibly weary and mustering up energy has been much harder than usual.

Now its time to see how long its going to last for!

Week seven – w/c 6th July 2020

Not entirely sure where seven weeks has disappeared to but here we are.

I feel like things have settled now I am nearly 2 months off the pill, I feel much more calmer, I feel more awake, and my energy is increasing all the time.

The main thing to write home about here is my skin, it hasn’t been this happy in such a long time, even my mum said that my skin was looking like it had colour, and you know its massive when mothers say these things!

The other thing I am pleased about it is that I have finally put some weight on, and my appetite is much healthier now, I am finding that I am eating everything on the plate and even going back for seconds now, so it is clear to me now what a detrimental effect the pill was having on my overall health and mental wellness.

Week eleven – 3rd August 2020

There was a gap in updates because to be honest, I had plateaued with benefits I had noticed.

I’m still waiting for my second period to arrive, which I am finding frustrating.

I also had a week of terrible acne, which I tried to be patient with when it was healing but it seemed to be taking an age. It’s mainly gone now, but that was an annoying week.

One thing I have done, and now in my second week of (so early days) is eating healthier, my breakfast stays the same as it was already healthy but lunch and dinner have now been upgraded, and to primarily plant based stuff (I still have some meat, I just feel better when I am eating it regularly than when I don’t at all).

I definitely feel much better overall, I don’t have this lurking sick feeling I always had, and once I get up the tiredness seems to disappear until the evening.

I do have sad days now I am off, just feeling forlorn for no reason, but seems to only last 2/3 days tops and then goes. This is much better than the deep mood swings I had on the pill. Just pits of despair really, they were not fun.

One other thing I have noticed, is my self esteem seems to have increased, which is a weird by product of coming off. Situations I would usually get stuck on and replay constantly just doesn’t happen anymore, so that’s an odd, but good thing.

Edit – 4th Aug

Just a quick update as my period actually arrived today, along with some melancholy. So currently seem to be on a 35 day cycle at the moment, but it can take a few months to settle.

Week 12 – 10th August 2020

The last week again has been pretty much level, I did start to listen to ‘beyond the pill’ which tells you how to combat any depletions caused by being on the pill.

It comes with a quiz in which you tick which statements you agree with the most, the category with the most agreed statements is what your main issue is. Mine is low cortisol, so I have added some extra supplements to help with, what is essentially adrenal fatigue, b2 and b5 and I have stopped taking folic, but I may start again.

My skin isn’t very happy this week, and I think its been to do with the stress of losing the family dog last week, I hadnt slept properly for around 8 days, and sleep does play a big part in my skin health for me, as does stress, my skin is very reactive to it.

So hopefully the next few weeks will see it calm down, especially as I now have two weeks off!

Week 15 – 31st August 2020

This week my third proper period started, what was interesting about this month was that I didn’t have the sad days during my ovulation stage I had the last two cycles, and the spots are much smaller again. So it looks like cystic acne absolutely was caused by being on the pill.

One other thing I noticed is that the melasma that I had at the beginning of spring has totally disappeared and I have been out walking in the sun a lot this month.

I have also been out and about a lot more too, so feeling like I have more energy to meet up with people, but I do still feel a blanket of fatigue, which I have had for probably the last 5/6 years but has worsened over the last 3.

I am going for a blood test next week and they are doing a fully comprehensive test from iron, to inflammatory markers.

That means I can’t take my supplements for the next 5 days which will be interesting to see how I feel doing that.

Because I have a garmin fit bit type thing, I have also noticed that my heart rate increases about 4/5 days before my period, and goes back to normal the last day of it. So that will be interesting to keep an eye on when I am expecting it to arrive. It will go from around 57 bpm to 65 bpm.

I also felt like I have been hit by a truck on my third period, it feels like a real normal period and I have zero energy and feel a bit sick on this one. Fun times.

Week 25 – w/c 9th November 2020

Hooo boy, have I been hit with hormonal acne or what?

About two weeks ago my skin just flared, and I have been battling it ever since.

What’s annoying about this was I thought I had got past it as had 2 maybe three spots going on at the time, how I’d like to go back to that point in time!

I retook the hormone imbalance test on the audio book ‘beyond the pill’ and my issues are:

Too little oestrogen

Too little testosterone

Too little cortisol

Thyroid hormone issue

So I have started back on the ashwagandha in my daily nut/fruit smoothie, I’m taking maca and have just started on black cohosh. We will see if they help at all.

The upside of this is that I have realised the hang up I have with my teeth is just bad habit rumination, now I have bigger issues to deal with I realise that actually I have a nice smile. And the dark circles? What a plum!

Just a shame I am now a pizza face.

Week 28 – w/c 30th November

So my hormonal acne seems to have died down and I am now just dealing with fading the red marks left behind (which is getting there with 47 Skin silver peel mask and Medik8’s Crystal Retinol).

I also had no new spots during ovulation this month which has been great. But, what I have noticed is increased PMS symptoms, nothing too much but I have had some massive fatigue, where about 5/6 days before my period all I wanted to do was sleep the whole day, oh and I was grumpy as heck too!

Some new additional issues that I had was that I started to spot about a week before my period this month, but not sure if that was to do with the black cohosh or not? I did have a few uncomfortable cramps but nothing horrendous.

What is also new is that the day my period started, I actually felt a flush of energy, which has never happened to me before and just felt super good in myself.

Not only that but I actually feel like I am started to enjoy life again, properly. I mentioned some weeks ago that I felt like a veil of apathy had been lifted, but this week I laughed without worrying about something in the back of my head and just felt very much more in the present, it has been such a long time since I felt like that.

Dare to dream that my hormones are balancing out already? We’ll see!

Week 32 – w/c 28th December 2020

OK so one thing I have become aware of over the last few months is my ‘normal’ PMS symptoms, I am just grumpy for no good reason, also my appetite just drops too, which is weird.

Along with being grumpy, I’m finding a week and a bit before my period starts that my energy massively drops too, this is in contrast to when my period does actually start and suddenly its a boost of energy and this sort of weird relief of my PMS symptoms.

Skin wise, I have had around 3 ‘blind spots’ appear overnight as my period started, so thats obviously the drop in oestrogen, however the eruption of spots I had back in October has stopped, and its healing nicely with some additional skincare products high in cica as well as the retinol.

I’m so happy with the colour of my skin now, its no longer pasty and ill looking but much brighter. A few more months and I think we’ll be in a much better place, and my hormones seem to be on the right track too. So happy new year to me.

Super late update: Week 71 – w/c October 4th 2021

So it’s been a very long time since I updated this last, for good reason. I had plateaued massively after coming off the pill, no positives or negatives.

However I wanted to let you know something that I have found super helpful to me.

1) vitamins – as you know I have been taking various supplements throughout this journey but I have found that b6 and selenium have massively helped my skin, almost within a week.

2) eating to the infradian/menstrual rhythm, so each part of your menstrual cycle (follicular, ovulation, luteal and menstruation) requires different nutrients and I have found it really improved my mood, my sleep and helped a little with my skin.

I also found different herbal teas helped, such as nettle, burdock, schisandra berry, tulsi, hibiscus and pau d’arco

3) for topical use on skin I have found 2% bakuchiol oil to be my holy grail, it’s really brightened my skin and help to exfoliate without drying or peeling my skin which is already dry and sensitive.

One of the things that has been so incredibly clear about this journey of the last 18 months is that I really was not connected to my body or what it needed with the synthetic hormones, I am now much more balanced emotionally, have a clearer mind and feel much more in tune with my body.

If you are thinking about coming off the pill or on this journey I recommend the below.

  • how the pill changes everything by dr sarah hill
  • my flo app which gives you advice on what to eat during your different cycles of the month
  • supplements/diet/herbal teas

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