Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Missed Pills

Today I came across an article about a study conducted at the University Of Massachusetts that found that women who take in a good amount of vitamin D through foods, sunlight and supplements experience a 70% decrease in PMS symptoms. The study apparently focussed on women who felt their PMS interfered significantly with their lives. The research is part of a wider study into how vitamin D effects women's mental health as a whole.

This interested me as I have mentioned before how the birth control pill creates vitamin deficiencies through its impact on the metabolic system. When taking the Pill the body is unable to absorb the necessary vitamins, so although eating healthily is never a bad thing, it won't alleviate the effects of the Pill on your general health whilst you are still taking it. However, as I've also said before, getting a good lot of vitamins in general can help you overcome the withdrawal problems when coming off the Pill.

The emotional changes provoked by Pill taking can be traced back in part to deficiency in vitamin D. In flattening out the monthly rise and fall of hormone levels, the Pill could be understood as decreasing the possibility of PMS - which is effectively created by changes in these levels before menstruation. But, as many of us know, the Pill can make you feel as though you are experiencing PMS all the time. In fact, that is how my nightmare with Yaz began, starting out with what I saw as very bad PMS - anxiety, sensitivity, rage - around the time before my withdrawal bleed, and then spreading out over the entire month until I felt like that every day to a rapidly worsening level. And of course, because the feelings are not PMS as you know it, in that it is not predictably timed, nor is it moored to any kind of reality, it is frightening and debilitating.

Of course, there are other factors involved - the flattening of the hormone levels in itself, the lowering of testosterone levels - but vitamin deficiency plays a part in mood changes, along with increasing fatigue and generally feeling less than vital and well. Yaz in particular is mentioned in the article as a drug often prescribed to combat PMDD - essentially understood as a severe level of PMS. The piece points out that increasing intake of vitamin D is better than taking this Pill, as there are no side effects.

I have long wondered if the current sun-phobia that keeps everyone in the shade and under hats and on sunlight watch constantly due on fear of skin cancer has some part in the increase of depression and depressive problems. It sometimes seems like people have understood sunbathing with caution to mean never going out in the sun at all.

The article also raised some questions for me. First of all, obviously in its wording, and in the study's emphasis, the suggestion is that PMS not only exists as a 'disorder' or an 'illness' that needs treatment, but also that it is generally a negative experience that women do not want to have to undergo. Previously I have written about the invention of PMS as such, and how it came about at a useful time when it was necessary that women's abilities be undermined and women be sent into their homes to remain as homemakers and mothers, giving the post-world war two work back to the returning soldiers.

I have experienced what I would consider to be PMS I suppose, but rather than interfering with my life it appears to give me clarity on situations, and basically make me less tolerant of those situations that I feel are injust somehow. I just lose my patience with towing the line and keeping quiet and making compromises. I do get more angry than I normally would, and can see now into my fifth natural cycle off the Pill, that I get more intolerant of people around me. I can also see now that although my Yaz experience seemed like PMS spreading out over the whole month how I felt bear very little relation to real PMS which when it comes on, predictably, is actually pretty enlightening.

The issue here I guess is that there are women who experience extreme tension, anxiety and depression before their period - and I mean real period, not the fake Pill-induced kind - and they need to be acknowledged. There are also women who experience very painful periods who also need to be acknowledged. The Pill does not help with either of these problems however, but only masks the symptoms. It is therefore good to here that research is being done into possible treatments as alternatives to taking the Pill.

Increasing your vitamin D intake isn't going to hurt either way, and according to the study you'll still have 30% of your PMS to deal with. For ten years I was happily giving up my entire natural cycle and replacing it with the synthetic hormones of the Pill - now nearly five months off the Pill I have issues with even giving up the agitation and anger that comes just before my period. Despite my initial reservations, as I said my periods as a teenager were painful, heavy and pretty difficult, my cycle at 27 years old is a whole other experience.

As the study I cited found, young women's cycles take a few years to settle and regulate out. Prescribing the Pill to girls at fourteen is preventing them from finding this out, amongst of course a whole host of other things the Pill prevents. Perhaps if women were allowed to know more about their cycle and how their hormone levels change then PMS would be less intolerable in general, it would not be something happening to them, but something their body is doing that is natural, and possibly useful. I am not belittling any woman's experience, I am only championing the fact that the Pill really isn't the answer to horrid PMS or heavy periods and there are other options for dealing with this that should be tried out, or at least given a platform, rather than sunk beneath the promotion of the Pill as a cure-all.

I watched Diana Fabianova's documentary The Moon Inside You yesterday. It raised some subjects that I have not yet tackled here. I am always reluctant to come across as too hippy-ish when talking about women's natural cycles, periods and the like. Mostly because I am not at all hippy-ish and usually feel quite alienated by that sort of discussion. By which I mean the kind of discussion in which periods are celebrated and PMS is about female intuition and all women are connected to nature and we are special...And yes I completely acknowledge the reasons for why I may feel alienated by that talk, being that it is a sidelined perspective, likely deliberately undermined publicly and in fact called 'hippy-ish' in an effort to undermine its meaning. And yes it probably has a lot to do with how I see myself as a woman and how I understand being female, and how all that is certainly effected by living in a society that is hostile to femininity and female-ness. However, I also know that most twenty-something year old women feel the same and so I like to avoid going to far down that path.

That said, the documentary brought up how the social silence about periods - it was mostly about how women see their periods, and how society sees women menstruating - effectively isolates women from each other. We have all heard that anecdotal story about how women in the same college dorm, or the same shared house will eventually synchronize their cycles to have their periods at the same time. I have no idea if this is right, despite having attended an all girls' school for my whole teenage life, and a girls' college for one year, but even if it isn't there's something to be said for how the biological experience should make us feel some kind of unity. It is a shared experience, and it is something women do that men don't.

If we talked more openly about our experiences, rather than just placing them under banners such as PMS or using euphemisms, then we might find the natural cycle more interesting, feel more connected to our bodies and therefore our selves and our female-ness. Perhaps then we might feel more confident about being women and struggle less with the idea. But if this were to happen then it could be threatening to the status quo, and for it to happen we would need outside approval - like social acceptance. Or would we? Maybe women could come to the point without having to wait for society to decide that natural cycles are interesting, or even at least healthy, and that periods are not disgusting or dangerous. Perhaps women could do so by having a mass ditching of the Pill for good.

The documentary also pointed out that with each new cycle there's a possibility for reinvention inherent in the change. If you want to see it that way, you can, like the energy women can get after their period, which for some is a time of reflection, along with the PMS and its intolerance, could be seen as an opportunity for getting stuff done, and action and dynamism. It could be seen as a time to start afresh, with a changed perspective, or an altered perspective on what you want to do, need, and backed up the ability to make that happen. I can certainly relate to the change in energy, and the heightened level of concentration and clear thinking also.

This idea of change is the opposite of the status quo. By the status quo I mean the way things are in the world today - how society is structured, how women are treated, how women see themselves. The structure of how the world is necessitates for its perpetuation that we do not see the need for change, or at least the changes we see the need for are minimal (or rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as I like to say). Politicians may talk about change and gear people up with excitement about it, but real change is hard to come by, and when it comes down to it, most of the changes are poor substitutes for the real potential that exists. If things get to stay as they are, the people who are rich get to stay rich, the people who are poor get to stay poor and so on.

Essentially we could see women's natural cycle and that sense of flow and change that comes with it as threatening to the way things are. And if women were to become properly aware of that sense of change it could be even more threatening. If all the women on the Pill came off it and started to find their cycle interesting then perhaps that would be seen as a problem.

Aside that is from all the other problems it would cause - like all the money the pharmaceutical industry would lose. Women not on the Pill would be released from the depressive impact on their mood and well being, firstly. Then they would experience their natural cycle and maybe talk about it and maybe like it, and then they could see their reproductive abilities differently and start questioning how women's role in society has been created and the skewing of the understanding of these abilities. If coming off the Pill can be life-changing, as one commenter wrote here, and as I would agree, what does that mean when lots of women decide to stop?

The documentary went on to discuss the idea of collective consciousness as related to women's natural cycles. Consumerism is helped by isolating people - that's pretty basic analysis, but it's true. Isolated people buy more stuff. The Pill shuts down a collective experience. Collective experiences, and the collecting together of people, is essential to any kind of rebellion or change - in order in a sense for anything to change.

One interviewee in the documentary used very un-hippy-ish language to talk about the promotion of the Pill. He stated that the Pill was effectively society's way (and I really don't see it as men's way, because I think the economy and the structure although dominated by men, is not their 'fault' as such) of reprogramming women to fit into its established structure. The natural cycle is a source of change, flow, collective experience - it is connected to the natural world, to women's power in reproduction - and so society did not want to incorporate it, instead it had to be shut down, cancelled out, forgotten, sunk.

The interviewee also said that it was implemented in order to make women 'more like men' - obviously not quite how it works as men still get to have all kinds of natural hormone changes - but I can see where the idea is going. The masculine was acceptable, whereas the feminine was only faulty masculinity, or a disease. Masculinity and the appropriated traits of this, were understood as foundational to society - although it could be argued that the structure is based on inhuman (not male or female) elements. Either way, it initially needed to keep men dominant over women. Natural cycles were a threat to this on all kinds of levels. The Pill helped women enter the male workplace, and be accepted into the male world, but in disconnecting women from themselves, their bodies and each other, the Pill helped perpetuate the male-dominated social structure, by preventing awareness of potential for change and other ways of living, as well as prevention of awareness between women of themselves as a race.

I came across an article in the San Jose State University publication, The Spartan Daily, entitled 'Skipping the Contraceptive Pill: Rebel With Michelle.' I like the way the title turns around all the paranoia about women missing pills in a month which is inspiring this drive to get those women on to long-acting hormonal methods like the hormonal IUD, injection and implant. And I like the way stopping taking the Pill is being discussed as 'rebellion' as that is what it is in that Pill-taking has become socially encouraged, with women seeing the Pill as their only option and the only sensible, responsible contraceptive method to use. There is a situation to rebel against, an oppressive force that in stopping the Pill women are fighting against.

So, the article is written by Michelle Gachet who claims that the Pill turned her into 'an emotional psycho' as a result of the 'hormonal game' the Pill was playing with her body. Her decision to come off the Pill was influenced by her reading about the development of the male Pill. She decided she didn't want to be the 'only one in the relationship with the wacky crying episodes.' Michelle got frustrated with the fact that she lives in a world in which men get to ask, 'did you remember to take your Pill today?' as though it were normal, natural, required.

I am unsure of her feelings only in that I would in no way encourage the development of a male Pill and have no desire for men to experience the side effects such a drug would certainly hold. In my last post I suggested the suppression of libido that would occur is interesting to consider on a philosophical level - in terms of what such an impact en masse might bring about - but I would not, even in my anger at how women are pushed the female Pill - want the male Pill to be released on to the market. I do encourage discussion of the development of the male Pill, only as it encourages reassessment and consideration of how the Pill works on women's bodies and why the way it works, and what it is, is acceptable.

Michelle discovered the potential side effects by searching the Internet. I guess when you live in a country that charges an uninsured person around $200 just to sit in the doctor's office, let alone the additions for actually asking questions, the Internet is a great place to exchange information. I do encourage anyone to look at the boards on the medications.com and askapatient.com sites for comments about Yaz - it is the most complained about drug on the internet, a fact that only goes to support my view that open discussion of the reality of Pill-taking is systematically suppressed.

Skipping The Pill: Rebel With Michelle

1 comment:

  1. Holly,

    This post is fascinating-- thank you for tackling these issues. Your reflection on embracing your PMS as enlightening particularly resonated with me. I used to have really intense anxiety and depression during PMS, and was totally convinced I had PMDD (which after reading your recent blog on Bitch I feel sort of silly about now, with its echoes of a pharmaceutical invention). My mood swings were so bad at one point that my boyfriend-at-the-time convinced me to go to a doctor to talk about my hormonal hysteria, who then wrote me a prescription for Yaz (which thankfully I didn't then take). A few weeks later my relationship fell apart in an ugly way, and even still it took months to realize that what I had thought was my crazy female body was actually just me responding to a manipulative and abusive relationship that was harmful to me. This might sound a little "too much information" to be revealing in a blog comment, but I think it is an apt and literal example of how women are so conditioned every month that we're just "being crazy" when in reality our hormonal changes might actually be tipping us off to deep-seated emotions we should respond to. I wish my doctor would have prescribed therapy instead of Yaz-- a drug which would have been just a different form of manipulation. Therapy, meanwhile, has shown me that my emotions were not just me "being crazy," and were actually completely valid responses to abuse. Interestingly, my intelligent and lovely female therapist called PMS a "disinhibitor," meaning that the emotions we feel during PMS are essentially already there...just that we allow ourselves to feel them more intensely, less inhibited.

    Anyway I've since been living happily and have become much more embracing of my PMS, which-- surprise-- has been anxiety-free for months now. I think you're right that it would threaten the status quo to suggest that the "craziness" we feel during PMS is a legitimate emotional response to dissatisfaction with external social pressures.

    P.S. In college my period did sync up with my two close girlfriends, which was kind of great.

    P.P.S. I did end up trying Yaz, which made me into an emotional trainwreck, and I only realized that it was the pill and not me by reading comments on the internet. That this is the case, I feel, is what is really crazy.