Sunday, January 8, 2012

Occupy Yourself

As I posted recently I wrote a piece for feminist blog The F Bomb regarding specifically teenage women and their decision to take the Pill. I received some quite aggressive criticism from one commenter that made me very thoughtful about why I have not posted on this blog for around a year. Essentially her main argument was that my experience had no significance. Here's a quote:

"(Your) experiences don’t belong in this article as any kind of evidence towards a broader social/ medical problem for every girl, so I hope you just intended it as unnecessary back story. The way you made your personal decisions has little to do with anyone else."

Also -

"You’ve especially avoided facing the realization that your personal experiences have nothing to do with anyone else."

More significant, in her view, is the pharmaceutical companies' research. Despite the fact that the reason the company behind Yaz was recently scrutinized is that a large number of individual women's experiences of blood clots and the resulting health problems, as a consequence of taking Yaz, came to light. It was discovered that the company - Bayer - had covered up findings that the progesterone used in this Pill - drospirenone - held, in its make up and ratio to the estrogen component, an increased risk of producing blood clots. However unsound the argument against the importance of personal experience, I had to acknowledge it is this particular brand of criticism that has deterred me for months from writing on the Pill.

I didn't believe any less in the validity of my position - and I was getting and still do get emails from women frequently who have had very similar experiences to me (which I hope to soon share here) - but I was told over and over that my thoughts have no significance without a medical background for support, and without citable published research. Of course, if we had lots of citable published research on the direct emotional and psychological impact of the Pill - well, then I wouldn't need to be writing this blog. Even as the F Bomb commenter was arguing her point, someone else detailed their own story in this comment:

"I stopped taking the Pill because I was single and simply didn’t feel like renewing my prescription. Within that same month or two I started feeling really positive, awake, and alive. It was so dramatic that people around me noticed the change. I eventually realized that this burst of joy – which has not subsided in the three years I have been off the Pill – synced up with when I quit the Pill. I had been depressed for so long that I did not even know I was depressed. I thought that I was just an unhappy person."

My decision to stop taking the Pill was instigated by my reading the experiences of other women in forums and on comments boards. The lack of articles in magazines I read that criticized the Pill, alongside the consistent qualification of any research that did surface in the newspapers regarding negative effects with a hasty celebration of the Pill's otherwise resounding goodness is a huge part of why I kept taking the Pill long after it had truly turned on me and ruined my physical and mental health. If there had been other voices out there I may have questioned my decision to blame myself for my radical change in personality and endless illnesses earlier on and saved myself, and those around me, from a lot of suffering.

Although I have never pushed my views on friends in conversation - although most are aware of how I feel about the Pill - a number of friends and acquaintances have come off the Pill since I started this blog, often several months after I first mentioned my experience to them. In all cases the change has been positive. I plan to have some of them share their stories here too. One acquaintance (we went to high school together), who got in touch way back when I first started writing on this subject and whose comment that coming off the Pill was for her 'life-changing' really set me on the path to produce this blog, recently wrote to me to fill out her experience further. Here's what she said:

"I feel so strongly about this, but I haven't managed to convince any of my friends re: my experiences of coming off the Pill.I'm sure you've read that news story that reported that women on the Pill are attracted to different men than women who are not on the Pill? When I read this it TOTALLY confirmed my experiences of being on the Pill and I really think it's REALLY scary, that we could choose our life partners based on fake hormones that skew who we're attracted too.I think the report also said that women on the Pill are less satisfied with their sex lives, and this too confirms what I went through. When I exclaim to friends and family about this, (especially friends in long term relationships, on the Pill and dissatisfied with sex life - a recurring theme)no-one seems to care or believe me, so reading this was like YES!

I'd been on the Pill for 10 years, having originally been prescribed it for my teenage acne, then I carried on taking it for extra double strength contraception - but without thinking about or knowing about possible side effects. Then when I was 26, I suddenly decided I'd had enough. I think it was hitting the 10 year mark that did it. I felt like a cloud had been lifted, as if before I had been living in black and white and now i was living in full colour. I know this sounds mad, but it felt like I was just more alive. I also had these feelings of being more womanly, more attractive and more sexual and sexually powerful. People commented that I had blossomed and it really felt like that too. I just felt things more, more feelings of lust especially.

What I found most surprising was that I also felt so much more creative. I am a textile designer, and it felt like all my creative juices were flowing, so I wonder if there is a link between hormones, sexual feelings and creativity? I don't know but I really did feel like I'd been awakened creatively too. That is how I would describe the experience of coming off the pill - an awakening. And feeling really alive. And I would never go back on it, as I want to experience the real me. I must say my PMT is REALLY obvious now but I kind of love that, as I relish really feeling the true experience of the rhythm of my cycle."

This one young woman's brief comment on my blog spurred me on to keep documenting my experience of coming off the Pill, to hunt down some space in a national newspaper for my story and seek out interview opportunities. I like to think that for every one woman who emails me saying she was inspired to come off the Pill, that there are many more who got up the courage to do so too.

As we enter this new year I believe there is a perfect storm brewing for a real reassessment of what the Pill is truly doing for us. The Occupy Wall Street movement expressed and spread sentiments that I'd previously only heard from those deemed radical in their politics. People are questioning institutions that many have always felt were working to protect us. Of course, they should be working for our good but they aren't. The food industry is coming under scrutiny with more and more people turning away from meat and dairy in protest of its reckless disregard for not only our health, but the environment. Doubts once kept to the margins are becoming mainstream. It's the right time to question the Pill - and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole - and see the Pill for what it really is - a product.

Again and again I hear from women who say the Pill made them feel disconnected, repressed, deadened. Through reconnecting with our bodies, and as such our selves we are in a better position of connecting with others, and with the natural world. This connection is vital for any changes to be made to reverse the damage being done by the institutions that have revealed their agenda. On the Pill I felt divorced from my reality, and from reality as a whole. I was shut off, behind a veil, muted. I was in no state to do anything more than deal day to day with the stress and strain even the slightest conflict caused in me. The recent appraisal of Bayer for its promotion of Yaz has revealed its agenda, and it doesn't include helping or protecting women.

Ridding myself of the Pill made me ask a lot more questions about the rightness of many of the things I have been told throughout my life. A culture supported my decision to take the Pill, even when it was making me sick. I'd always been more aware than most, I thought, but for this I was easily kept in the dark. I was brought up to question institutions. Many people start with worrying over what they eat, and then turn to the tablet they take every day. For me, it was the other way around - I stopped the Pill two years ago and only now I'm understanding such things as milk isn't actually the only source of calcium and that meat is not an essential source of protein. Other things too, knowledge that I think is always there within us, but somehow gets submerged.

There's a phrase going around right now - Occupy Yourself. To some it seems to mean being vigilant, conscious, aware of your place in the world. For others it means critically analyzing the thoughts and beliefs you've long held in your own mind to be true - in the same way occupying wall street is drawing attention to the problems within this system. Like Descartes said, take out all the apples and examine them for rotten parts before putting them back in the basket. I had to examine my long held beliefs about my body, my femininity and my cycle - and write them out in this blog - to be able to get off and stay off the Pill and understand why this was so important for me. The quote 'Be the change you want to see in the world' means to me something slightly altered in that when I was on the Pill I felt stagnant - physically, mentally, emotionally - I could not progress, I would get stuck in emotions and thoughts, I could not think clearly. I could not progress. Off the Pill, my body goes through changes through the month, waves and peaks and ebbs and flows and it all moves me - and this movement is energizing and galvanizing. My self is back in my body. I am occupying myself. Every new cycle spurs action. A revolution - in every sense of the word.

Step out of the system and back into yourself.


  1. I find a lot of women object to personal views or experiences on this because it goes against their own - it's similar to the sort of knee-jerk reaction or aggression some women get when I discuss menstrual cups or tampon dangers...the ideas they have about these issues are so ingrained that they see any other ideas as an attack on themselves...or just they're so brainwashed into believing certain ideas they're incapable of thinking for themselves.

    I suffered multiple minor-strokes as a result of being on the pill (as well as a whole fun array of other side-effects), but I am constantly told how very rare this is or how I obviously did something wrong - I did, I smoked...I didn't look into other options soon enough...I didn't seek a second opinion when my GP refused to discuss other options and didn't take me off the pill when I started suffering strokes (or not put me on the pill to begin with when I was a 16 year old smoker with a family history of strokes and no need to be on the pill to begin with). It's really not so rare in my experience, and the fact is that women have problems with the pill, yet we're in a culture where every female from puberty onwards is almost expected to be on the pill. topic. Just felt like a bit of venting.

  2. Thank you for being so open to your readers in regards to your own person experiences. People go through similar problems but never know because we are too embarrassed to talk about it. I'm working on being more open to saying my opinions, just need to be better at articulating them. In this post I learned that you are a textile designer. That is pretty awesome, Im a textile/interior design student.