A Life without Birth Control: What’s that like?

Image- Hormones, why you gotta do me like that?
Image- Hormones, why you gotta do me like that?

I have been flying under the radar the past couple weeks. I’ve just been feeling very uninspired to write. It’s not that I have had nothing to say…I have plenty to say. I guess it was more that I was feeling very overwhelmed and emotional. I’ve noticed that since I stopped taking birth control February 25th, I have just been a hot mess…more than usual.

Some people have asked me why the hell would you stop taking birth control?! Take a chill pill ya’ll. I’m not trying to get pregnant….you know I don’t want kids. I have my reasons.

This was not an uninformed random decision. I was on birth control for 16 years, from the age of 15. I had the worst periods ever. Every month I would miss a full week of school…sounds awesome right?!?! Wrong!  I would have a fever, vomiting, debilitating cramps so bad that I could barely walk and heavy bleeding for seven days exactly. And then, my doctor put me on birth control to help that and it helped so much. My periods became more manageable and less painful.

And for the last five years, I have been taking continuous birth control…meaning no periods. I had a sweet blissful no period life. It was amazing. I never missed them. Not once. Never. I do have the mindset that…why should I be punished for not being pregnant? I am not one of those people who likes getting a period to know I’m not pregnant…I’d rather skip it and just be happy without it. Like I have been for the last five years.

I love birth control…it’s my friend. I miss it a lot. I thought about stopping it for months before I went through with it. Because I started feeling concerned about how it might be impacting my health… I had been hearing a lot of stories about women with chronic illnesses having issues that seemed to be exacerbated by birth control. So it was on my brain.

I have to take care of myself. That’s my resolution…self-care. Even if that means stopping birth control for now, for awhile or for always… I have to do what is best for my health. period. (ha…punny)

Image- Jokes about menstrual cycles are not funny. Period.
Image- Jokes about menstrual cycles are not funny. Period.

A month ago, I went to see my gynecologist for my annual (something all of us who have a uterus just love), and I discussed it with her because I was on the fence about it. But then another reason I should stop it came to light. Somehow we started talking about my migraines. She asked if I have visual auras…why yes, yes I do. She said okay well then you have to stop taking it. Apparently, if you take the estrogen pill and have migraines with visual auras, there is an increased risk of stroke. I didn’t always have visual auras. I have had migraines since I was 18, so for 13 years, but the auras started just a couple years ago. My gyno said there’s your decision.

I threw out all my pills and have been birth control free since then.

My gyno did tell me that if in a couple months I decide getting off birth control didn’t help and I want to get back on then she will prescribe me a progesterone pill instead of the estrogen because of the migraine/stroke situation.

My friend, Shelby, told me about Evening Primrose Oil– which is a supplement that can help balance hormones and ease symptoms of PMS and menopause, among other things. So I started taking that in hopes that it might help. But being the sensitive gal that I am, I prefer to start at a low dose and work my way up. I started at one 500mg capsule daily and slowly I have worked my way up to one 500mg capsule three times a day.

And I surprisingly got my period almost exactly one month after I stopped the pill. This surprised me because I don’t think of my body as healthy enough to have a period. But just because I have one now does not mean I will have on regularly. So we shall see what happens going forward.

Since stopping the pill, I have noticed a reduction of IC symptoms and an increase in migraine symptoms. I have had less burning and general flaring in my bladder, although that was mostly when I was PMSing and on my actual period. So it’s possible that my body couldn’t focus on both my period and my IC at the same time and just had to pick one.

I think it’s really interesting that my IC symptoms have lessened. Will it last? I have no idea. It is way too early to tell. And my physical therapist agreed with me that it’s possible my body just decided to focus more on the pain of my period because that was more painful and shocking than my IC pain at this point in time. After all, I’ve gone five years without a period…but I’ve had IC pain for two years straight. So my body was probably just like…ugh sick of this pain let’s focus on this pain now!

The migraines have steadily been getting worse, along with my visual auras. Birth control plays a huge role in migraines and can even cause migraines. But it seems all the fluctuations in my hormones is really impacting my migraines now. So today I went to see my primary doctor who works with me on my migraine meds and we increased my daily migraine preventative medication. So hopefully that will help. *fingers crossed*

But let me really tell you what life has been like post-birth control. I can sum it up in one word…pineapple. It’s been pure hormonal chaos. I have been a crazy hormonal mess since then. Don’t get me wrong…I am always an emotional person. But this is a whole new level of emotional for me. I have strong cravings for foods I can’t and shouldn’t eat. I am breaking out…I have had more pimples on my face than I ever had before. I have mood swings in an instant. Birth control helped regulate all of that. OMG I miss it so much.

Aaron has had to put up with my crazy hormonal imbalances and this could go on for awhile…after being on birth control for 16 years, it can take anywhere from 3 months to 1 year for hormones to balance back out again. He has really been a champ…for the most part. He has been weathering this storm. And we even created a safe word for the occasions when I am just beyond hormonal and just can’t even. And that safe word is…you guessed it…pineapple. So when I say pineapple that means he knows to back off or something terrible might happen to either one or both of us.

Hormones are a bitch to control. It’s been so long since I have had to deal with them. I miss my birth control… so much. But I look forward to the healthful possibilities.

Image-I hate periods. Out of all things, why blood? Why can't it be fairy dust or glitter or something pretty?!
Image-I hate periods. Out of all things, why blood? Why can’t it be fairy dust or glitter or something pretty?!

 

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Which is it…Physical Therapy or Physical Torture?

image-the-difference-between-a-physical-therapist-and-a-terroirst-i-hear-you-can-reason-with-a-terroirst
Image- The difference between a physical therapist and a terrorist?? I hear you can reason with a terrorist.

 

***The purpose of this post is to give light and exposure to what physical therapy is like for those of us with IC and PFD. This is not in any way meant to discourage anyone from going to PT. PT is extremely beneficial in healing those of us with IC/PFD. I would not stop going to PT for anything because it truly helps me. And the comparison that physical therapy is like physical torture is tongue in cheek. *** 

Every Monday I go to physical therapy (PT) for my Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD) and Interstitial Cystitis (IC). My pelvic floor truly is dysfunctional so it needs it. My PT is not just focusing on the pelvic floor, it focuses on many parts of my body…thighs, abs and back. All of these body parts hurt because of my IC and PFD. 

What makes my pelvic floor so dysfunctional… my muscles tighten up so much that I can’t pee. I am physically unable to pee. I sit down to pee because I need to pee (often due to my IC). And I just sit there. At it’s worst, I’ve sat on the toilet as long as 15 minutes trying to relax enough to just be able to pee. It’s excruciatingly painful in a way that is hard to explain. The more stressed out I get the worse the issue becomes. This applies to my entire body. My whole body seems to want to protect my bladder… so it tightens up to do so and then forgets to release. So I am just walking around all the time in pain because all my muscles in my body are so tight. But PT does help with that. 

And at this time my PT is indefinite…as in there is no timeframe in which I will be going. Usually, people go to PT and they are told this will take 4-6 week or something like that. But in my case, and others like me, who knows how long it will last. I have been going since mid-December 2016 and there is no end date in sight at this time. 

My physical therapist, Jen, is great. She is very understanding and patient. She exudes empathy and always makes sure that I am okay. That being said, I’m pretty sure PT is actually physical torture in disguise.

People wonder and often ask me about how one does PT on the Pelvic Floor Muscles (PFM). Their first question is usually something like you do kegels right? The answer is definitely not. Kegels are the opposite of what we want to do. Although there might be a time and place for them in PT, now is not that time.

Pelvic floor muscles are inside of us, so needless to say, a lot of the work in PT is done internally. Not every physical therapist is trained to do this. This is a specialty that can be difficult to find and often insurance doesn’t cover it. Not every Joe Schmo physical therapist is qualified to do this job and if they say they are…run far far away. We need proof of that…because these are our personal bits. My lady bits are not to be trifled with by someone who wasn’t properly trained to trifle with them.

And yes… it hurts. A lot. There was one moment that I can recall so vividly when my physical therapist was putting pressure on a trigger point inside of my on a pelvic floor muscle and it hurt so badly I almost threw up. It’s not like that every time, but it’s always painful…just like PT tends to be. 

Generally, after PT, I leave in excruciating pain…I can barely walk for a few days up to a week after. I tend to flare up for a least a couple of days afterward too. But I always remind myself that it will help my pain in the long run. And I have seen improvements since I have been going…it usually one step forward and two steps back. And I also remind myself that I have to get worse before I get better. The pain that is caused during PT is temporary and over time will benefit my body immensely. 

I also have at home PT exercises to do. I have a walking program which is “simple” enough …where I have to purposefully walk to improve my walking daily because I struggle to walk any distance these days. 

And recently she added the bridge and clam shell exercises. The bridge is when you lay on your back with knees bent and lift your body up while your hands are pressed on the ground. The clam shell, or clam jam as I prefer to call it, is where you lay on your side with your legs bent with one leg on top of the other and lift the top leg up which gives the look of a clam opening. The clam jam is one that I struggle with the most right now because I am very tight in the hip and thigh area.

There used to be a time when I did yoga daily and I was so ridiculously flexible…it wasn’t even that long ago. It’s like out of now where I am no long able to do yoga like I used to. I can barely do a clam jam, let alone walk a given distance.

My last home exercise uses a tool called a Therawand, pictured below.

fullsizerender
Image- Therawand, a long 8 inch curved PT tool, similar to a dildo or G-spot stimulator, on a white board. Arrow point to tapered end says “tapered end for insertion/thinner diameter” Arrow pointing to opposite end “use as handle or insert”

As you can see it looks like a dildo or G-spot stimulator, but I promise you that there is no stimulating going on when the Therawand is in use…TMI? Too bad. This whole blog is TMI in a way. I want people to understand what people with PFD/IC and other similar chronic illnesses go through and the only way to do that is to share my story.

The Therawand is used to press on trigger points to relieve tensed muscles which is the same thing my physical therapist does when I go see her. The difference is I have control over this and since I am at home I tend to be in a more relaxed setting…so in theory,  it should hurt less. Although it usually doesn’t hurt less.

fullsizerender-2
Image- Bottle of lube called Aloe Cadabra Natural Aloe

The Therawand does not get used alone, that would hurt way too much… more than it already does. Lubrication is required. And because I am very sensitive I am very careful about the lube I use. For this, I chose Aloe Cadabra which is a natural and organic aloe lubrication. I just use the regular “unflavored” kind but they do have different flavors or scents.

PT is a special kind of hell that has the ability to hurt so good and just plain freaking hurt until the point of wanting to vomit. But if you’ve ever had PT then you know that it takes awhile to see the progress and pelvic floor therapy is no different.

After my hellish week last week, I went to PT this past Monday and told Jen about said hellish week. And she was like wow okay that is rough. So we did minimal internal work because of that darn speculum from when I was at the gynecologist, which really did a number on me that flared me up something fierce. She decided to work on my head some after that because I told her about my allergic reaction monster migraine from hell.

She squished my head on both sides and it was oddly relieving. And then she squished my head on my forehead and the back of my head…and again…oddly relieving. She did all kinds of PT things that involved pressing on my jaw, head, and neck. And while it hurt it also felt good like it was relieving something. My entire head had been tensed up and had all kinds of trigger points from that monster migraine. And she did PT things that left me feeling very weird and but also reduce the tension in my head as well…which was good.

So what am I getting at? Well… that’s hard to say but I think my point is that PT sucks. And I genuinely just want people to know and understand what goes on during PT for IC/PFD…because it’s not all kegels and dildos. It’s personal, private and even embarrassing for many people to talk about. 

It is not fun. And I’ve seen people talking in the IC support groups, saying stuff like their partners don’t understand why they go to PT or what they do in PT. Or even that their partner accused them of going to PT to “just get off”…which is not only mean and just a jack ass thing to say…but it’s also categorically false. There is nothing fun about pelvic floor therapy. It’s painful and can be traumatic.

PT isn’t for everyone but for those of us who need it…it helps tremendously. Having a chronic illness is never easy. And putting ourselves knowingly and willingly in more pain each week never feels good…but we do what we must and we just tough it out with the hope that one day we will find the relief that we have long been seeking. 

 

rules-of-physical-therapy
Image- Rules of Physical therapy Never say you can’t…because you’ll do it anyways -Never say “it’s easy” because we’ll just make it hard -Never say I want to go home, because you’ll just stay longer -Never lose count because you’ll start at one again -Never complain because we never listen -Never argue because you’ll never win -Never scream or cry because it only encourages us -Never look like you’re enjoying it because we’ll put a stop to it -Never hold your breath because if you pass out we have to fill out paperwork -Never lie or cheat because we know the truth and you’ll live to regret it.