“Well, it looks like you have a hormonal imbalance”
The family doctor was sitting across from my mother and me. I was aged 18 with a very sudden face full of acne, some weird facial hair, and a 15kg weight gain. We were going through the results of a series of tests about what the hell had happened.
The doctor held up some indecipherable number readings and said something like:
This indicates you have much higher levels of androgens [male hormones] than average, and that combined with the acne and extra hair indicates a likely condition polycystic ovarian syndrome. The usual treatment is an oral contraceptive pill that blocks the androgens to address the hormonal imbalance.
And so he introduced me to Diane-35 ED. Or ‘Diane depression’ as she later became known.
I thought Diane was here to save me.
And at first, she did!
The acne cleared up within a month; the weight settled back somewhat and the stubborn chin hairs that had begun seemed to not be gaining any buddies.
But then things got a little toxic.
She started making me feel bad.
I began crying daily and painfully.
Anxiety was at it’s peak- culminating in trembly shaky fearful sensations for very little reason.
An intense clinginess became the norm. I’d freak out if my boyfriend was even a little late, imagining he’d had an accident or… I don’t even know. It wasn’t rational and I knew it, but I couldn’t stop.
I hated being alone but hated being around people too.
Hopelessness descended. I couldn’t make any decisions, feeling paralysed, scared and dark. I was living with a Diane depression but I didn’t know it yet.
Eventually we started looking into therapeutic options and clinical interventions for depression, I just couldn’t get a grip.
And then I finally went back to the family doctor.
“Well, you could stop taking Diane. That might be affecting you”
You mean I could just break up with Diane? Could she really be the cause of all this? Just a tiny little pill that had sorted out my ‘ugly’ problems? But you never mentioned that was even possible…
Within a couple of months my personality came back.
And, importantly, my ability to cope with the ups and downs of life- my resilience- went back to the way it was.
I stopped crying for no reason. There was a sense of being capable again even though nothing had ‘actually’ changed.
There was hope, a future I could imagine began to unfurl, and I could take steps towards it. Life felt kinda fun again, like it should be.
Six years later, for contraception and in an attempt to curb the hair growth PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome) can cause, I attempted to reignite the old flame with Diane. I thought that maybe my life had been such a mess back then, and I’d blamed the pill for causing problems when in actual fact it was just me.
It was definitely Diane. That nasty beast had me going crazy within 6 months again.
But this time I was aware of the symptoms and was able to break up quickly.
It’s amazing how hard it is to tell when you’re in a relationship with Diane, Brenda, Yasmin or Estelle that she’s bad for you. The yucky feelings creep up on you, and more than likely you blame yourself before connecting the dots.
A little like PMS- even when it comes around every single month it’s still surprising. It feels so real.
That’s because hormones and their effect on how we feel ARE real, so why do we pretend otherwise?
- Why- in 2018, when a woman rings a women’s health clinic asking for a review of the pill she is taking- would she be told it’s ‘unlikely’ that the pill is affecting her mental health?
- Why- when we KNOW from reports by thousands of women who have taken hormonal contraception that around 20% report concerning mood changes; when transgender folks who have hormone therapy describe a myriad of changes to their feelings, behaviour and personality beyond lifestyle and gender identity (experts there, hello!!); and when it’s simply a fact that many women going through menopause report related mental health issues- are we still so blasé about prescribing hormonal contraception for a number of interventions?
Is this societal misogyny at work?
I can’t help but think that in part it is.
We are still supposed to think of the Pill as a ‘miracle’ that gave women control over their sexuality, their bodies. And in some ways that is true… but it’s concerning that for many of us it’s actually become a trap. The immediate go-to for contraception in a monogamous relationship. Professionals ignoring side-effects and even reports of pain.
It’s more important that I, as a woman, have clear skin and a hairless body than be free from a Diane depression.
Interestingly, similar statistics have been sited in a small trial of a male hormonal contraceptive: 17% of the participants reported emotional changes such as depression and mood swings, and 2% additionally described these side effects as ‘severe’ (as this amazing informative comic by The Nib documents).
And you guessed it: the trials were stopped immediately when these side effects were reported.
It’s not only mental health you should be concerned about when hooking up with Brenda’s and Diane’s. Numerous studies indicate links with dangerous blood clotting: that it should only be prescribed for short-term treatment of PCOS-like symptoms if at all, and not as a contraceptive. There has been a loud call for it to be banned in Australia kicked off by Labor MP Julian Hill after his daughter nearly died due to clotting.
In fact, it has already been banned in France after a report revealed 125 women ‘suffered undesirable or life-threatening side effects’ linked to Diane and her generics.
But it still got the green light here in Australia.
Here in Australia, a young woman with mild acne can potentially still be prescribed Diane without so much as a casual mention of possible side-effects, let alone a thorough investigation into her family history or physical and mental health.
Hormones are strange creatures. Certainly, in my experience, they’re not to be casually toyed with.
Diane had the potential to actually ruin my life.
If I’d stayed in that toxic relationship I can’t imagine how things would have gone.
I’m very lucky to have had wonderful people around me.They were quick to follow my lead when I started to wonder if it was her and not me making things toxic.
It is unfortunate to say the least that if you ARE a woman looking into contraception methods, you need to do your own research.
But it’s essential:
- Be thorough, use reliable sources, but don’t write off anecdotal evidence (let’s remember women’s knowledge and experiences of pain can be treated with casual disdain on a regular basis by all sorts of professionals)
- Talk about it with your partner if you are seeking contraception. Don’t assume it’s all on you if he doesn’t want to use condoms. Take the time to find the right thing for you both in all areas of your life. Visit a Sexual Health Clinic (they are located in cities AND smaller towns across Australia) and have a proper conversation with a professional.
Use your critical thinking brain.
- Pay attention to your body and keep track of your bodily sensations, moods, sleep, and emotions with a diary.
- Ask trusted loved ones to give you compassionate feedback if they notice any significant changes in you.
- Don’t be afraid to push for a review of any medication you take with a medical professional. You are employing them remember. You are a service seeker and they are a service provider. Be polite but firm about your needs and don’t take no talk-down behaviour.
- Try and find a GP you like who has expertise in women’s health and who will listen to you with curiosity and respect. I found a wonderful female doctor at a regular old medical clinic who I still see to this day even though I live Interstate.
- Gather allies. I wish we didn’t need them, but we obviously do, because let me tell you: Diane, Brenda and Yasmin are one helluva vicious trio if they decide to turn against you.
Please do share your experiences in the comments below.
Narrative therapy is all about deconstructing accepted ‘norms’ and helping you find your own way through the long grass. I’m interested in helping women escape the kinds of rubbish Diane depression put me through (and any other suffering you’ve been subjected to or are experiencing). Get in touch with me directly here if you want to ask any questions, or sign up for the free blog here if you liked this post and want a free mini-workbook on re-authoring painful problems.