Quick disclaimer and then we’re going to get right into it and talk about the birth control pill (Happy Monday!): Nothing I say in this post constitutes medical advice, and you should never stop or start taking prescription drugs without talking with your doctor. (Especially the starting part; pretty sure that would be illegal, right?) Also:
There’s no judgment—implicit or explicit—on anyone who is on or has been on birth control pills. Some people love them, some people have to take them for medical reasons, some people abhor them. Here, we want to talk candidly about what happens when you go off them. Because, whoa. That can be hectic.
Feeling like an overshare, so here, I’ll start: I got on the pill for the first time pretty late, comparatively speaking. I was 22 or 23, I got on Ortho, and almost instantly became the girl who cries at commercials (OK, still am, always have been, but this was extreme!) and one time I even broke a plate when my loving boyfriend at the time did basically nothing. This was not normal for me! I was being nuts! I quickly got off it, quickly went back to normal, and then didn’t start it again for another several years.
I was 26 or so when I went back on the pill, Mircette this time, thinking it would add convenience to my personal life, and clear up my skin—after all, that’s what my dermatologist told me would happen. I stayed on it for two years. During that time I didn’t cry a lot or break stuff. My skin was OK but not perfect. My libido was OK—which seems better than most, according to this new research, but “OK” does not equal amazing. I didn’t have major mood swings or anything. But something never felt quite right. The best way I can put it is, I sort of felt like a prisoner in my own body. I’m not sure why, and no, I can’t elaborate, but something never felt quite right. It was FINE. But FINE has never been all that appealing to me, and so I talked it over with my GYN and we decided it was time to stop. It wanted to let nature run its course. And by nature I mean, like, ovulation and stuff.
After I went off the pill, my skin freaked out. It was erratic for a few months, throughout which I tried everything: Products, lasers, facials…products. Not clean ones, either. (This was pre- everything I now know.)
My take, in retrospect, is that you shouldn’t try a million things at once, nor should you spazz out. If I were doing it all over again, here’s what I would do: Coach my body, with the help of a doctor or acupuncturist or both, to get my hormones in balance. I would stay away from, or at least limit, eating hormone-pumped meat and dairy, take folic acid and omegas daily, get plenty of sleep and keep a routine, and use a gentle, organic skincare regimen.
I emphasize hormone balancing because what’s happening in your skin is a reflection of what’s happening inside your body—not on the surface of your skin. Also, because the other thing that happened when I went off the pill: my period went away for the better part of a year. I have many explanations for this, both medical and completely esoteric, but suffice to say it was really disconcerting. To be in your late 20s and have it…missing, for months at a time, feels indescribably bad. On the PLUS side (there’s always a plus side, you guys): Now that I’m regular again, I’m so very thankful every single month when my period comes. And no, I will never, ever go on the pill again.
Anyway, because we understand the challenges that come with such a major decision, we were moved by a recent reader letter from Paris. She’s gone off the pill and, yes, ugh, skin woes. She really wants NMDL readers to help! In her words:
“I accept that my body is going to go on a roller coaster ride. I’m ready for the acne this time. Last time I thought I could just stop taking the pill and my skin wouldn’t talk to me. How oily my scalp got and the abundance of acne caught me by surprise. I froze up and caved in and took the pill again. This time, I will be ready for them, and hope to have better ways to deal with them or even prevent them.
Are you guys all in love with her now, too? We thought so. Now let’s help a girl out. Who’s tried what? And even if you don’t have advice for Paris Girl, have you gone off the pill ever? What happened? Share, yes? Please and thank you.
Backstory: The other night I went to see my acupuncturist here in New York. As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of the needles, and what I love most about my guy is that he’s an all-around healer—a “body, mind, spirit” type (without being new-agey or touchy-feely, I swear), who possesses an uncanny ability to know exactly what I need at any given time. Sometimes I need some massage, sometimes I need weird-smelling herbs, sometimes I need needles, and…
Maybe sometimes I need him to scrape my back with what looks like a Chinese soup spoon until my back turns bright red.
When I emailed him to set up my appointment, I mentioned that my vacation at Rancho La Puerta left me feeling pretty amazing, but that I also felt like there was a monkey on my back. I don’t really know what I was talking about, but that’s cool, because he did. And apparently it meant we would be trying something called gua sha. He’d be using a spoon to literally scrape the fascia on my back. It would free up trapped energy, make me feel lighter, get rid of anything that isn’t serving me, release my tight shoulder muscles, and bruise the living daylights out of me.
“The bruises will be gone in three days,” he promised. “And it won’t hurt.” [UPDATE: The bruises are not gone but they're close to gone. They've faded a lot. Also, bruise isn't the right word, because it's very surfacy and there is no pain.]
I was GIDDY.
The whole process took about 20 minutes. He used lotion to soften the pressure and then made his way over my shoulders with the spoon. Some parts felt a little tender, but I felt no pain. When it was all over he insisted I check it out in the mirror after he left the room.
I yelped when I saw my back in the mirror, but it also struck me as strangely beautiful.
The red and purple marks were so clean, and while I couldn’t read the patterns myself, I knew they were telling me something good. I felt like I could see inside my own body.
I’m sure you’re wondering, beyond my own weird story, what gua sha actually is. According to Wikipedia:
“Gua sha (Chinese: 刮痧; pinyin: guā shā), literally ‘to scrape away fever’ in Chinese (more loosely, ‘to scrape away disease by allowing the disease to escape as sandy-looking objects through the skin’), is an ancient medical treatment.”
I did some reading and learned that it’s commonly used in some populations—Chinese, Thai, Greek, and others—especially when people are coming down with something. The idea is that blood stagnates and pathogens get trapped, and if you release them by scraping, it speeds up the whole process and prevents the illness from lingering in the body (or something like that).
It’s also been studied, and has produced some good results in random controlled trials for chronic back pain, migraine-medication withdrawal symptoms, headache and circulation problems. (There is no study for its effectiveness removing monkeys from backs, however. Not yet, anyway.)
It can also be used diagnostically. Apparently we all pattern differently. I did some google image searches (be careful with that, seriously, if you’re squeamish) and saw that every back pictured was vastly different, and most looked way more intense than mine, to be honest. On my own back, some areas got really dark and other spots were more bright red. Not surprisingly, around the acupuncture points that we’ve been working on, the color was much deeper than it was elsewhere.
My acupuncturist said that once we were done, it might feel like I’d peeled off a hot shirt, and that’s just how I’d put it: Like I’d peeled off a hot, heavy shirt that I’ve been wearing for far, far too long.
Now who’s going to try it?
Image of torture device spoon via
What I love most about alternative and complementary medicine, and acupuncture in particular, is that it can be used to treat such a wide range of issues, both preventively and therapeutically. Got a cold? Feeling blue? Back sore? Period MIA? Acupuncture may actually help with all that, and more. There’s some decent science behind some of its applications, but mostly I love it because it’s full of surprises.
Also—and this might feel like a bit of a stretch, but walk with me—it reminds me of natural beauty in the sense that one simple thing, like a box of baking soda or a jar of raw honey, can be used in so many different ways, depending on the needs of the person.
That’s because natural beauty, and acupuncture, treat the whole person, not just the “condition.” Which is important, because as our homeboy Deepak Chopra likes to say: Once an ailment has presented itself in the body, it’s been festering there for quite some time. To get to the bottom of it, you have to treat more than just its symptoms.
Anyone who has struggled with their skin, for instance, knows that you can’t just use a topical and produce miracles. Unless you root out the causes and address contributing lifestyle issues, you’ll never have the skin you want. It takes work, but the work…well, works. And while you try to treat one thing (skin, say) you may find there are other things that need some TLC even more (maybe it’s your hormones, or your emotions, or your relationship with omega 3s). Address those things, and poof! Your skin rewards you.
Acupuncture kind of works the same way. You could go in for one thing—sciatica, say—and end up sobbing in the dark to chanting-monk music only to emerge an hour later feeling like a brand new person. (And I’ll bet your sciatica will be better, too.)
Anyway, I’ve been doing it for several years now—initially for the aforementioned sciatica, which is now loooooong gone—and I’ve used for all kinds of other ailments, both real and imagined, with terrific results. It helps to have a very skilled healer, to be consistent, and to be invested in the process, of course.
But since we don’t talk much about alternative medicine in the book or here, I thought I’d open the floor.
Do you get acupuncture? And if so, for what? And if you haven’t, is it because you’re scared of the needles? (Because they’re as thin as a hair…. You know that right? :)