Diaries of an overworked student: Adventures in birth control: College edition

Isabelle Gillman | Staff Columnist

“Birth control” is a broad term. It can mean anything from a condom to an intrauterine device (IUD) to an implant in your arm, but the phrase generally refers to the daily oral contraceptive for women. If you find the right brand for you (and there are dozens), birth control can be great: It’s been proven to help with acne; it regulates periods; and it can even help relieve some of the more painful symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS.) But what people don’t really tell you is that sometimes birth control isn’t great, and unfortunately, that was the case with me.


I started my first brand of birth control when I was 18, right before I came to college. At first it was great—my skin looked dope, if I do say so myself. Right off the bat, I gained a little weight, which I was fine with. My chest grew a little and I was not going to complain! For a month or so, things were great, until about two weeks into college. It’s important to acknowledge that I was already in a stressful situation, and I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past, but never like this; I’m not usually a crier, but I found myself bursting into tears multiple times a day. I called my mom panicking, would have trouble leaving my room and couldn’t concentrate in class due to extreme dissociations. I decided to throw my birth control in the garbage (my roommate can attest to this, I made a really big deal about it). I immediately lost weight, and my anxiety subsided.

My mom is convinced that it was not the birth control, that I needed a scapegoat of some sort—and that’s a completely valid opinion. After all, she used the same birth control that I was prescribed and had no problems with it. About a year later, as a sophomore in college, I decided to try birth control again. Over winter break, my best friend and I took the train to Planned Parenthood in Chicago, for my consultation, which was extremely easy to book online through their website. Everyone at Planned Parenthood was so kind; the doctor said she appreciated me taking my health into my own hands, and I almost gave her a hug. After about a 30-minute consultation, my doctor wrote me a year-long prescription for a different birth control. I told my best friend about the new prescription, and she excitedly screamed in the waiting room that we’re going to be “birth control buddies” because she happened to use the same brand. Things were looking up, and I was excited to try it again after my not-so-fun first bout with oral contraceptives.

Again, for the first two weeks I felt great. My skin looked fabulous, and this time I didn’t gain any weight. I thought, “Finally! I found a birth control that doesn’t turn me into a different person.” I was so excited to feel great and carefree, but this quickly came to a halt the first week of this semester. I would wake up nauseous to the point where I spent mornings leaning over the toilet. My anxiety was through the roof—worse than the first time, actually—and I started bawling and having trouble breathing during all of my classes. After a week, I threw out my birth control once again, and decided to accept the fact that oral contraceptives are not my forte.

Although it may not have worked for me, I have not lost hope with birth control. So many people love it, and I’m sincerely happy for them. Even though oral contraceptives are clearly not the best for me, there are localized forms of birth control like an IUD (both hormonal and non-hormonal) or NuvaRing that can work better. Hormones are complicated, and oftentimes they just suck, but safe sex and a healthy, regulated body is worth the work, in my opinion. After all, I’m glad I had this experience because I got to know myself and my body better, and I’m thankful to have a support system that stuck with me through it.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.