Everyone is looking for a quick birth control fix. I’m too irresponsible to take the pill — I skip days at a time, then take three at once to catch up. Can you feel my mood swings from your screen? Naturally, I ask my gynecologist for other options.
She presents many solutions, but all seem like more effort than the pill, or risk nasty side effects. Then, she tells me about the Nexplanon etonogestrel birth control implant. According to the doctor, irregular bleeding and possible weight gain were the only common side effects. This tiny, toothpick-sized rod is placed under the skin on the inside of the arm. The procedure is simple: your arm is numbed, a microscopic incision is made and the bar slides in.
I drag my sorority housemother along to hold my hand during the procedure sometime in May. We are in and out of Watkins in a matter of 30 minutes. I admit it was dramatic of me to call it a surgery. It's pain free, and I walk away with three years of protection from unwanted pregnancy.
Summer comes and I stop getting a period as my body adjusts to the new birth control. It’s just in time for swimsuit season. This thing seems too good to be true.
At the end of June I decide to break up with my long-distance boyfriend of three years. This brings a lot of heartbreak and confusion. I find myself crying on the way to work my retail job, trying to compose myself before starting my nine-hour shift. It keeps happening. Weeks go by, I’m still constantly in tears and I can’t understand why. I knew breaking up was the right decision.
August comes around and it’s time to go back to school. Usually, I can’t wait to go back. I beg my parents to let me off the leash and head back a few days early, but not this year. I dread leaving them, and feel unsettled about the change. Reluctantly, I move back into my sorority house to start my junior year.
The week before sorority recruitment, we have full days of running through conversation topics and sisterhood bonding. The week usually sucks, but I always look forward to messing around with my friends after being apart for months. But instead of my usual obnoxious jokes, I find I have nothing to say. The masses of girls everywhere overwhelm me. That week we have a carnival in our parking lot: a bounce house, cotton candy machine, pie-eating contest, the whole nine yards. As my friends take pictures and smash pies in each other’s faces, I hide in the bathroom trying to take control of my breathing. I’m having a panic attack for the first time in my life.
“What's going on? What am I freaking out about? Why I am so out of control?”
At night, I lay in my bunk bed staring at the metal springs which seem far too close to my face, unable to sleep. I sob, hoping the 27 other girls in the room don’t hear. When I really start to freak out, I go in the bathroom, sit in a stall and attempt to get my shit together. I pray no one comes in.
I try to hide that I’m falling apart. I don’t want anyone to know. I avoid my friends and dodge my parents’ phone calls. I’m not sleeping, and it only makes matters worse.
One of my professors pulls me aside during syllabus week to ask if everything is okay. Clearly, I’m showing signs of cracking. Every night, like clockwork, I make excuses to hide from everyone. I take too much melatonin and swaddle myself in a blanket, begging my mind to sleep.
Things get so bad that I call my parents. I sit in my car listening to the dial tone, anxious for my dad to pick up. When he does, I can’t talk. All I hear is his voice, saying “Kate? Kate? What’s wrong?”
He can tell the silence means something bad. When I finally choke out a pathetic hello, I feel dumb for calling, because I have no idea what’s making me freak out. I stay on the line with my mom and dad for a few minutes before I’m able to say anything else. Eventually, I calm down enough to ask them where they are. They’re at my dad’s birthday dinner with my family, they say. I didn't even realize it was his birthday. All I can say is that I’m freaking out and I don’t know why. They freak out too.
It feels better now that my parents are aware of the situation, but I still don’t want anyone to know how I’m feeling. One of my friends walks in on me panicking in the bathroom and calls in the troops. I'll never forget sitting in my room while my five best friends watch me unravel. I can see the confusion and worry in their faces when I can’t explain myself.
We all agree that something needs to change, but we don’t know what. My parents keep asking if I’m taking drugs, trying to find a reason for my drastic downward spiral.
Finally, a breakthrough: my mom finds stories of masses of women who had their arm implants taken out because of the intense emotional distress it caused them.
I skip class to get the next possible appointment with the gynecologist. I know I need to get the implant out. It’s clear to the doctor that there’s a problem when tears stream down before I can explain what’s going on. Because what I was feeling isn't on the list of side effects, she questions if there is anything else that could be triggering these emotions. She offers to set me up with a psychologist, but by now I know exactly what the problem is.
The next day, the doctor makes a tiny incision again, and pulls out the four-centimeter piece of plastic that turned my life upside down. In a matter of days, I’m back to my normal self.
It’s the biggest relief of my life.
Now, I am vigilant. I end up replacing the arm implant with an IUD, but not before doing my research. I question the doctor extensively and ask friends about their experience until I'm sure it’s the right decision for me.
I can empathize, now, with people who struggle with mental illness. At my darkest, I thought things would never get better. I’m lucky that taking out the implant out made the difference — for so many, there is just no simple fix.