It was the winter of 2017 and life was busy. I was 38 years old, married for almost 13 years, a mother of 10-year-old identical twin girls, and an almost 9-year-old daughter. I was in my 15th year of teaching and had been a successful literacy coach for the past five. l thrived being busy and always seemed to get everything done, even when it seemed impossible. I would describe myself as strong-willed, determined, passionate, intense, competitive, a perfectionist, controlling, aware, empathetic, and more importantly, always prided myself on my resilience. Unfortunately, I would soon learn the power of Depo and how even the strongest of wills would concede to it.
The Depo Black Box Warning – Ignored
In early February 2017, I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood, specifically to get the Depo Provera birth control injection. I didn’t have a gynecologist or the patience to look for one near me, so I thought this was the easiest and quickest way to get what I needed and continue with my busy life. I’m extremely impatient as well. That moment stopped me dead in my tracks. It was February 22, 2017, and at that moment, everything as I knew it would change.
I was brought into a room and a nurse walked in. We didn’t discuss anything besides when I casually asked what the side effects were, thinking I’d hear the same things I had always heard. Her only warning was that I might spot a little but that it was normal. Then, right before she gave me the injection, she pulled out two forms and asked me to sign them without telling me what they were. I just figured it was a formality, so I signed them and never thought anything of it. It was not until about 7 months later when I looked again and saw that the forms stated that I was given Depo’s written black box insert, which is the most stringent warning short of an outright ban, and that I was verbally warned of the very serious and dangerous side effects. Months later, I learned that medical professionals, injecting Depo, are legally obligated to disclose both the written and verbal warnings, before administering the shot. The next thing I knew, she injected my right upper thigh with Depo Provera.
The Depo Storm: From Weight Gain to Total Debilitation
Within days, I just didn’t feel right. I began noticing that I was unusually moody and tired, and felt overall, puffy. Soon after the shot, I started struggling with my weight, which was highly unusual. I’m barely 5 feet tall and have always been petite, and more importantly, had always been able to control my weight. Furthermore, I led a healthy lifestyle of watching what I ate and working out often. But in only 2 months, I had exceeded my all-time highest weight. I now weighed the same as I did when I was 9 months pregnant with my youngest daughter. My concern prompted me to return to Planned Parenthood and speak with the same nurse who had administered the injection. I told her what was going on and she replied, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Those words repeated over and over in my head to this very day. I told myself it would be over soon and that I’d be back to my old self once the shot “wore off” in three months, which was May 2017. Well, May came and went and my symptoms only got worse. This is when I realized there was no “expiration date,” and that once Depo is in your body, you can never take it out.
Months passed, and in September 2017, my physical health took a sharp turn for the worse. I experienced memory loss, profuse sweating day and night, extreme itchiness, and frequent hives, and was very easily startled. I also developed dizziness, water retention, constipation, vaginal infections, muscle weakness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, hair loss, no sex drive, depression, anxiety, no menstrual cycle or ovulation, bloating, dry skin, severe tooth decay, sore breasts, toenail infections, incontinence, and debilitating exhaustion.
One day at work in early November 2017, I started getting itchy hives. It only started as a few, but within hours, I was covered from head to toe in the itchiest and biggest welts I’ve ever had. I drove myself to the emergency room and my husband met me later on. I was given Benadryl and told I must’ve had an allergic reaction to something. I now know it was Depo wreaking havoc on my body…and that was just the beginning.
On November 19, 2017, I watched my sister pass away from a painful battle with cancer. This loss shook my world. My emotional stress was at an all-time high, and I quickly spiraled into a deep depression. As a controlling person by nature, I was losing all of it and fast, and that alone took a huge mental toll on me. I could no longer control my emotional, mental, or physical health, and didn’t have the stamina to do the job I was once successful at and loved. I became an emotionally unstable mother and wife, was in a constant state of fight or flight, and my exhaustion was literally beyond comprehension.
No matter how hard I fought to be “normal,” my body and mind just weren’t responding in their “normal” ways. I was unrecognizable in every way and could no longer continue lying to myself that nothing was wrong, that I was imagining all these symptoms, or that one day this poison would “be out of my system.” Those were all lies I told myself trying to maintain some sense of normalcy and sense of control over the things I no longer had. I doubted my inner strength and resigned myself to the fact that this was the way life was going to be from now on and tried to accept that. And the only thing I felt like I had left was the memory and mourning of both the death of my sister and the determined person I identified as my entire life. I constantly reflected on the mass destruction it had over my life but didn’t have the physical strength or mental capacity to even consider addressing any of it.
Summoning the Strength to Self-Diagnose: Depo Destroyed My Thyroid
Almost one year later, in January 2018, as I sat slumped in the usual corner of my couch, in the deepest depression and defeat I once couldn’t even fathom and trying to become familiar with this new person I had inadvertently become, I felt one last glimmer of hope and truly believe my sister gave me strength, from the other side. So, I began researching my symptoms…all of them, and they all pointed to either menopause or hypothyroidism. But I knew there was no way I could be menopausal when before Depo, my cycle was like clockwork, I ovulated every single month, and was overall, very healthy. So, I diagnosed myself with hypothyroidism and focused all my attention there.
In February 2018, after I self-diagnosed, I decided it was time to start seeing doctors to get an official diagnosis and begin getting my health back. I noted every single symptom to prepare for my appointments, thinking being prepared would bring me closer to a diagnosis. I first started out seeing hormone specialists, otherwise known as endocrinologists. Other doctors I saw included 2 primary physicians and a rheumatologist, to rule out lupus. Well, my visits with these doctors proved that all the preparation in the world meant nothing at all. I was never heard. Instead, I was dismissed, told I was probably peri-menopausal, told I was experiencing all 25-plus symptoms because I had just turned 40. I was even told to see a psychiatrist! To boot, all blood results were “normal.” Although I questioned my sanity more than once, the knowledge I had acquired told me differently. I just knew there had to be an answer. I figured if I could narrow down the reason why I was sick, then why couldn’t someone else? So, my search continued.
I then focused what little energy I had left on thyroid research, spending every waking moment, which wasn’t much after all considering I slept most of my days away, delving deep to learn as much as I could. I took notes on my phone and bookmarked more articles than I could count. I also read the books, “The Dangers of Depo: The World’s Most Dangerous Birth Control,” by Traci Johnstone and Dr. Poppy Daniels, and “In the Name of the Pill,” by Mike Gaskins, which I highly recommend. I joined several Depo Facebook Support groups and soon learned that I was not alone. After I became what I considered to be an “expert,” in both thyroid and female hormones, my opinion on these support groups wasn’t always the most popular, and I even ended up getting kicked out of one of these groups for providing facts!! Regardless, all of this information confirmed that my symptoms were actually common, and this gave me the motivation to keep on moving forward.
Finally, Confirmation: Thyroid Conversion Disorder
In March 2018, I was no longer physically able to care for my daughters, take care of the house or myself, or do my job, but what I could do and had control over was arming myself with even more knowledge. But this time, my research focused on natural remedies and non-conventional medicine. This leads me to a bioidentical hormone replacement doctor. He didn’t take insurance, but my level of desperation was at its peak, and there is no price on my health. I spent thousands of dollars in comprehensive testing, over a short period, but finally got a diagnosis…the thyroid diagnosis I had given myself months prior. My main diagnosis was a Thyroid Conversion Disorder. Other diagnoses included: copper toxicity, essential nutrient deficiencies, a mitochondrial defect, high liver enzymes, candida, estrogen dominance, and low testosterone and progesterone. And there were quite a few other abnormalities in my blood cell levels, which still have not leveled out. To paint you a better picture, my Thyroid Reverse T3 level was over 40, when between 7-15 is optimal. This is sometimes referred to as your “hibernation” hormone, which is when your metabolism shuts down, your core body temperature drops, and you gain fat to prepare like a bear hibernating in the winter.
In mid-April 2018, I began bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, thyroid medication, and hundreds of dollars in supplements and out-of-pocket doctor visits. That wasn’t the end of my journey, however, because although I was finally given a diagnosis, my thyroid disorder is so rare, that not even hormone specialists or the best of non-conventional doctors knew how to treat it correctly. So, my search continued.
In May 2018, having seen two more doctors, spending more money, and doing more obsessive research, I finally figured out how to treat my rare condition. I took this new information to a naturopathic doctor who shockingly had knowledge and experience treating my specific and rare condition. Since he couldn’t prescribe, he worked in conjunction with a prescribing doctor from the second-highest-ranking hospital in the nation. Within a week of starting treatment, I began feeling better. However, my sigh of relief was short-lived. I wound up having issues getting my thyroid medication from the prescribing doctor, who was neither comfortable treating my rare condition, nor cared to understand it, and especially since, as my naturopathic doctor said, “We have to play a game in order to get your medication because the big wigs at the hospital will question the doctor asking why he’s prescribing medication when your levels are not in range.” My naturopathic doctor even went as far as admitting that the prescribing doctor knew nothing about thyroid, didn’t care to and that he was manipulating him into giving me my medication, which finally started making me feel human again. I wasn’t hopeful, nor did I feel like playing a game, especially after all I had been through. But I knew that if you truly understood my condition, or cared to, you’d know my levels will never be in range again and shouldn’t be, with the medication I am on. Apparently all that mattered were my numbers, which weren’t indicators of how I felt at all. Again, my search continued.
In August 2018, I was interviewed by a Canadian reporter, Sandra Bartlett, who contacted me on one of the Facebook Depo Support Groups. She was working on a podcast featuring five women’s stories about Depo and asked if I’d like to be part of it. I jumped at the chance. Sadly though, it would never be aired because she couldn’t find a doctor to explain, let alone acknowledge, that Depo does in fact, cause horrific effects. During this time, I met a girl online named Gretchen, who was basically telling my story verbatim. I saw the anger, resentment, and thirst for knowledge in her and we would later team up to create a Facebook support group for those who developed endocrine disorders as a direct result of Depo. We continue to fight for stricter regulations on birth control and tirelessly work to spread awareness and truth about the very real and serious dangers of this poison.
In October 2019, only several months ago, and after another failed attempt at seeing a well-known and highly rated integrative doctor, I decided to return to the bioidentical hormone replacement doctor who had given me my initial diagnosis in April 2018. Although he doesn’t see or acknowledge the correlation between Depo and the mass destruction it had on my mental, emotional, and physical health, I know the person I was before that day, and I know, without any doubt in my mind, that Depo Provera tried its hardest to tear me down.
Almost exactly three years to the date of my one and only Depo Provera injection, yes, that’s all it takes, I still deal with some lingering effects. Depo affected me on a cellular level by depleting my serotonin, dopamine, and GABA neurotransmitters, and ultimately caused me to develop a panic disorder, not to mention a thyroid disorder, which requires me to take medication for the rest of my life. I’d be remiss not to mention that Depo completely destroyed my oral health. Over the course of a year and a half, I had countless, and very painful, dental procedures costing thousands, and still counting.
What the Depo Experience Taught Me
The fact is, this experience changed me, but it certainly did not defeat me. It is true that I am not the same person I was three years ago. Throughout my experience, including my sister’s death, I was taught some major life lessons and am much wiser, and more cautious now. I use the word “taught,” and not learned, because this was definitely something I never expected to happen and certainly wasn’t prepared for. The first lesson is summed up in the saying,
“Every tragedy that happens in our life is not intended to defeat us but to make us stronger.”
For those going through the same thing, although you may feel like giving up like you will never again be the same, know that you have more strength than you realize, and more importantly, that you can get through this!! Hold onto that hope and keep moving forward, even if it’s only small steps at first.
Second, please understand that KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. I attribute a lot of how far I have come to empower myself with knowledge. This allowed me to advocate for myself and my health, even when so many others told me differently. Remember, you are your biggest cheerleader and only you know yourself better than anyone else. Don’t ever question that.
And last, but certainly not least, the biggest lesson I was taught is to NEVER, EVER TAKE HEALTH FOR GRANTED because it can be gone in an instant. Sometimes that is all it takes. I thank God every day for these lessons and for making me stronger than I ever imagined. I dedicate my story to my sister, Christy, my guardian angel, whose memory gave me the will to keep on fighting and the spirit to never give up.
Unfortunately, the negligent, unethical, and blameless medical practices continue to take place, while the number of unsuspecting victims rises. Arm yourself with knowledge! For more information on how birth control affects the endocrine system, please join our Facebook group, “Depo-Provera Endocrine Disorders Support Group.” Thank you.
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This article was published originally on January 5, 2020.