Long Term Effects

In the fall of 2013 I came down with a horrible cold. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t swallow, couldn’t even breathe. After missing work I finally visited my local walk-in clinic, but when the doctor told me that I was suffering from allergies, I put up a fight. Allergies? No, I know what allergies are. I have them. But I’m telling you, I’m sick. Look, I have a fever! She just shook her head with a look of patient understanding, like she’s heard this fight before, and told me again: it was allergies. And that was just the start.

Every spring and fall since then, my allergies grew worse. I tried all sorts of daily cocktails – a decongestant every morning and an allergy pill every evening. A nasal spray twice a day. Now different nasal spray with breakfast, followed by an allergy and asthma pill combo before bed. Then add on eyedrops as needed. Twice a year I’d be on antibiotics to fight the still inevitable sinus infections. For a woman who doesn’t even like taking advil for a headache, this routine was getting out of control. But I had no choice, right?

A few years into this battle, and probably sick of my constant complaining, my roommate finally asked me, “so what do you think caused these allergies to just suddenly start?”

I didn’t know. I still don’t. But the next morning I chewed on the idea for a long time. I thought about that first doctor’s visit back in 2013 – the timing, my age, and what was happening in my life. Almost four years before that visit, I had started taking birth control. It was the only pill that I took every single day. That, and now my plethora of allergy meds. Four years is a long time to be on the same pill, isn’t it? Every single day, for four years. After long term use, it must be changing your body… My body.

This moment of reflection came in 2017. It had been eight years since I started taking birth control. Eight years of taking the same pill every single day.

Still in bed, I reached for my phone and quickly consulted Dr. Google. Could birth control pills have long term effects? Could they change my body so drastically that I develop allergies? The majority of articles I read assured me that no, long term affects are highly improbable. This calmed me for a moment, until I noticed that these studies I found were basing “long-term use” on a period of just one year. I had been on this pill for eight years. I couldn’t even remember what my natural cycle was like anymore. Had I even fully matured into a natural cycle before altering my body with ingested hormones?

Reality pummeled me like a wave, and I stood up to find that my body suddenly felt artificial. I had been forcing her to behave like something she isn’t, and I was overcome with a desperate need to un-do this damage, to unleash her.

To be clear, I don’t believe that my birth control pill caused my allergies. But the point is, I don’t know. I have no idea. And if not allergies, in what other ways could my body have been affected? Maybe none… maybe. I didn’t take my pill that morning, and I haven’t since.

It doesn’t escape me that the pill has been, and continues to be, an essential icon of the feminist movement, or that it has enabled women with the vital control they deserve to have over their own bodies. The pill is an empowering step for women’s reproductive rights, and I support its use. I hope that some day the pill becomes available to all women – in this country and others. But I also hope that we see more long term studies. I hope we see more education of, and more alternatives to, the pill. I hope that more doctors choose not to default to prescription pills as a first response. I hope we see more homeopathic treatments and more natural foods. I hope that more women are given a choice, and are supported to do what is right for their individual selves.

For me, the pill was at one point the right choice. But it wasn’t any more, and hadn’t been for a long time.

After this revelation, I tried to combat my allergies with some homeopathic recipes I found online – mostly eating local honey and drinking small amounts of distilled organic apple cider vinegar. It did help, but unfortunately not enough, and after the next sinus infection I made the decision to begin allergy shot treatments. I don’t like the idea, but if I have to choose between a couple years of injections or a lifetime of pills, I’ll take my chances with the short term.

An Unwanted Kiss

The first time someone kissed me without my consent, I was about 5 years old.

At that time, my best friend was my neighbor, Allen, a boy who was at least twice my age (I imagine him now as a pimply faced preteen). My brothers and I played with Allen the same as we did with all of the other boys in the neighborhood, but to me Allen was special. He was nice to me. He always greeted me with a hug and a smile. He never complained about me tagging along. He was my friend.

But then my older brother told me he didn’t want to play with Allen anymore. One day he just decided he didn’t like him anymore… But that wasn’t my problem. Allen was still my friend, so he still came over and we played by ourselves while my brother kept his distance.

One day, while my brother sat alone on our swing set across the yard, Allen and I crawled underneath the back deck. Even though it was cramped, dark, and probably infested with bugs, I liked being under the deck. I liked that I could stand up to my full height in between the floor joists while everyone else had to hunch over and waddle around. It was one of the few places where my small size was an advantage. So Allen and I sat there, cross-legged, drawing dirt lines in the cold gravel. He asked me, “do you know what a French kiss is?” I told him no, but in my mind I was picturing some foreign kind of Hershey’s kiss. Maybe like the white chocolate ones that come in a silver wrapper with stripes. That seems French. I remember thinking that. He directed me: “close your eyes and stick out your tongue.” I was expecting chocolate, so you can imagine my surprise when instead I got his slimy wet tongue.

I didn’t know what exactly was going on, but I knew it was not okay. Without hesitation, I screamed, threw a fistful of gravel in his face, and ran out from under the porch. He tried to play it off as a joke, to reason with me, but I didn’t listen. I kicked him in the shins as hard as I could and ran to my brother. That was the last time I spoke to Allen.

For years following, every so often our yard would be victim to some minor neighborhood mischief. We all knew it was Allen – he was growing into a troubled kid, and he was at this point an outcast in our neighborhood. My parents didn’t understand why he chose our property to occasionally defile, but I knew.

I think now about all the times as a teenager, as a college student, as an adult, that men tried to kiss me without my consent. I think about the strategies my friends and I used to discreetly slip away from the guy sitting too close, to evade the handsy guy at the bar, to shake off the drunk guy who wanted to follow one of us home. I think about how polite we were. I think about how, as an adult, I could not, or would not, stand up for myself.

And then I think about my 5-year-old, badass, little self. What happened since then? How did I lose that instinct, that confidence, that strength? I didn’t even know what was wrong about what Allen did, but I acted anyway. I wish I had remembered this sooner. I wish that I had kept kicking, kept screaming, and kept standing up for myself, even if all that ever happened was an unwanted kiss.

Hair Dye

Sometimes I like to consult the childhood version of myself. She is the badass that I wish I could be. Unruly blond curly hair, overalls with one strap unhooked, mud streaked face, practicing how to spit, wearing boys clothes, wrestling till someone’s nose bleeds.

She is fearless.

I admire her for her confidence, her independence, her cleverness, her energy, her imagination, and her ceaseless optimism. She doesn’t know it, but she is a damn strong feminist.

I look to her for advice on a lot of things, even mundane ones. Sometimes, when I get in the mood to color my hair, I think about how she is always confused by hair dye, almost as if she doesn’t trust it. She would say “what’s wrong with the color it is? why do you think you need to change it? that isn’t who you are.” It’s stilly to talk to a 7 year old for beauty advice. I, and my opinions, have grown since then. But truthfully, every time I dye my hair I regret it. A couple years will pass, I’ll forget my old remorses, I’ll get bored with my usual cut, and I’ll dye it again. And then I’ll remember how much I hate spending all that time in a salon, what a stupid waste of money it is, how frustrating it is when the color immediately fades or the bleach just wont grow out, and how my actual color is just fine. It’s a minor thing, but I do always think – I should have listened to her, I should have listened to me – and somehow I know in my gut that this is about so much more than hair dye.