It wasn’t until college that things started spiraling out of control. I remember so vividly the first time it happened: I was standing in a friend’s kitchen one afternoon and suddenly felt as though I couldn’t get enough air. My heart was racing, and I struggled to take a deep breath. It lasted a few minutes, and then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.
It happened again the very next day. And the next. And then it was accompanied by dizziness, lightheadedness, and heart palpitations. I tried to shrug it off as stress-related, but I knew deep down that something else was going on.
I scheduled an appointment with my general practitioner, who referred me to a cardiologist, who referred me to a pulmonologist. Each one drew blood, ordered labs, and performed various tests. In a span of about six months, I had an echocardiogram, a heart ultrasound, wore a holster monitor, took chest X-rays, was prescribed an inhaler and anti-anxiety pills, and blew into a tube on a fancy machine to check my lung function.
Every test came back normal, and each doctor was insistent that my problems were the result of stress. I was beyond frustrated. I had been hooked up to enough machines to make any cyborg jealous, had enough blood drawn to feed a family of vampires, and I still had no answers.
I decided to take matters into my own hands. So I spent the next year experimenting with my diet and lifestyle. I cut out common food allergens, ate organic, overloaded with healthy veggies, trashed chemical-laden personal hygiene and cleaning products, and tweaked my exercise routine. On the outside, I was an extremely healthy 22-year-old. But I still went to bed each night feeling dizzy and short of breath.
Then, about a year and a half after that very first episode, it suddenly dawned on me that my birth control pill was the only constant.
I immediately stopped taking it. Within six weeks, my symptoms vanished. I excitedly called my gynecologist, even though my annual appointment was a few weeks later. I was crushed when she didn’t believe me.
Instead, she switched me to another pill. But my symptoms came racing back. So I quit ... this time for good.
I went to my annual appointment insisting on a non-hormonal alternative (the copper IUD was off the table thanks to my dysmenorrhea, or painful cramps), and I was wholly disappointed by my doctor’s immediate suggestion of a hormonal IUD.
I stood firm, and asked about the only other non-hormonal option I could think of: the diaphragm. My doctor laughed and, begrudgingly, fitted me for one. With a diaphragm prescription in my hand, I left feeling insulted and alone. But I refused to believe that a diaphragm was my best option.