I’m tired as I write this. Before my experience with the copper coil, I might not have thought much of it. But now I know that tiredness can be a trigger for anxiety and I live in fear that it could all come flooding back. I’m ok now, the remnants of that time have mostly disappeared; the only thing left is that fear, and no matter how much my rational mind knows it won’t ever come back the memory of it still makes me terrified that it could.
What happened with the coil crept up slowly. It shadowed me for weeks, nipping at my ankles, creeping up towards me until it was at my shoulder and then completely in my head. After more than ten years on the contraceptive pill, Cerazette, and two healthy sons, I wanted a longer-term option. I persevered with the implant for 18 months, but the agonising bloating finally got the better of me. The copper coil, non-hormonal and with few side effects seemed almost too good to be true. At my consultation I was informed of the risk of heavy bleeding and bad cramps. And that was it.
I had the coil inserted on 27th March 2019. I had it removed on the 11th June 2019. In just over two months I lost every bit of who I was.
I’m a list maker, an organiser and so when I come up against stress that’s what I do, I grip tightly onto routine and structure. I didn’t notice the lists getting longer, I didn’t question why I was checking our bank balance several times a day and I didn’t worry about why I couldn’t concentrate at work. I know now that those subtle signs were the start of it all.
I find it hard to talk about what happened next and I don’t want to go into details. It hurts. My mind has always been overactive, my thoughts lapse into one another and there is always a commentary in my head. It’s how I’m wired. So, when the list making and over organising gave way to manic over-thinking, again, I didn’t add anything up. That was the beginning of the intrusive thoughts.
People think OCD is being excessively neat or turning light switches on and off. It can be. But mostly, as I have learnt, it is obsessive thinking and then performing rituals to stop the excessive thinking. My intrusive thoughts were about people I loved. My best friend, my husband, and eventually my children. My rituals were Googling, list writing and fact checking.
The thoughts chipped away at first, then they hammered and hacksawed until it felt like an axe was pounding into my consciousness over and over. I couldn’t think properly, I couldn’t complete a task and I could barely get through the drive to work without crying. I had, had intrusive thoughts before. I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time but I knew they weren’t normal. I struggled after the birth of my first son, but when the dark thoughts happened, I could rationalise them. I had just had a baby, I was tired, I was lonely and so of course I wasn’t thinking straight. This time, there were no such seismic events, no way to rationalise and no warning whatsoever that it could all be down to my coil.
Think about all the people you love, the relationships you have built your whole life on and then imagine your own mind telling you to run. Imagine how hard it would be to understand that though your heart was still beating as it did before, your head was telling you to leave these people behind, convincing you that you didn’t love them, you weren’t meant for them, they were never really yours. These thoughts were boundless, they would be there when I looked at my children’s faces, they made me cut off my best friend and they made me tell my husband he needed to leave so I could know what was real. Those were my thoughts. Every minute of every day.
I have always had a strained relationship with my mum. I need to point that out because in my search for answers I led myself to believe that life had finally caught up with me. That I had spent so long not facing things from my childhood my mind was forcing me to confront them. I read and read and read about Relationship OCD and convinced myself this was what I had. I wholeheartedly believed that because I was at a point in my life where I had everything I ever wanted, I had gone into panic mode about losing it all and history repeating itself. It still hadn’t crossed my mind that it could be something else entirely.
By now I was constantly anxious. It would burn away at me all day, making me weak and shaky. And then I shut down. I detached myself from my life to make the anxiety stop but then the depression started. I was cold and colourless. It makes me angry that I spent weeks of my life being numb and empty, being depressed. I was a healthy and happy young woman before.
There was a 16 week waiting list for the NHS therapy service. My GP prescribed anti-depressants and warned me they would make things worse before they made me better. He was right. I couldn’t go to work or even get out of bed and my eyes stung from crying. It’s hard to get across how hard that time was. The thoughts were still ferocious and the numbness was still suffocating but the hopelessness was unbearable. Before the anti-depressants I was existing, lost and broken but existing; after them I simply didn’t want to be here anymore.
And then something clicked. I don’t know what or how, maybe I read something, but I Googled ‘copper coil and depression’ and suddenly everything made sense. I lost myself in forums full of women describing my experience, I discovered hashtags and movements all dedicated to copper poisoning and contraception. I delved into stories of OCD and anxiety and I looked into oestrogen levels and their correlation with copper. And I just knew.
So, I tried to remove it myself. I watched a You Tube video and stood in the bathroom squatted on the floor desperate to make it all stop. I tried three times. It didn’t work and I was frantic. I called the clinic where I had it put in and they had open appointments that evening. I got there 45 minutes early. There was still a queue. I still had to wait. I sat in that waiting room tapping my foot trying not to scream. When they saw me the nurse said they couldn’t take it out there and then. So I begged. I looked him in his eyes and I begged him to take that thing out of me. When he relented he said “there’s no link between the coil and depression, it’s non-hormonal”.
It was out within seconds and I was told to wait for ten minutes and then leave. By the time I got to my car, I was lighter. It sounds stupid but I knew there and then that this was the start of it all being over. I called my husband and I will never forget him telling me ‘You sound like yourself’. That night I stopped taking the anti-depressants.
It feels now like the time between realising what it was and getting help happened at warp speed. Like it was just all over in minutes. Of course it wasn’t, but the slow descent into OCD, anxiety and then depression had been so unexpected, so subtle that everything else seemed sped up. I worried for weeks that this was all a placebo effect, that I would wake up and it would have all come back. I was so scared that a part of me was gone forever. I bought supplements, changed my diet and cut out caffeine and alcohol. Recovery from copper poisoning isn’t instant. Your body has to clear it out and it’s a long process and because so little is really known about it, you have to figure most of it out by yourself. And more than that you have to find a way for your mind to move on.
I went to therapy with my mum to make sure I was free of any demons and I worked hard to repair my marriage, my friendships and my relationship with my sons. The only time I get anxious is if I am hungover or something big is happening and I don’t use any type of female contraceptive. I have reduced my use of list writing and am pursuing a career I have always wanted. I am healthy again but I am also making sure it stays that way.
Copper poisoning and the copper coil stripped me of myself. I’m angry that this happened to me. It was a few short months of my life but some women go for years not knowing what is happening to them. There are no studies and no scientific evidence to make the link but there are enough stories out there to prove copper poisoning from the copper coil is very real. Every story is different, some endings are worse than others. Maybe I was one of the lucky ones. Excess copper causes mental illness, the adrenal glands can’t clear it quick enough and if you already have high levels of oestrogen you’re even more likely to experience it. All I ask is that women look into it thoroughly before laying on a doctor’s table and potentially ruining their life.
I put something in my body that could have been there for five years and thought nothing of it. I trusted the health professionals and I was sold on a dream of contraception that would have very few side effects. It is my body and I should have done more to protect it, I should have researched it thoroughly and asked more questions but I didn’t. I’ll never forgive myself for that. I don’t know if there will ever be transparency around female contraception. It often seems like its just something we’re expected to put up with. The copper coil works amazingly for some women. I just wish there was greater clarity on what happens when it does go wrong. If I’d have known the possibilities I would have known to have it taken out as soon as those voices started, but I didn’t and who knows what would have happened if I’d left it longer. At best, years on anti-depressants, at worst my entire life wasted. I’m only one voice, just a normal mum with a normal life but in telling my story I hope I can raise enough awareness for others to see what happened to me isn’t normal at all.
Written by courageous and gorgeous Emma.