THE BIRTH CONTROL APP (TAKE II)

In a world where it’s nigh on impossible to know which day of the week it is or remember a friend’s birthday without the support of our smartphones, it makes perfect sense to reach for our little pocket computer when it comes to our birth control, too.

As you well know, there are tons of different forms of contraception available on the market. From those you get surgically inserted to others you need to pull out the bedside table just before knocking boots. The benefit of the former, of course, is that you don’t need to remember to do or take anything. However, an IUD or implant isn’t for everyone and you might have opted for the pill, which is where a reminder app might come in handy.

Lady Pill Reminder is a great app if you don’t have time to remember to take your pill. It’ll simply buzz at you when it’s time, you take the tab and you’re protected for another day. Simple. It works with all different types of birth control pills, and you can even enter the number you have in each packet and it’ll buzz when you’re about to run out. It’s very easy to use, and you can even change the icon to something discreet if you’re of a particularly private disposition – although remember, ladies: protecting yourself ain’t nothin’ to be ashamed of.

If you happen to take other medications in addition to your pill, it’s going to be even harder to remember when and what to take each day. MyTherapy (iOS/Android) is a little more comprehensive and can help with that. Its database has pretty much every medication under the sun, so if you have a more complicated pill-popping regime than others, it can be a real life-saver. It tracks activities and symptoms too, which you can bundle together in a report to keep for yourself or show to your doctor if something isn’t sitting quite right.

Of course, birth control isn’t everyone’s bag these days, with some trying to get pregnant (eek! When did this happen?!) which is where Natural Cycles can be useful. It’s an app that uses your temperature to determine the days you are and aren’t fertile so you know when the best time to hop into bed is. I wouldn’t rate it as a method of birth control on its own, as it seems a tad risky, something I spoke about a few weeks ago, but of course, that’s up to you.

Choosing the right contraception is a very personal decision and can take years to find one to suit your body and lifestyle. If you do decide the pill is the method for you, though, why not allow technology to take care of the remembering, so you can focus on all the other, more exciting aspects of your life instead? Such as where your next margarita is going to come from?

Birth control doesn’t have to be a pain in the butt. You just have to do your research and figure out what works best for you.

This is a contributed post

THE J.O.B

There’s a lot to be said for the impact a 9-5 can have on your mental health.

In this instance, although not always the case, I’ll be talking about the positives.

Allow me to digress.

Mindfulness burst onto the scene a couple of years ago. Everyone bulk bought mandala colouring books, invested in meditation guides and began to slow down the pace as the world was just starting to speed up. It was a popular movement with busy millennials, struggling to switch off, and rightly so. I still practise it on the daily, so I don’t disagree with the fact we could all do with taking a break, practising our breathing and finding more time to come offline, but I’m also a firm believer that a stimulating job with a steady income can also provide you with peace of mind like no other. Believe it or not, doing more can actually be good for us.

I know this isn’t the same for everyone and it might be an unpopular assertion with many who are hovering around a similar age bracket to me (the 25-34s) but hear me out.

Twice since university, I have found myself unemployed. Twice in my life my mental health has suffered.

You guessed it. The times I’ve felt my most anxious or depressed is when I’ve had no job to turn up to. No work colleagues. No steady income. No direction. No vision of the future. My self-esteem suffered, meaning my confidence took a knock, which meant I didn’t want to go out, which meant I didn’t see my friends, which led to me feeling incredibly low, alone and isolated. Not to mention confused, lost and a little out of focus.

For me (and I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, with some finding work a real struggle and at times impossible) having something to do each day keeps me sane. I might not have loved every job I’ve had, and it’s easy to say now I am head over heels for the one I have, but even when I didn’t love my 9-5, it still forced me up and out each day, provided me with the cash flow to allow me to do the things I love and provided the boost to my self-esteem I so quickly lost when sat in my pyjamas, applying for jobs, hiding from the world. A job takes the attention away from you and your own thoughts and having to get up, get dressed, smile and function can be the difference between a poorly mind and a sound one.

Of course, there are times where the job is the problem. You can have a boss who’s a bit of a shit and you might not click with your coworkers. The tasks themselves might be too much to handle and the pressure can be all consuming, but if you feel as though your mental health is suffering, try not to jump straight to slowing down the pace without closing your ears off from all the mindfulness chat to consider whether it could, in fact, be the opposite. You might find you have too much time on your hands, which can be just as damaging as having too little.

Whether it’s freelance work, a classic 9-5 set up, or something with an entirely different work pattern, spend time finding a job that works for you because I’m fairly certain it can be the key to keeping you and your brain cells on the straight and narrow.

Just some food for thought.

THE SMEAR

When it comes to talking about lady bits and female health, you don’t have to ask me twice. I’m all for shouting about getting those lumps and bumps checked, which is why I thought I’d share my second smear experience with you. You know, just in case you fancied delving into the inner workings of my gynaecological health.

So for those who are still here and haven’t clicked away in horror, here’s how my second smear was notably different from my first, in case you were worried or wondering about yours.

I now have a Mirena coil.

I know right, I didn’t think it would make a difference, either. Particularly as someone who holds her IUD in such high esteem. But lo and behold, my coil made the whole experience hella more uncomfortable than my first.

Having no qualms about dropping my knickers for doctors and nurses, I naively waltzed into the surgery ready for my close up. She took her swab and I winced. Turns out, when you have a coil, your cervix is more sensitive to prodding and can tend to bleed when a smear is taken, leading to a chance of discomfort – and more frustratingly – inconclusive results.

I thought I’d share this information because, if I’d have known, I’d have popped a couple of paracetamol beforehand to take the edge off. Now you can.

I had an amazing nurse.

She was playing soft whale music on arrival and when it came to the test, she asked me to insert the speculum myself. I do realise it sounds like I went to some hippie retreat for my screening, but I can assure you, it was an NHS surgery with its priorities in the right place, making for a really zen experience.

In stark contrast, the nurse who conducted my first smear test chatted loudly the whole way through, didn’t explain what she was doing and then somehow lost my sample. I had to go back and do it again, so in actual fact, this was my third smear we’re talking about here.

The nurse I had last week, however, said she would rather her patients insert the speculum themselves as they know their own bodies and she explained the whole process to me beforehand, followed by reassurance during the whole Mirena-sore-cervix-debacle. It made me realise your practitioner really can have a huge effect on your smear experience and I shouldn’t be so quick to judge when people tell me they’ve had a bad one.

Either way, though. Great nurse or not, uncomfortable or pain-free, when that letter arrives reminding you to book your smear, just do it. Sometimes cancer creeps up on us like a bad smell. Other times, it bursts in kicking and screaming. But once it’s there, it’s there and you’re much better off catching it when it first arrives, rather than when it’s already set up home and invited its family around for tea.

So, instead of popping the envelope on the ‘to deal with’ pile, along with student loan statements and ASOS returns, to be forgotten about for months on end, deal with it immediately. Unlike jeans that don’t fit and that 8 quid coming out of your account each month, this piece of paper is crucial, and by neglecting to take action on it, you’re actually putting your life at risk.

Any questions, let me know. In the meantime, book that appointment. Thirty seconds of discomfort or awkwardness is nothing in comparison to what might happen if you ignore it.

THE JOY OF NOT SHARING

I talk too much.

I’ve been told so since I was a kid.

Talking the ears off mum as we traipsed up and down Oxford Street. Not stopping for breath in Maths. ‘Chatty’ etched into pretty much every school report I ever had (along with ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘sociable’, and we all know what those adjectives really mean when spouted from the mouths of teachers).

And even well into adulthood, not much has changed.

I’ll talk about anything that springs to mind. Form opinions on anything you fancy. And when it comes to life crises, relationship woes and friendship concerns, I voice those too. Heart on sleeve for life, that’s the Aries way.

Now, lots of therapists and elders will tell you that’s great. That talking is healthy. We’re constantly encouraged to ‘speak up’ and ‘get things off our chest’ in order to help improve our mental health, but you know what, I’m not so convinced spilling all of the beans all of the time is such a good idea.

As someone who keeps other people’s secrets entirely to themselves, but airs all their dirty laundry online or over a negroni or two with my best ones, I’ve learnt that vocalising your worries or concerns can actually sometimes be detrimental to one’s decision-making, overall happiness and ability to work out who you are. Being silent, and not giving a trivial problem room to breathe has a lot to answer for.

Sounds unhealthy, right? Probably is, for someone who can keep their trap shut for more than thirty seconds.

But for those of you who can’t, hear me out.

Decisions both large and small, I struggle to make them. I always order last in a restaurant. I rarely paint my nails in anything other than white, navy or nude. In fact, I never do, yet I own around 80 different shades of various polish. Big life decisions? Give me a month. Other people, quieter people, seem to make decisions left, right and center. For me, a talker, I weigh myself down with so many opinions that I rarely know what I want. If I listened to the voice inside my head instead of talking all the time, perhaps I’d stop drowning out my own thoughts and be able to hear myself a little clearer.

The problem with sharing so much is that people will respond to what you’re saying, and rightly so. But as helpful as it may seem, collecting so many opinions can also be quite damaging. The two cents of others can tend to muddle your own thinking and push what you really think or want to the back of your mind, which in turn, is just as unhealthy (and counter-productive) as not talking at all.

Recently, I’ve realised that keeping some things private is a good idea. I’ve been sharing less with friends and I actually feel a heck of a lot better for it. There’s less judgment, less pressure and I think I’m finally working out what I really want. I’m the happiest I’ve been in a very long time.

Although I’m going against what pretty much all psychologists will tell you, I do think that for those of us who like to chat or find decision-making a struggle, we might actually be better off saying nothing and figuring things out in our own mind and time instead of constantly conversing with friends and family. That way, we might get what we really want as opposed to what we think we should be aiming for.

They do say silence is golden, and I think they (in some cases) could be right.

THE BIRTH CONTROL APP

Despite being a little bias towards the Mirena, a birth control method that has changed my life for the better, I would never dream of telling a woman what to do with her body just because it works for me. I would, however, feel as though I were doing the sisterhood a disservice if I didn’t speak up about something that I felt was leaving women in a vulnerable position.

That something is the Natural Cycles app.

It’s at this point, I’d like to point out that I’m no doctor, but I do have a uterus and am therefore entitled to have an opinion on this. I would also like to note that I don’t have a problem with it being used as a form of family planning with an intent to conceive; this post is in response to it being heralded as queen of contraception on social media, because honestly, the momentum it is gaining on Twitter and Instagram is bringing me out in hives.

My main issue is that I do not believe that endorsing bloggers to promote a particular type of birth control is either good or responsible of the brand. I am all for educating women on the options available and I understand that influencers earn their keep from doing sponsored posts and forming partnerships, but I think it’s careless of companies to ask bloggers to promote something to young audiences that, if used incorrectly or with the wrong body, can change lives. I also think that education, particularly sex education, should remain totally unbias, regardless of where it is coming from.

Not only that, the reliability of the app itself as a method of contraception has been put into question. It uses only temperature and calculations based on your last few periods to decipher whether you are ‘safe’ to have unprotected sex or not. Science aside for a second, that seems a little flaky to me. It might be a good way to practise safe sex on top of other methods of birth control, or to plan pregnancy, but if people have fallen pregnant with hormones pumping through their bodies or pieces of metal wedged in their wombs, then it’s surely even more likely to happen when you’re using nothing but heat to gauge your fertility? After all, all bodies are different and temperature and cycles can be affected by anything, from stress or illness to food allergies and even exercising too much.

My audience is mainly women aged between 25 and 35 years old, so you could assume you’ve got your birth control sussed (if you choose to use it, of course) but it terrifies me to think that there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of young girls, who don’t have access to the same information I did, who are going to be clicking and thinking that Natural Cycles is the only option out there for them. If there are any younger women reading this who are venturing into the wonderful world of contraception for the first time, please know that this app is not the only (if at all) reliable form of contraception out there and that there are other amazing hormonal and non-hormonal options available for you on the NHS.

Please do yourself a favour ladies, and don’t rely on the words of influencers who have been paid to talk about Natural Cycles to make a decision about how you would like to prevent pregnancy. As I’ve said, I think it’s pretty irresponsible of brands to ask them to do it in the first place, I’m not sure it’s wise for influencers to have agreed to do it and I sure as hell don’t think you should base any decisions on what they have to say about it. This isn’t some deal with Miss Papp or Missy Empire; this is your life we’re talking about.

If you want some valuable and impartial advice, make an appointment with your local family planning clinic or GP ASAP. Talk to your mum, colleagues, friends or sisters about their experiences. Google it all you can. Head to the NHS website. Soak up as much information as possible and try out as many methods as you like before settling on the one that’s best for you and your body. That’s really the only way to do it. And who knows? Natural Cycles might be it.

I certainly wouldn’t leave anything to do with my body in the hands of an app and I’m not convinced you should, either.

But of course, that’s entirely up to you.