What’s Her Problem?

– Hypochondriac – Hysterical – Munchausen’s – Psychosomatic –

Any of these labels sound familiar? They are to me. Over the course of my life I have experienced a wide variety of chronic illness. Severe life-threatening asthma and allergies as a child, as well as chronic digestive disorders, eating disorders,  PTSD, depression, poly-cycstic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and migraines.

In my early twenties my chronic digestive issues reemerged, more violent and disruptive than ever.  After two years of trips to the Mayo Clinic and a bevy of dumbfounded motility specialists—I had eighty-five percent of my large intestine removed. After my colon was removed I was virtually bed ridden for the next three years as my body struggled to adjust to the loss of a major organ. And yes, I crapped my pants, my bed, my life—you name it, I’ve crapped on it or in it. My health journey has been long and and times filled with the treachery of the American health care system. It has been a tremendous challenge learning how to juggle the demands of life and health, without loosing my mind in the interim.

Sadly, over the course of my health journey one of the most common attitudes I have encountered within the health care system is disbelief, particularly if they are unable to solve my illness with a quick scribble on their prescription pad—constantly fighting prejudice and disbelief have also taken their toll on my mental and physical health.

The pervasiveness of this attitude is really nothing new. My 6th grade school nurse called me a hypochondriac so many times I still question my own body. Am I making it up? Am I just a sick freak that wants attention? I still have days that I think it’s “all in my head.,” regardless of the endless tests that have been done that confirm my infirmity. The unfortunately reality is that our culture blames the patient—without a doubt this impacts how those suffering with chronic illness not only experience illness, but how they experience their body.

But why?

It’s systemic and deeply rooted. A large majority of health care curriculum does not include women’s health topics, and the medical model is based upon an androcentric model. Did you know It wasn’t until the mid-1990’s that congress finally had to pass measures to compel the medical community to include women’s health care topics within their curriculum (with the exception of obstetrics and gynecology). Pharmaceutical testing has just begun including female test participants in their medicinal studies.

How do the social  perceptions of illness impact women’s health issues? How are culturally situated notions of illness, sickness, disease, malady, impact the patient and her experience of her body? These are some of the questions and issues I will be addressing through research and Creative Nonfiction flash essays—as well as the examination of the medical, mental, physical, financial, and social components of illness through the lens of the female experience.

I know I am not alone in this. There are thousands, if not millions of women out there who have experienced this same kind of gendered discrimination, I am just one one of them.

I will be posting Tuesdays or Wednesdays between May 24th & July 12th 2016.