on hearing women

Required reading before continuing.

I had a remarkably similar experience to Rachel’s. Actually, maybe it isn’t that remarkable. I’d guess that hundreds of women read that article and thought, me too.

On a Thursday in the spring of 2011, I spent the day experiencing a pain that was constant but bearable. I thought it might be pre-menstrual cramps or a pulled muscle. By the evening, it was no longer bearable and I asked my roommate to take me to an urgent care. She looked at me, doubled over in pain, and said we needed to go to the ER, not urgent care.

I’d been to the ER once when I was 10, when I broke my arm in a soccer game. Actually, I had broken it the day before. Maybe I have an extremely high pain tolerance. Maybe by 10 I was already used to downplaying my pain.

We got to the ER, where I struggled to fill out paperwork and told them my pain was a 10. Like in Rachel’s story, they assumed it was kidney stones.

I vomited on the floor of the ER because the pain was so intense.

They put me in a separate small room because I kept crying out in pain, then was told by a male nurse that the noises I was making would not help the type of pain I was experiencing.

I thought I was dying. I asked friends to pray for me because that seemed the only path to being healed while I waited for a doctor.

Five hours later, I was finally admitted. I went through the same spiel I gave to ER nurses – how the pain had progressed, where it was focused, what it felt like (a knife stabbing my insides then being twisted through my organs).

They gave me morphine. It didn’t help. They gave me Dilaudid. The pain dulled slightly. Like Rachel, it mostly just made me sleepy. I drank something that tasted awful and they did a CT scan. They found that I had a cyst that had overtaken my ovary. Luckily for me, it wasn’t wrapped around the fallopian tube like Rachel’s. The doctor told me that a cyst pushing on an ovary can cause some pain, especially right before your period starts. I told him it wasn’t just “some pain.” My cyst measured 6-7 centimeters, nearly triple the size of my ovary.

An appointment was set up for me with an OB/GYN who promptly put me on a birth control pill, saying it would help. I didn’t know then that the pill can’t do anything for an existing cyst. The OB/GYN didn’t recommend any other course of treatment.

Thankfully, my primary care physician recommended a different OB/GYN to me. My new doctor went over my scans with me again. We met in her office, not in the cold setting of an exam room. She told me that I could go off the pill if I wanted, that it wasn’t going to help. She told me there was no reason to leave a cyst of this size in my uterus. She told me I might lose my ovary. She told me it was up to me if I wanted the surgery, but that she recommend it. She gave me time to process and ask questions.

About a year after my trip to the ER, I had laparoscopic surgery to remove the cyst. My doctor tried to separate the cyst from my ovary, but it was too entangled. Like Rachel, I lost my ovary.

Later, my doctor showed me the images they had taken of the inside of my uterus. She pointed out the cyst and compared its size to my other ovary. She showed me a second image with a void where my cyst-engulfed ovary had been.

I have three small scars, undetectable to anyone but me. But there is a sisterhood of women who share my scars.

breaking the cycle: thoughts on NYT “medicating women’s feelings” article

At the end of February, an op-ed came out in the New York Times called “Medicating Women’s Feelings.” You’ll probably want to read the article before continuing on. I’ll wait.

I’m so thankful for this article. Americans are scared to talk about mental health. I think many are also scared of women, especially “emotional” women, and I’m going to keep calling bullshit on that, as Julie Holland did.

“Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.”

Women are told not to be so sensitive, then not to be so bubbly. At work, have original ideas but don’t be aggressive about them. It’s confusing. As for many women, learning to understand my emotions and the way the world thinks of them has been a journey. For a long time, I was terrible at thinking through the levels of my emotions and expressing them to the people around me. Honestly, I’m still not great at it sometimes *cue side-eye* but I’m learning that my emotions have value.

2011 was a difficult year for me. Through family moves, deaths, a breakup, and a job ending, I felt everything dear was being violently ripped away from me. I was left in a very dark place, where I was quick to snuff out any light, content to sit in the cage of sadness I had built for myself. Then, in 2012, after talking with my parents, friends, doctor, and counselor, I decided to begin a low-dose antidepressant in conjunction with counseling.

I didn’t tell too many people, even close friends, when I started taking an antidepressant. But, I’ve realized since then that it’s not something I want to keep in the dark. The dark is where shame lives and grows, and I am not ashamed of who I am or the steps I chose to take to become who I am.

In her article, Holland says that more women than men are prescribed “psychiatric medication” and “are nearly twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder than men are.” I hate that those statements are true, that too many women are being numbed by over-medication, labeled with a misdiagnosis, and separated from society in yet another way. And, at the same time, many women and men with mental health issues go un-diagnosed.

Medication isn’t always bad. I was happy with my decision to take an antidepressant; I believe it helped me function and made it easier to sort through all the emotions I had, instead of being weighed down by only feeling sadness. After a year, I began to wean off the antidepressant, and let me tell you, it’s hard to come off. But I wanted to be back in the world fully. I felt I had to re-train the parts of my brain that had been numbed for so long. I had to remember that extremes don’t have to be bad and that feeling deeply is one of the most human things about us.

“We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

I believe Holland when she writes this. For me, medication was part of my journey to accepting my emotions, but it doesn’t have to be part of everyone’s experience. As women, we are emotional and sensitive beings, and it is a strength. Feeling is not weakness. Emotional responses are not weakness. They are human. They are vital.