I adopted a dog from the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter this week. It’s great having a dog because now I’m forced to leave the house for things like ‘exercise’ and ‘fresh air.’ I’m also hoping she cures my crippling loneliness but I like her too much to set her up for that kind of failure. Before I took Nina home she had to be spayed; what should have been a simple procedure resulted in the vet terminating a litter of 9 puppies that she unexpectedly discovered in Nina’s 3 year old uterus. Apparently, they couldn’t let her leave the shelter an unspayed fertile goddess, so they had to remove her litter before sending her home with us. Nina was nothing but a body to bear children for the first 3 years of her life, and the system completely failed her!
Leaving the vet, I couldn’t help but make light of a horrible situation by joking that women’s healthcare is awful no matter what species you are. Maybe that’s too soon considering the US Government is currently defunding women’s healthcare left and right, but my achilles heel is turning serious situations into complete jokes—it’s called coping and it’s how I convince myself I don’t need therapy.
This year I’ve celebrated a few healthcare related anniversaries, which as it turns out will be the only anniversaries I celebrate this year. It’s been 1 year since I was diagnosed with Endometriosis, 5 years since my Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome diagnosis, and nearly 10 years since I began facing issues with my reproductive and sexual health. While that may seem out of the ordinary for a totally normal, incredibly cool, and wildly hot 25 year old gal like me, it’s actually very common. In fact, 1 in 10 women between the ages of 12 and 51 suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and another 1 in 10 with endometriosis. Neither of which have a cure—or reliable treatment plans.
When I was about 15 years old my periods were so awful I couldn’t sit through a 50 minute class without having to vomit. I’d have trouble driving myself home; blacking out in pain at the wheel makes the whole crusade against texting and driving seem a bit dramatic. When my mom and I expressed our concerns to my doctor, she prescribed me birth control to manage the pain. This felt exciting as a young, soon-to-be sexually active woman. However, I remained completely unaware of the side effects of birth control, in both the short term and long term. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, after more than 5 years on the pill, did I learn that synthetic Progesterone (ahem, birth control, ahem) has significant effects on the brain’s serotonin and monoamine oxidase levels, which can result in depression, irritability, and anxiety. It seems to me that before prescribing a 15 year old girl who has much of her sexually reproductive years ahead of her a pill that could decrease libido and increase anxiety, doctors should explore the root cause of chronic pain? But then again I’m just a dumb girl, what do I know!
In a desperate attempt to free my body of unwanted chemicals, I resolved to go off the pill at 20 years old. I was in a dry spell anyways so fuck it! My period disappeared for just over 10 months. I was practically the Virgin Mary herself, floating around pretending I was holier than thou because I didn’t have a period and I wasn’t even pumping my body with synthetic hormones! The times I’d wake up in the middle of the night after having completely sweat through my pajamas in pain felt so distant. Oh how naive I was, because when my period graced me once again, she was so painful I ended up in Urgent Care. My doctors, despite my near year-long abstinence, convinced me all of this ongoing pain was the result of untreated chlamydia (slut!) and injected me with whoknowswhat to treat the symptoms immediately and urgently. It was no surprise that when the STD test came back, it was negative. While I was thrilled that I didn’t have an advanced stage venereal disease festering inside my born again virgin organs, it was frustrating to be back at square one.
After doing my research to find a gynecologist who gave a shit, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: a hormone imbalance that causes infertility, which explained the symptoms I’d been having for the past 6 years. Weight gain, a result of the hormone imbalance caused by PCOS, is often blamed for the symptoms of the disease— women are told that the pain they’re feeling may be a cause of being overweight. Yes, let’s keep conditioning you women to think life will get better if they go on a diet. Hint: it doesn’t. Life isn’t shitty because you’re fat, it’s shitty because you have an untreated reproductive disorder. Because of this stigma, 50% of PCOS cases go undiagnosed. However, once I was diagnosed via ultrasound and hormone testing, my doctor suggested that going back on birth control was pretty much the only treatment plan available to me. I chose to start the pill again and was a real fucking gem to no one’s surprise, having to readjust to extreme mood swings and heightened anxiety. See: me sobbing on the side of the street because I had to go to work on the day of the Cubs World Championship Parade. I cannot begin to explain how little I care about baseball.
For an illness that affects 10% of women in the US, it feels as though more research should go into more effective ways to treat the chronic pain instead of pumping us with hormones like unstable cows. I’d love to have my sanity back and I’m sure my friends, family, and men I choose to one day date will agree!
When it rains it pours, and the same goes for chronic illnesses— 1 in 4 Americans have more than 1 chronic condition. How’s that for the case for Universal Healthcare? Put me in front of the Senate, I’m ready. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had painful bloating that results in me looking like I’m 5 months pregnant. If you don’t believe me, I have an album of fake pregnancy pictures on my phone which I’ve chronicled over the years to prove to my doctor I wasn’t lying or crazy. I noticed it become more frequent and increasingly painful around 24 years old. So many times I found myself going into the bathrooms at restaurants, bars, or my workplace to lay on the floor to try and bury the pain. Yes, I would lay on the grimy floor because where else does a gal go when it feels like Arya Stark’s sword is stabbing her uterus repeatedly? It’s so repulsive and I need to not be judged for admitting it on the internet but that’s how horrible the pain is! Feel bad for me! Eating made it worse, having sex made it worse, drinking coffee made it worse; my uterus was limiting me from doing all of my favorite things!
Thankfully, my gynecologist simultaneously gives a shit and specializes in reproductive and sexual dysfunctions in women—something I highly recommend you look for in a physician. After a year under her watchful eye, she suggested I undergo a laparoscopy to try and remedy the problem. In 2018 I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic illness that also affects 1 in 10 women, via a surgical procedure. I now have two options to manage my pain—wow, so many, how could I ever choose? When the pain becomes unbearable again, I can undergo extremely painful surgery which is not covered by my health insurance, and in the meantime I can increase my birth control dosage. Two less than ideal treatments; neither of which completely alleviate the pain. These are two more treatments than most women have, though—after the onset of symptoms, it takes women with endometriosis 10 to 12 years to receive a diagnosis.
Again, this is all very normal if you’re a women of reproductive age. 70% of people affected by chronic illness are women, yet 80% of studies exploring chronic pain are conducted on male mice or human men. Can someone make that make sense? Additionally, research shows men and women who underwent the same procedure were half as likely to receive pain medicine following surgery. So not only is the chronic pain being experienced by women receiving inadequate research through inaccurate control groups, but now women are less likely to be prescribed pain relief for their incurable illnesses? I’ll tell you why: Doctors don’t believe women. They tell us our pain is “invisible” and we’re being “hysterical” and we should “take ibuprofen.” However, often times it’s revealed after an extended amount of time that there was an issue all along.
If you’re a woman reading this, I’d love it if you sent me a message about the inadequate care or gaslighting you’ve received from doctors, because I know we’ve all experienced it. I think the reason that people are just beginning to take us seriously is because we’re speaking out and showing up for one another, so let’s keep it going!