So to get the above image I typed “women illness” into Google, clicked images, and then filtered for “labeled for reuse.” This resulting image is the picture from the Wikipedia entry for Female Hysteria.
If you’re unacquainted with the term, it’s worth a search. Spoiler alter: hysteria is derived from the Greek for uterus, so.
Why am I talking about hysteria? Well! Thanks for asking, first of all. I’m happy you’re interested in my perspective. Secondly, it relates to the fact that I’ve recently been treated like a hysterical woman. Excuse me, I’ve been treated like a Hysterical Woman. Do you know what that’s like? If you haven’t had the experience, I’ll briefly describe. If you have had the experience, please feel free to add to my thoughts in the comments. I’m kind of pissed the fuck off (and sad and nervous and and and and), so I don’t expect to be able to capture this exactly. Anyway! To be treated like a Hysterical Woman is to not be believed re: pain, discomfort, physical ailment, and to be instead told you are being emotional, that there are perhaps unresolved issues in your past that counseling could address (which I’m sure is true for, like, everyone. But when you are a woman in a medical establishment, this is something flung at you often), that you are simply suffering from anxiety.
Okay, yes. Perhaps these are at play. I am certainly an anxious person, if you hadn’t gathered. However, it is deeply disturbing and insulting to be told that the way you are feeling is all in your head. Have you read “The Pain Scale,” by Eula Biss? Have you seen this disturbing article (“How Doctors Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously”) from the Atlantic on this issue? And here’s another on the topic from The Telegraph. But, whatever. Go! Google for yourself. It’s a thing. If you need help convincing (and god help us if you do), talk to your friends about it. We don’t always bring up medical stuff in conversation – it’s awkward, right? But perhaps we should.
So. You may recall I have thyroid issues. I was diagnosed with Graves Disease with an RAI (Radioactive Iodine) test back in March of 2013. Diagnosed with Hashimotos as well in January 2014. These are both autoimmune disorders wherein the immune system attacks the thyroid. They cause both hyperthyroidism (heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, fast metabolism) and hypothyroidism (heart disease, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, slow metabolism). Other relevant context is that endocrinologists are pretty notoriously awful (at least in the thyroid world. Wow. Worst theme park ever, eh?) treating thyroid issues. Well, in 2014 I got pregnant (my Graves had been in remission since November 2013). The endo who tracked my pregnancy was really only concerned with the Graves staying in remission, and I was happy to be ignorant about my thyroid levels (something that freaks me out now, but we can’t go back and change the past. Le sigh).
Can I just take a second to address the fact that every. Single. Article on the thyroid mentions how it’s a fucking butterfly shaped organ at the base of your neck? Why the poetry? Why. It just makes me imagine this shitty, evil butterfly that my body has mistaken for some fiendish marauder. Okay, sorry. Moving on.
Fast forward to about six months postpartum. I felt myself going hyper. Heart palpitations, increased anxiety, trouble sleeping. There was in me a desperate desire to just ignore it, but I couldn’t. Went to my primary care doc (it’s tough to get an appointment with an endo, plus it’s not worth seeing them without blood work plus the endo I was seeing at the time has an office that is terrible at returning calls. No, seriously. I didn’t get ultrasound results until nearly two months after). My blood work came back hyper as I had suspected.
The endocrinologist couldn’t see me for over a month. Decided to go with a new endo – he couldn’t see me for a month and a half. However, I’d started feeling better, so was thinking perhaps this was mainly a postpartum issue (postpartum thyroiditis is pretty common) until a few weeks ago when I started feeling like shit. Worse. Like when you drink a cup of coffee and then don’t clean it out for a week or two or seven? The hardened, mildewed stain in the bottom of the cup. That’s how I felt. Just so anxious, so depressed – I hadn’t dealt with depression like that since I was a teenager, nearly. I knew something was wrong, but I was wrong about what that was.
Had labs done and the new endo called me the next day to move my appointment up a week. They wouldn’t give me the lab results over the phone, so naturally I spent the next two days completely panicking over them. When I finally got to the doctor, I was a mess. So emotional, so entirely freaked out from waiting and waiting and waiting, barely able to peel my sluggish, half dead self up from the couch.
It turns out I’m severely hypothyroid. A normal TSH is less than, oh, 3 or so (less than 2 is better). Mine was 55.66. The endo started me on Synthroid immediately, and though I don’t feel normal by any stretch, I did start feeling better pretty quickly. And by “better” I mean more like a functioning human being and less like a despondent singular celled organism.
So, anyway. The point of this post? The endocrinologist treated me like a hysterical woman. “Yes,” he said, “hypothyroidism can cause depression. But this seems more deep seated.” Mind you, I couldn’t keep myself from bursting into tears several times during our conversation, so I understand his frustration. I also very much value counseling. However, I know my body. I can feel when emotions are predicated on hormones (or in this case, lack thereof). It is demeaning to be told that seeking counseling is the answer, as opposed to say, fixing the fucking biological problems at a goddamn physical level.
I think the reason so many endocrinologists suck so very much is that thyroid issues are mainly women’s issues. This might seem off topic, but bear with me: have you heard the stories of women feeling pain during their c-sections, only to be ignored by their doctors? Yeah, same fucking thing. It is the same. We (and by we I mean society, and please read that with a grimace of immense power) treat women like children trying to get away with something. As though the pain women experience cannot be real. Because women are hysterical. Not to be trusted. Eve and the goddamn apple or pomegranate or what the fuck have you.
We seem to say: let women suffer. They deserve to be punished.