On being seen… or not, as the case may be
Last fall I shared how I felt dismissed at my annual gynecology appointment. “Being seen” is not how I would describe that interaction. Through that experience I realized I had to be my own advocate. I couldn’t wait for someone else to speak up for me — I have to do this work for myself.
Since then I’ve done a lot of work to learn more about my body. When I turned 40 almost a year ago, I made a commitment to myself to suffer less and learn more. I decided I no longer wanted to deal with constant stomach pains and ongoing period issues. I started with that appointment in the fall, but it didn’t answer many questions.
Based on the one month I tried a prescription drug, the nurse practitioner determined that I don’t have endometriosis.
Onto the next problem!
After that I moved onto figuring out my GI issues. I discovered a registered dietician on Instagram and after an initial call decided to work with her for several months. She helped me in so many ways! I learned about the gut-brain connection. I learned about the importance of fiber (for years I’ve been told to avoid it!) and that drinking lots of water really does help. I’m not 100% symptom free, but when symptoms do pop up, I know they won’t last forever and I know how to manage them.
Now I’m back to figuring out how to manage my monthly (more like weekly) cramps. I emailed my NP and told her about the increasing amount of cramps throughout the month. Her response: “Sounds like endometriosis.” What?? Was she saying that because she thinks that’s what I want to hear? I don’t know, but her back-and-forth diagnoses are frustrating to say the least!
She set me up with a surgery consultation.
I went back and forth about this. “Are my symptoms really bad enough to need surgery?” “Am I overthinking this?” “Can’t I just deal with the cramps?” “Why do I feel the need to justify my experience?”
In fact, I convinced myself that during my call with the surgeon we would decide I’m fine and that would be that.
However, the doctor didn’t dismiss me as quickly as I dismissed myself. She listened to my symptoms, acknowledged what I’ve done so far (like working on my GI symptoms) and repeated back what she heard me say and acknowledged that endometriosis could be likely.
The doctor outlined our possible next steps and listened to my questions. I mentioned my premature ovarian failure diagnosis and she asked if we were still trying to conceive. I told her we are at peace with our decision not to have children (this is important information to share because some of the treatments can prevent the possibility of conceiving).
I then let her know that aside from the cramps themselves, each time I get my period (or really, each time I get cramps because I really don’t have much of a period anymore) This is a monthly reminder of what my body can’t do.
On being seen
She saw me, heard me and validated me.
This was such a different experience from last fall. I got off the video call hopeful. I talked to my husband and good friend with confidence that this struggle I have will have a solution one day.
Being seen by a medical professional is probably one of the best gifts they can offer. Yes, easing the pain and reducing the symptoms is key. But knowing that I’m heard and my experience is validated is just as important.
Once again I am reminded that I am my own advocate. If I want something to change in my life, I have to do the work to make that change happen. I’m so grateful for all the ways I’ve advocated for myself over the last year… and for the ways I’ll continue to advocate for myself in years to come.