Back in 1990, a movie came out starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Film called Awakenings. Dramatic role for Williams, which at the time was completely stepping outside of his normal bombastic comedy. He played a doctor who discovers a drug that will bring cognition back to a group of adults who had become catatonic in their respective childhoods due to encephalitis. De Niro is one of the patients. Anyway, the treatments caused a miracle spate of "awakenings" in the patients, but the effects soon wore off. Throughout the entirety of the film, WIlliams is filming is sessions with his patients to document everything. As the illness begins to take De Niro's character again, he convulses on the floor with seizures. He loses his speech faculties.
"I'm turning the camera off," Williams says.
"NO!" De Niro, wracked by spasms, stutters out, "Learn from me."
I was 10 when I saw Awakenings. And that scene has stuck with me. It resonated with me then, and it is burned into the DNA of my being, because that is how I've always been. As social media has become prevalent in our world and I've become a professional author and artist, the temptation has been there to turn the camera off when shit gets uncomfortable, weird or horrible. But, I don't like that. Oh sure, I keep private things private.... but if someone else can learn from me? I'd rather keep the film rolling.
And that brings us to this post.
*pours a drink* It's been a hell of a year, hasn't it? It's only October and I feel like I've gone a dozen rounds with Ali. And I'm worried that there are just enough months left in 2016 for the bitch to get in a few more solid body shots. I've got this weird sort of PTSD from this year. Oh, it's not the real thing and I won't pretend it is. But when I see celebrity names pop up as trending, I immediately fear the worst. It's reflex for my heart to jump up in my throat when I get unexpected phone calls. Hell, today my mom texted me to ask if I was awake, and I went to DEFCON 2.
It's been a fucked up year of family tragedies, changes, anxiety, medical roller coasters and more. I haven't been talking much here on my blog about the medical stuff. Partially because that's private and personal. Partially because you guys don't want to hear the drama of my lady pieces. But also because the process is humiliating enough....
...but I get ahead of myself.
So, while I'm not going to go into detail about the whats and specifics, I do need to talk about this. And it's in the hopes that someone out there will learn from it. Because what I'm about to discuss is swathed in shame and secrecy, even though it has no reason to be. For those of you who'd rather not have a serious post about my medicals, go ahead and click here to see something funny. I'll see you around.
So....you're still here.
Okay. So six weeks after my daughter was born I saw my general practitioner doctor for the standard follow up. (I didn't see my OB/GYN because I'd fired him for not listening to me. This will become important later.) I told my doc that I was having severe pain in my lady parts. It wasn't constant, but when it hit, woooo boy, did it suck. She told me it was impossible. That it was in my head. She didn't listen to me.
I believed her.
You believe weird and wacky shit when you're in the middle of postpartum depression. (Seriously, PPD is unlike any other depression I've know. And I've gotten to know depression well throughout my life.) For example, I was convinced that I was a burden to my family and useless. I told my husband in all seriousness to leave me for our friend because she was young and spunky and hot like he deserved.
So, couple that with my belief that doctors have infallible authority, it wasn't such a leap to believe that this pain was in my head.
Over the years this doctor would disregard my pain and real symptoms over and over again, citing anxiety, or trying to reassure me that this was just "my new normal".
No one listened to me about my pain until earlier this year when I mentioned these symptoms to a new OB-GYN. For those keeping track, my daughter will turn 11 at the end of this month. That's how long I've been dealing with this pain.
I cannot tell you how angry I am at my now-former doctor. She ignored me and gaslit me. The pain is not in my head. Since June, I've had a slew of medical visits with 3 different doctors for various issues this woman disregarded. While the thyroid issues are being very cooperative with treatment, and I'm seeing improvement, the pain issues are harder to nail down. A specialist and I have had no fewer than 3 pelvic exams together, one of them under anesthesia. (Jesus, let me tell you how good that makes me feel. I was knocked out on drugs while a roomful of people had me spread open on a table! And I can't remember a thing!) I've had an MRI. I've been told that for some of my pelvic pain, surgery might be my only option. (Think about that. Surgery. In the hoo-ha.)
This week I saw my specialist again to discuss options, what with the MRI having come back normal and all. He's sending me to yet another specialist, this one proficient in dealing with pelvic nerve disorders. From what I've been reading, there are more tests that will need to be done...starting with yet another pelvic exam.
Can I just take a moment to explain how horrible this makes me feel?
Pelvic exams suck. I know that there are legit people out there who don't understand why a woman would hate her pap smear or annual exams. My mother's former doctor once asked her, "Isn't it like having sex? What's the difference between a speculum and a penis?"
Several things, doc, and if you can't spot them at a glance, I question your credentials. Beyond just the basics of one is made of metal or plastic and has to crank to open you up while the other is a warm, organic material, there's also the fact that well, sex is consenting and should be pleasurable? Look at it like this.... when you have sex you're inviting someone to your metaphorical home. You've granted them that access. With a speculum, you're getting a home inspection from a robot who just. Won't. Leave.
There's more to a pelvic exam than just having tools and q-tips swabbed around your insides for a few seconds. For many women, myself included, it's painful. Now, the pain can be caused by improper handling on the part of the examiner, or it can be a physical trait to the patient. Regardless, it's cold and pinchy at the very least.
But more than that.... I don't care how good of a rapport you have with your doctor, spreading for a stranger comes with baggage. There's anxiety. If I didn't shave exactly right will I be judged? Do I look normal? Oh god, what if I smell? And don't get me started on the fun of unexpectedly starting your period the morning you're going in for an exam.
Anyway, this is me taking the long way to say that the experience of having a stranger poking around your nethers is not fun. I don't like the physical sensation. And I hate them. While I need them for my medical care--so in that sense, it is solicited contact--it is unwanted contact. I do not want a doctor three knuckles deep inside me, prodding here and there asking, "Does that hurt, too?" or jiggling my clitoris like it's the handle of a leaky toilet. These exams are humiliating and the fact that I've had 5 of them in one calendar year (and I'm not done) is nothing short of demoralizing. A lot of people have seen my vagina this year, guys. And I'm only married to one of them.
And so when my specialist told me to go see yet another doctor--another male, too--I quailed. Not another dude all up in my business. Another person I get to know for 3 minutes before we commence with the special handshake. Starting over from square one....
...okay.... so at my six-week postpartum exam....
And again I'll be in the position where I have to prove something. Where I have to explain my decisions. Why did you let this go for so long? Why did you not fire that doctor if you had already fired another for not listening? Another visit with a brand new doctor where I have to fight the inner monologue of the one who gaslit me into believing that no, I didn't have pelvic pain, no I didn't have PCOS (yes, I do), and no, my thyroid is fine (it's not). Having to start over makes all of those times I questioned myself rise up and hiss at me again.
(I'm so fucking angry with her! And before you ask, no I can't sue for malpractice. I've checked with lawyers and we have no case.)
I know I have a choice. I could quit. I could not put myself through anymore. I could just call it here, and go back to the way things were in May. But I need answers. I need to know if this is something that's treatable, or if this is truly my normal now. If I'll be living with this pain forever. I need to know if there's a reason for it. I need to know I have options beyond keeping the status quo.
And so I wait to get in to see the new specialist.
I wait for my thyroid to balance itself out.
I wait to see results that my diet and exercise routine are paying off and not just making matters worse again.
I wait for this client or this feedback or that project collaborator.
I wait for my career to look like this author's career.
I wait for the breakdown over the death of my grandmother that still hasn't come.
I wait for this paycheck.
I wait and wait and wait.
It's breaking me down a bit, guys. This year? It's catching up to me. I can't tell you how badly I want to quit. I can't tell you how tempting it is to go into my former doctor's office and scream at her, or how much I just want everything to hurry up so I can stop hanging on this damn suspension chord. And most days I can weather it. I can be okay and keep moving forward. But days like today? I'm not okay. Days like today I just want to curl up in a ball and hold up the white flag.
I'll be okay.
I'll get control of my body back.
I'll get answers.
I'll get this or that project done.
I'll get paid for my work.
I'll get there.
I'm just taking the long way 'round, I suppose.