“Medicine” Needs To Stop Telling Women To Doubt What They Intuitively Know About Their Bodies
By: Dr. Nicole Roberts, ND
I see fighters sitting across from me. Women who have been told time and time again that what they feel is contributing to the symptoms they are suffering from is not correct or not possible. Most of them, though discouraged in the moment by the definitive medical response they have been given, keep looking for answers, doing their own research and pushing forward, albeit likely with occasional doubts that their intuition and body is failing them.
These woman are being silenced with comments such as, but certainly not limited to:
“It is in your head.”
“Your anxiety is the cause of all your symptoms.”
“No, your hormonal birth control can’t cause the symptoms that you have.”
“Your mental health concerns are just about the stress you are under.”
“Your inability to lose weight is because you are eating too much.”
“Your past sexual abuse (or other kinds of trauma) can’t cause physical disease.”
“There is nothing that can be done for the pain you are describing.”
“There isn’t much we can do for endometriosis except surgery.”
“You have unexplained infertility (or anything other "unexplained" condition).”
“You just need to learn to live with this.”
AND SO MUCH MORE.
This is something that simultaneously breaks my heart and fills me with muted anger.
The invalidation of what a woman knows to be true about her health is so incredibly detrimental that I can’t begin to define how much damage it can cause. “Medicine” is a continually evolving practice and is by no means definitive in its knowledge of the human body. Furthermore, for almost every statement listed above, there is scientific and clinical evidence to the contrary.
So why is it so common for a woman to have been let down by “medicine” time and time again?
I think the dismissal of the very valid understanding that a woman has of her body comes from a few factors:
- A lack of time and energy spent on a single patient and her complex, personal case. This is a constraint on the current medical model that is difficult to avoid. Very short visits with limited opportunity to talk about more than one health concern is great for efficiency and acute disease presentation, but frequently cannot honour the care needs of chronic and complex health presentations.
- The segregation of health care into speciality fields that often fail to see the body as a whole and understand that symptoms arise from many systems within the body rather than just one. I.E. Mental health specialists, endocrinologists and gastroenterologists could very likely find common ground in gut health, hormone imbalance and mental health concerns. *NOTE: This is in no way putting down speciality medical fields which can be very important in the care of an individual. It is simply speaking to the fact that we need to evaluate special areas of the body with an eye on the overall picture so that patients do not fall through the cracks of an overly segmented medical system, being bounced from professional to professional.
- The influence of money on the medical system; I.E. A refusal to acknowledge that breast implants can cause immunologic changes leading to a variety of systemic symptoms or the idea that pharmaceutical options are the only good treatment plan. Monetary bias is not disclosed enough when it comes to certain medical advice.
- The dismissal of female health concerns / deep seated bias against a woman’s expression of her symptoms. The lingering social stereotype that woman are “overemotional” or “overdramatic” coupled with a poor overall understanding of how female health care needs differ from male health care needs plays a role in the misdiagnosis or “brush off” of female health concerns. For example, heart disease is a top killer for women and heart attacks can go undiagnosed in the female population, particularly when women present with pain in the abdomen. Medicine, as an institution, has not caught up to the needs of women just yet.
- The human tendency is to live in a paradigm where if they are an authority on a subject, they are right. No ifs, ands or butts. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I can speak to the struggle I go through when I realize I need to readjust what I know to be true about health, which frankly happens on a daily basis. It is exhausting, though richly rewarding, to live in a world where things aren’t black and white. I also know how the ego might hurt when I tell a patient “I don’t know, but I will do my best to find out.” That said, when I open up a space where I can consider the patient in front of me as an individual, coupled with the knowledge that the human body will always be more intricate than the human mind can comprehend, I learn something different from each patient’s experience and remember that I am a tool to help them on their way to health, to contribute my knowledge of medicine and human physiology but to never let that limit them. Individual healing is found in the space between knowledge and educated guesses. Not in a space of absolutes.
When I listen to a woman describe her symptoms, the timeline of her health concerns, with a few punctuated questions from me, I almost always find that she is clearly able to articulate what she thinks is the root cause of her health concerns, even if she doesn’t know she is doing just that.
When I fill in the gaps with an explanation from a medical & healing perspective, of how all the symptoms she speaks of relate to each other, her face lights up (or the release years of pent up frustration through tears) and I often hear something along the lines of:
“I knew that something wasn’t right and that XYZ was likely at the root of how I have been feeling but I didn’t know how to describe it. I thought I was crazy there for a while. Thank you for listening and validating what I knew was going on with me. I am excited to be matched with a treatment plan that I was a part of creating and begins at the root of my symptoms.”
In my opinion, this is where individual healing for chronic conditions begins. We all carry (slightly) different DNA that is influenced differently by epigenetic (environmental) factors. We have been subject to different traumas and have developed different emotional responses. We are owners of different biochemistries that react differently to different substances and influences. We are all individuals that deserve individual treatments.
Rather than living in a world of absolute answers about an individual’s health, I think we need to redirect that energy into a respect of the individual differences between us and a continued effort into working, researching, learning and fighting for the health we each deserve.
About the Author
Dr. Nicole Roberts, ND is registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario and is a member of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.
Dr. Roberts, ND sits on the YPC Board of the Women's Brain Initiative and is involved with Heal At Home drug addiction recovery programs
I want to help you get back to the best version of yourself so that you can get back to your life.