The complexities of being a biological female dealing with chronic pain and illness are innumerable. This isn’t to say that other gender identities don’t struggle with similar issues. Everyone’s struggle is real. There are no flat roads in any of our health journeys. These are just some of the particular areas where women face constant frustration and use mediated actions to get through.
Safety. The giant elephant that takes up so much space in our heads. We take stock of the dangers in a room as soon as we enter. Each person we encounter is put through an automatic and often-subconscious violence screening. The moment that we leave our homes, we move with our senses heighted for possible dangers. In our living spaces we triple-check locks, sleep with one eye open, and hold perpetual hope in the kindness of neighbors and strangers. And, those are just the surface safety issues that every woman contends with these days. Some dangers are far more insidious and other ones wouldn’t even register as scary. Many of us, most of us, have personal experiences that make this need for hyperawareness important and relevant.
So much of the way that we interact with the world is shaped by our desire for little bits of security. Partnering up, making ourselves look unapproachable, walking at a quick clip, keeping our keys in our hands, having pepper spray or a taser in a purse, learning self-defense techniques, not maintaining a daily out of the house routine, avoiding quiet streets, not smiling at strangers, and having friends track/check on you during a date or trip… these are all normal precautions.
Those of us with medical ailments, have to attach that extra burden to every part of our daily safety concerns. Can I run away? Do I have the dexterity and strength to fight? Could my windows be shut tighter? Are my necessary excursions and accessibility tools making me predictable to predators? How do I find a decent person who will understand the weight that my conditions add to a relationship or possible relationship without causing friction?
The pressure of trying to being safe can be overwhelming. I’ve found that operating with a mix of preparation, alertness, and genuine hope in humanity is my way of staying sane.
Authority and hormones are another combined topic that deserves mentioning. The science around female biology, as well as its impact on our psychology, is desperately lacking. There is still a deeply embedded misconception in medicine that women are hysterical, exaggerating, and prone to psychologically based physical complaints. It’s not a surprise that modern medicine has been a field largely developed and maintained by white males.
I don’t know many women who feel heard when they go to a doctor. There’s a lot of pacification in the conversation, followed by telling her why she is wrong about what she is feeling. Training to look empathetic and use soothing language doesn’t mean much. Understanding that we are walking through that door to address a problem that truly exists, does. But, I’ve already written a bunch about the lack of authority and trust that the medical system has towards female chronic sufferers. And, yes, there are likely more pieces to come about that very important topic.
Looking at how hormones and menstruation are added complications of a woman’s health journey, gets a bit messy. A large number of female chronic health issues, be it PCOS, thyroid misactivity, etc. are hormone-specific conditions. Unfortunately, they are not few and far between. For those of us who aren’t assaulted by our reproductive systems or held hostage by swampy hormone parties, the struggles around our periods and normal hormone fluctuations are still aggravating and can be a trigger.
Throughout a typical month, our busted bodies cycle through various hormone levels and the subsequent symptoms. Some of my favorites: Extra sensitivity to already aggressive pain. Bloating, hunger, nausea, and excessive appetite on a taxed intestinal system. Migraines on top of migraines. Sadness and anger pushing around fragile mental health. Temporary aches and pains that trigger thoughts of impending physical disaster. Having “lady parts” can be a real ordeal.
Again, every bent, broken, and busted body faces incredibly difficult obstacles. Acknowledging one group’s issues (in this case safety, medical authority, and hormones) doesn’t take away from your suffering. This community only gets stronger when we learn about the struggles different people face. If something is not relatable to you, let it be a place for active listening and expanding compassion. I often have to remind myself that my pain or medical condition is not more deserving of expression than anyone else’s. We all need and deserve to be seen.