Sexism is real.
As a gender-nonconforming, female-presenting person living in the US, I know this. I’ve seen it time and time again, particularly when I was younger.
But sometimes, something happens that really connects the brain to direct experience. I saw it this week.
But first, some personal history:
Many years ago, I was in a motorcycle accident. The classic “car made a left turn into me,” one block from my San Francisco flat. The car pinned my leg to my bike, knocking me to the ground. Thank the Gods I didn’t bash my head. Yeah, I wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Because no bones were broken, I was sent home from the hospital with zero treatment, despite the fact that I literally could not walk. After I insisted, they finally consented to give me a cane.
That was round one.
The chronic fatigue symptoms and chronic illness –along with chronic pain that shifted to excruciating pain when my hips slipped further out of alignment– began then. No, I wasn’t eligible for physical therapy. No, they wouldn’t prescribe chiropractic care or bodywork.
Somehow, I struggled through, despite the fact that it ruined my career as a dancer and therefore I couldn’t really pay my bills anymore.
Eventually, when I was working full time in a soup kitchen for room and board, some kind alternative medicine folks helped me, saying that my working for houseless people was enough trade for their services.
I slowly got better. A bodyworker also figured out how to put my hips back into alignment. The chronic pain eased up.
I did pretty well for a number of years, still getting sick more often than most people, still having trouble maintaining my energy levels consistently, but doing pretty well by virtue of increasing my exercise regime.
Eventually, my punishing travel-for-work schedule did me in, dropping me with burn out and exhaustion despite my great diet, great exercise, great meditation practice.
At that point, I started changing my life, getting ready to eventually leave work that I had loved for many years. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Interregnum, to the Present:
Big life changes slowly made, I’m still tired a lot. Still get a lot of low-grade, annoying illnesses. Still have trouble keeping my energy levels consistent.
I have learned when I can work through it and when I need to actually go back to bed. I’ve taught myself the difference between “tired” and “exhausted,” between “low energy but I can do my work if I just begin” and “in such a brain fog nothing is going to happen, so I’d better either work on something less taxing, or take the afternoon off entirely.”
For years, I would say to my (male) doctor: “I’m tired a lot and get sick way more often than I ought to.”
For years, he ignored my complaints because I was otherwise healthy. “People can get sick six times a year on average,” he would say.
Why I didn’t fire him, I’m still not sure. Perhaps because I’ve never quite trusted Western medicine in the first place, other than for trauma –though they didn’t do so well with that after a car slammed into my motorcycle, did they? Perhaps because I otherwise liked him just fine. Perhaps it was laziness, not wanting to vet other doctors, feeling they were all likely the same.
I relied instead on an herbalist and the things I always had relied upon: food, exercise, meditation.
Finally, because of a move to a different state – in an attempt to lower stress levels, for one thing– and with a promise to myself that my health was now my top priority…I noticed that despite lower stress and less intensive responsibilities, I still wasn’t able to start volunteering like I wanted to. I still planned to show up at actions or events and then just didn’t make it three quarters of the time.
Because I was too tired. Just like I am, writing this, today.
On my first visit, I told my new (female) doctor I was tired and sick too often. Her response? “Let’s run a whole battery of tests.”
Finally. A doctor who listened.
Well, I got the results back. My thyroid output is abnormal. It seems that it doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, so my pituitary gland is always trying to send out signals, trying and failing to convince it to produce more.
My symptoms are pretty classic hypothyroid symptoms. Just as my male doctor not listening to me is a pretty classic sexism symptom.
The new doctor wants me to try some medicine for six weeks and then get my blood levels tested again. I’m hoping that it works, and that this information will also help my herbalist to adjust my formulas better.
But if it turns out hypothyroidism isn’t the main culprit? My new doctor is willing to keep trying for other diagnoses until we figure it out.
She actually listened to me, like a doctor is supposed to.
Why did I write this essay?
First of all, because of what I began with: Sexism is real, and its effects have directly impacted my health, well being, and my ability to work.
And we live under interlocking systems which directly increase the deleterious effects of sexism, racism, ableism, ageism…
Think of how much worse things might be for me if I were an immigrant –or Latinx, or Black, or trans, or fat– and female presenting.
Second, because as a self-employed author, I’m covered via the ACA – which, imperfect as it is, is now at risk because of entrenched systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, and plutocracy– and I may now end up needing regular medicine, like so many other people do.
And I’m not sure how long my coverage will last. I just hope that my energy and health will be renewed enough for me to do the work I desire, and hope that work will bring in enough to pay for what I need if worse comes to worst.
It’s either that, or the toppling of empire and the total rebuilding of society based on compassion rather than punishment.
And I’m still holding out for that, with all my heart.
Please do not give me any medical advice. Thank you.
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