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When No One Believes Your Illness

(TW: Gaslighting, medical)

This sounds like the kind of gaslighting I have been encountering from medical professionals for years. The ER doc who diagnosed my acute delirium, projectile vomiting and hours of bloody, violent diarrhea as due to somatization disorder and then lectured me for disturbing everyone with my sobbing. The sleep specialist who was convinced that my severe hypersomnolence (in his words, one of the worst cases he’d ever seen) could be chalked up to depression, and who then informed me that the reason none of my treatments were working was because I wasn’t controlling my sleep cycle well enough. The rheumatologist who told me I couldn’t possibly be unwell because I had such nice rosy cheeks and told me to go join a football team (in spite of my bleeding disorder, as a result of which contact sports are contraindicated). The psychiatrist who told me that he wasn’t concerned about my sleep issues since, “it’s not as though you’re spending all day every day in bed,” and who had no response when I told him that actually, I was. The pre-med classmate who told me I felt feverish and in pain for days after exercising because I was, “just out of shape”. The neurologist who told me he wasn’t concerned about my cognitive decline because, “you seem perfectly fluent right now.” The other A&E doc who was unconcerned that I’d somehow torn my calf muscle despite being essentially bedridden, and who explained to me that, “you’ve just fallen, or tripped while you were running, and don’t remember it happening.”


12 years of pain, depression and exhaustion that have been constantly ascribed to neuroticism and laziness. Spoiler alert: I actually have hypothyroidism and a severe vitamin D deficiency, possibly as a result of coeliac disease. Amazingly, these could actually explain all of my symptoms. Even more amazingly, all it took was a simple, albeit not routine blood test to identify them! But of course, it’s much easier to tell a patient presenting with a slew of non-specific symptoms that she’s just making it all up.

Medicine, just like the rest of society, has a problem with invisible illness and it has a problem with women. It seems that in many ways, we are not much farther along than we were when treating women for frigidity and hysteria.

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