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Why There Can Be Power in Naming Your Health Conditions

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I once read that it was helpful to be able to specifically yell at your illness or health problem. Please, don’t ask me where I read this, I have no idea. But the point of the article was that there was power in naming whatever “it” was, both in terms of diagnosis but also in having something specific to direct your frustrations towards. That you’d have a name to literally yell at.

At the time I only had fibromyalgia – now, that’s quite the fancy name for this not so specific problem, but it was also a bit of a mouthful. And what would I even be yelling at? My back pain? My brain for not letting me fall asleep? It felt… not quite right and lacking specificity.

Things got more interesting when I was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis.  Now, that’s a very fancy name for diagnostically located in a very specific part of your body. Huzzah! But as someone who had a significant lisp and issues with the letter “s” as a child, this was not easy to say when in pain. So I thought about calling out my bladder or nerves as entities themselves.  Something like “Dammit bladder, we’re not going to be in pain today. I’ve got a test!” It still didn’t feel right.

And here’s where it all started to make sense to me: I was still in college and had two close girlfriends. Friend A had polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis and was in partial menopause, and Friend B had ovarian cancer. We collectively decided to name our ovaries. Friend A and B so they’d have something directly to yell at, and me in support of the collective game of living with chronic health issues.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, but honestly it worked. Friend A went for what she felt were old lady names (Opal and Ruby), since, well, her body was trying to punt her into premature old lady hormones. And while I can’t remember Friend B’s names, I certainly remember mine: Thelma and Louise. Rebels. Kicking around the town and causing trouble, because that’s certainly what my body as a whole felt like.

It got even better: just out of college I was diagnosed with gastroparesis. Bingo! My stomach could be JD, the very young, incredibly handsome, definitely trouble-starting, completely swoon-worthy young Brad Pitt in “Thelma and Louise.” And hey, there’s not too much difference between a full on swoon and strong nausea.

It all fell into place. Being able to yell, even if it was only in my mind, at JD for acting up. For making me nauseous, for not tolerating something as basic as an egg… it felt incredible. And while I don’t always remember that I’ve even named my stomach, once in a while I feel myself mutter “Dammit JD” when I’m nauseous, and I remember, and I smile.

Because while I’m not sure that original article intended for us to actually give our issues names, and while I have personally experienced the powerful relief (and concern) that comes with a final medial diagnosis, I now also know that giving your issues actual human names has power too.

So here’s to Thelma, Louise and JD.

Getty Image by miflippo

This story originally appeared on Salt and Sage.

Getty Image by miflippo

Originally published: March 2, 2018
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