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When a Doctor Dismissed My Pain Because of My Weight and Anxiety

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“This medicine is good for weight loss since you are heavier set,” the doctor said, moving her arms out to her sides to emphasize my body size. The medicine was being prescribed for migraine.

Before I had been properly diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses, I was sent to a specialist for my migraine attacks. I was hoping to get some relief from the chronic headaches that were destroying my life. I missed two hours of work, traveled to another city on public transportation, tired and in pain, praying that this doctor would help me be me again.

When I arrived, the doctor didn’t have any of my records, none of my imaging or labs, barely looked at the forms I had spent so much time filling out at home and took one look at my body and the medicine I was taking, and dismissed my symptoms. I hadn’t even come to see her about my weight, which was actually not a concern of mine. I just wanted to understand what was going on with my body, and more than anything I wanted to feel better.

This was before I had lost almost 90 pounds due to a chronic stomach infection I contracted after gallbladder surgery. The sad part is that she was not the only doctor who had done this; in fact, before losing weight, most doctors pointed out my weight as a cause for my symptoms. Most told me that once I lost weight I would start to feel better. I am almost 90 pounds lighter, but I am sicker than I ever was before. I am still not considered thin by any means, but weight doesn’t come up anymore at doctor visits. I eat better, exercise when I can, and still am not well because I have illnesses that require proper medical care.

The doctor reviewed the medication I was taking and once I told her I had been prescribed Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication, she threw her hands up as if she had just discovered the cause for my pain. She immediately began to tell me that I was anxious and depressed and that I needed to not “stress out.” She didn’t review my history and barely did a physical examination. In the end, she prescribed me a medication I told her I had taken in the past that did not help, because it would “help me lose weight.” As she wrote out the prescription, she commented again on my weight and urged me to lose weight. I was so frustrated and ashamed. Here I was, a young woman, struggling daily with debilitating pain, and I was being dismissed because of my weight and mental health.

The irony is, I had been in therapy for years and was progressing well in treatment. The Ativan hadn’t even been prescribed solely for anxiety, but as a muscle relaxant used to help with pelvic floor dysfunction, something which had been explained to me by the prescribing gynecologist. I hadn’t traveled all this way to have more pills thrown at me, to be prescribed the same medication, or to be judged and mistreated. I wanted to know what was going on with my body and how to improve my daily functioning. But in her mind, I was just an overweight, anxious woman that needed to relax and lose weight to feel better. Don’t get me wrong, being overweight can definitely impact health, but there are many “overweight” people living healthy, fruitful lives. Weight is not the end-all, be-all of health.

This experience made me realize that mental health stigma and discrimination exists not only amongst ourselves, but in the medical community as well, and that the consequences fall on us, the patients. I did not receive adequate care because of the doctor’s misperception of my mental health based on a medication that was prescribed one week prior. Having anxiety should not prevent anyone from receiving proper care and a thorough evaluation. As a mental health care provider, I know mental health can affect physical health, but that is no reason for symptoms to be dismissed, or to be criticized and belittled. Sadly, this was not the first nor the last time my symptoms would be minimized due to my mental health and weight. This is a serious issue in the medical community that must be addressed.

Living with mental illness and taking medication for it should not affect your medical treatment. Nor should being overweight. Difficult as it is to cope with mental illness and body image issues, medical professionals should be more compassionate, caring, and empathetic when working with patients that struggle with mental illness and should not simply judge a patient on their waist size. This just leads to further body image issues, shaming and mental health stigma. I felt silenced by that doctor so I didn’t stand up for myself when maybe I should have. This is me taking a stand so others can do the same.

Getty image by fizkes

Originally published: July 29, 2016
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