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Another Day, Another Doctor Gaslighting Me About My Chronic Illnesses

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You’d think as someone who has multiple chronic illnesses and whose part-time job is basically attending doctor’s appointments, it would get a little easier over time. But somehow, it hasn’t. Each and every time, I’m anxious. As I sit there waiting for the doctor to come in, I feel viscerally activated, my body primed for battle, which doesn’t seem to make sense. Isn’t this someone who is going to help me?

But here’s the thing. This hasn’t always been my experience. And my history with doctors tells a different story. History has primed me to be ready for a quick, dismissive appointment that mentally derails all the progress I’ve made to validate and accept my current reality. And from being actively involved in the chronic illness community now for a couple of years, I know I’m not alone. Medical trauma is real. Medical gaslighting is real.

I recently saw a new doctor that I had heard great things about, but I was still wary. And the appointment was going generally well. They were thorough. Gave me time to speak. I was feeling hopeful. And then the bomb dropped. As we were discussing the fact that I kept a migraine diary, the doctor commented, “So… you have a little bit of a Type A personality, don’t you?” Insert condescending tone here.

I immediately knew where this was going. I had let my guard down too soon. The gaslighting was coming. They continued, “You know, stress can make a lot of things worse. Stress can wreak all kinds of havoc on the body, etc. etc. So, maybe just try calming down a little.”

Calm. Down.

Um. Were we not just in the same appointment for the last 30 minutes? Had I not just explained all that I do to “calm down?” I make sure to have good sleep hygiene. I don’t drink alcohol. I limit my caffeine. I eat mostly organic and whole foods and have been gluten-free for the last seven years. I exercise when I am able. I am doing a daily breathwork meditation practice, have a therapist, and take medication. I am a licensed mental health professional.

Yes, I am well aware that stress probably doesn’t help my situation. But let’s cut the bull. What you really mean is, maybe this is a little bit my fault. And as someone who literally lives her life mitigating stress and triggers to avoid making her conditions worse, how dare you. And even if I wasn’t doing all those things, it still doesn’t give anyone the right to insinuate that.

On a cerebral level, I know that I’m doing everything I can to “make myself better.” And I know that there is nothing I did to cause being diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses.

But when medical professionals consistently say things like that to you, it starts to eventually break you. And when you hear a million different versions of it in a million different ways you start to wonder… is it my fault? Did I cause this? Is this all in my head? The shame of living with chronic illness is real.

So I am here to reaffirm for myself, and for anyone reading this… It is not your fault. And I believe you. It’s not in your head. And you didn’t do anything to cause this to happen to you.

Although we shouldn’t have to actively advocate for the compassionate health care we should receive, we deserve to feel like we have the right to. We have the right to advocate for ourselves in doctor’s offices. We have the right to speak up when we aren’t comfortable. We have the right to not go back to doctors who don’t treat us with dignity and respect. And ultimately, we can remember that we are the experts on our own bodies and we know what’s truly in our minds, not the doctors who claim that’s where our pain originates.

Originally published: October 20, 2021
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