Mondaywas the day for Blogging for CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrom/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), as well as Fibromyalgia Awareness Day and I missed it due to being too pooped to come out and play. I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on anyone. Last week, I was so focused on avoiding an injury that I forgot my body has other ways of making me pay. Enter a nasty sinus infection, Which slowed me down, but didn’t stop me (because apparently, I can't be taught). In retrospect, it was clear that my body was standing with hands on hips, irritably tapping a foot, completely exasperated with my lack of cooperation. So it made my voice go away and as I write using Dragon, which requires talking, that did the trick. Or maybe not, as I’m currently pecking out a blog post the old-fashioned way, using the system of one paragraph, rest, then another. Sensible people among you might wonder why I’m not posting a photograph and calling it a day and I’ll tell you why.
Beth wrote about CFS/ME and in her post, she linked to an article about Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote Seabiscuit and lives with CFS. Go ahead, read the article - reading about her condition and her perseverance is humbling, as well as fascinating. I'll wait for you.
Back? Alright then.
Iwas struck by both Hillenbrand's story and some of the background information and it is the latter that I'm going to have a wee rant about today. The article (and Beth's post) mention the stigma associated with CFS, the way it was sneeringly referred to as "yuppie flu" and provide several examples of people with CFS who were told by the medical field that it is all in their minds. A little further on, the article mentions how historically, doctors treat mystery illnesses as psychological problems - e.g., multiple sclerosis was once attributed to "stress linked to Oedipal fantasies". And it reminded me of my own story - the first symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis came when I was four and for five years, my mother took me to doctor after doctor, often suggesting to them that it looked an awful lot like RA, but always being dismissed. Several went as far as to tell her it was all in her head and one gave her a referral to a psychiatrist. And then I thought of a few of my friends, who have a clear illness so far undentifiable by the medical profession and how all of them have been told that perhaps it is "stress" or even going so far as to diagnose "hysteria", a diagnosis I'm quite sure was discredited in the 1950s.
Multiple sclerosis happens most often in women, as does CFS, RA, fibromyalgia and the list goes on. And this is where the rant comes in or maybe it's more a ranty question. Why is it that when a doctor doesn't know the answer, they blame the patient? Why are these people made suspect by an illness that cannot be easily identified? Why is it that so many of these patients whose disease isn't "real" are women?
When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, taking a course in medical sociology, I remember a study discussing the bias towards patting women on the head and sending them off with some antidepressants other than believe that they had real, honest-to-goodness symptoms. That's a quarter of a century ago and apparently, nothing has changed.
Why is this okay? Why has this not changed? Why is this not a more high-profile feminist issue? Is it only because the women caught on the sticky end of this particular stick are too tired or too busy managing the disease and their lives to get political? If so, why is it exclusively up to them to effect the change? Why isn't the medical profession doing more to educate its practitioners? Any ideas?
And it is one of the reasons that I am a feminist and why I will happily debate anyone who claims that there is no more need for feminism. As long as a woman and a man with the same symptoms are treated differently… Let me rephrase that: As long as the man is treated and the woman is given a prescription for yoga, antidepressants or a psychiatrist - there is a need for feminism.
If you need me, I'll be on the barricades. Feel free to join me.