Hysterical Women of The Week: 21 July

This week’s roundup, before Hysterical Women takes a short summer break

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Hysterical Women will be taking the next couple of weeks off while I take a much-needed summer holiday.

I’ll be back in August, and in the meantime I’d love to hear from any women who’d like to write a guest post about their experiences of being dismissed, disbelieved, not taken seriously, or generally let down by their doctor. I’m particularly keen to publish more guest posts by women of colour and LGBT+ women, as I want Hysterical Women to be as diverse and inclusive a collection of women’s stories as possible.

That includes trans women as well as cis women and, after a couple of conversations on social media this week, I wanted to take a moment to address this in the clearest possible terms: Hysterical Women is trans-inclusive, as has always been my policy, and it’s not something I’m willing to negotiate on, no matter how long anyone spends shouting at me in my Facebook comments.

Hysterical Women covers the whole breadth and depth of women’s personal experiences of healthcare: sexual and reproductive health, mental health, physical health, chronic illness and disability.

A lot of the stories submitted are related to gynae issues – they’re a big part of many AFAB people’s health concerns – but certainly not all of them, and the scope of Hysterical Women has never and will never be limited to “periods, smear tests and pregnancy” as one woman this week tried to tell me it should be.

I’m open to stories about any health issue, submitted by any woman, as long as it meets our criteria of exploring how women are treated in the medical system. In fact, I’m particularly interested in how the notion of hysteria – which was originally associated with the womb – now more generally relates to the idea that women lie, exaggerate, and can’t be trusted, influencing gender bias in everything from our mental health, to chronic pain, to how likely we are to survive a heart attack.

If you’d like to share your experience, please check out our submission guidelines or email hysterical@sarah-graham.co.uk, bearing in mind that I may be slower than usual to respond over the next few weeks.

Okay, on to this week’s slightly shorter than usual roundup…


The ER Didn’t Take My Daughter’s Psychiatric Issue Seriously

New York Times’ The Cut this week published a series of reader stories looking at problems with the US healthcare system, and this one particularly jumped out at me. When Jennifer’s daughter started having seizures at 15, she says, the hospital “took terrific care of her”. But when her epilepsy medication started causing a psychotic side effect, it was a different story:

At the time, there were two local hospitals, and I intentionally brought her back to the one that treated her seizures, because they were so good to her and they were familiar with her. When we brought her back, and she was being treated for a psychological issue, they wanted nothing to do with her. They insisted it was a behavior issue. I said no, she’s 15, she’s never had a behavior issue. They refused to accept it. You go on the website for Kepra, and it says this is one of the possible side effects, but they would not accept that… She was treated horrifically — the same patient, the same problem — maybe six weeks apart, because the issue was psychiatric.


‘LAUGHED OFF’: Woman says endometriosis feels like ‘razor blades scraping inside’ her – claiming docs branded her ‘crazy and weak’

This is such a familiar story when it comes to endometriosis. The Sun this week reported on the story of 28-year-old Suzan Selçuk, who was dismissed by doctors as “crazy and weak” despite debilitating endo symptoms.

“The best way I can describe it is as if someone is dragging razor blades down my stomach from the insides,” Suzan says.

“It’s so crippling that I struggle to stand up straight. The pain can take my breath away or make me feel physically sick.”

She says that over the past 16 years, she’s been “laughed at, ridiculed and misdiagnosed by doctors and gynaecologists, despite being certain I was suffering from endometriosis”.

“Over the years I was told I had IBS, that I was ‘weak’ and had a low pain tolerance, that I needed to take more painkillers, that it was in my head, – but never taken seriously.”

With medics telling her that she was imaging her devasting symptoms, Susan says that she felt like she was “going crazy” – eventually leading her to suffer from severe health anxiety and OCD which manifested itself as depression as she got older.

When Suzan was finally diagnosed with both stage 4 endometriosis and sister condition adenomyosis after 16 years (more than double the average wait for an endo diagnosis), it had stuck her bowel, womb and ovaries together. She’s now had two major operations since May, losing an ovary in the process, and now faces the prospect of a full hysterectomy.


Ovarian cancer: Woman’s tumour dismissed as IBS, STI, infection

Another worryingly common misdiagnosis. Body & Soul tells the story of 31-year-old Fiona Munro, whose severe bloating was repeatedly dismissed by GPs as irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, an infection, or an STI, before finally being diagnosed as ovarian cancer.

In the five months leading up to her diagnosis, Fi had visited her GP six times and a consultant gynaecologist three times – and despite her bringing up ovarian cancer, remained undiagnosed.

Emotional trauma from her ectopic pregnancy, infection from surgery, scar tissue, or to Fi’s horror an STI, were all suggested reasons for Fi’s cancer symptoms. ‘The first time I saw my gynaecologist consultant he wanted to test me for chlamydia. I said I had been with my husband for eight years so there was no chance. But he said ‘oh you’d be surprised’. I had a fear I had cancer, and someone was insinuating my husband had cheated on me. It was infuriating and a constant battle.’


And finally…

I wanted to share the following from an Instagram post by Maisie Hill this week:

I believe in the powerful effects of having a menstrual cycle AND if you decide you can’t handle having a menstrual cycle because of debilitating symptoms, then I trust that you’ve made the best decision for your health and your life AND I wish that better options were available and widely accessible
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I believe in the right to access birth control AND I also feel dismayed at it’s (mis)use.
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I believe in your ability to give birth naturally AND I’m also pro planned caesarean birth when it’s appropriate (including if that’s what you choose)
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There are many, many ways to improve someone’s health using complementary and alternative medicine AND I’m flipping’ thankful for medication and surgical techniques.

We are overly reliant on medication AND there are times when I suggest to clients that they speak to their GP about taking medication.
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Ultimately, I just want you to feel good in your body and mind

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