Fighting For Your Health: Difficult But Necessary

I’ve been really struggling to write this post, and I don’t know why. To be completely transparent, I’ve been staring at a blank screen trying to write this for about a month now. I want to share a story with you. Not a particularly difficult story, but a long one. One that began during puberty, and it’s not exactly the most pleasant. And it does get very intimate with my body - you’ve been warned.

As I grew older in my teenage years, I began to develop these ‘spots’ on my legs. They were essentially perfectly round, small open wounds that would appear seemingly from nowhere. I even briefly mentioned this in a 2015 post about hairy man legs. As time went on, they became more and more of a problem. Being open sores, they could, on occasion, bleed. A lot. I know, sorry for the ick factor here but bare with me for a bit.

I relied on my mismatched shoes to distract from the red, scary mess that was my right leg.

I relied on my mismatched shoes to distract from the red, scary mess that was my right leg.

They also began to spread, eventually reaching my face. Not cool body, not cool. I would occasionally ask my General Practitioner (GP) about them but she never seemed too concerned. As it got worse, and I began to develop frequent infections from them, we began to try different methods of treatment, such as topical steroids. As any woman who has needed to take steroids before can tell you, not the most fun.

Eventually, after being on four different antibiotics in three months and another cream, my GP gave me a referral to a dermatologist. Finally, I thought I would get somewhere and be able to have healthier skin and stop getting blood all over the place.

During particularly bad patches, I would go through packs and packs of bandaids. The running injury was just an added bonus.

During particularly bad patches, I would go through packs and packs of bandaids. The running injury was just an added bonus.

I was actually excited for my dermatology appointment. I felt optimistic and hopeful. Then I left feeling crushed and defeated.

The dermatologist burst into the room with high, busy energy. I described quickly what was bringing me in, she had me stand up and she quickly examined my body as best she could without asking me to remove my clothes (even though I told her the worst of it was hidden behind my pants). She then sat down to ask the basic medical history questions. When she got to asking me what medications I was on, I disclosed my Cipralex prescription. When she asked why, I told her it was for depression. At that moment, the dermatologist put down her pen. She told me that I should talk to my GP about changing my dose because the spots were as a result of my depression manifesting physically on my body.

That was it. No more questions. No tests. No closer examinations. She heard I had a history of depression and examined the issue no further. She was out the door. The entire exam took less than five minutes. I was in the waiting room longer.

Erasing spots like the one here on my arm is how I became so good at Photoshop.

Erasing spots like the one here on my arm is how I became so good at Photoshop.

Now I knew it wasn’t my depression. These spots had been around long before my depression had. And I was well-managed at that point in time. I felt comfortable with my medication and my dosage. I even asked the counsellor I was seeing at the time and he seemed skeptical. Yes, depression can find ways of manifesting physically, but this wasn’t it.

I should have said something in that appointment, besides an uncertain ‘are you sure that’s it? My depression is pretty well managed…’ feeble attempt to protest. I should have gone back, or asked to see a second dermatologist for a second opinion. I should have fought for my health.

Instead, I left. I didn’t talk about it with my GP. I stopped trying to fix the problem on my own through natural products. I resigned myself to life with messy skin.

I vote for better health care when my face and chest are having a particularly bad period.

I vote for better health care when my face and chest are having a particularly bad period.

Flash forward a few years and I am living in Toronto. Early on to moving here, I began to notice something was wrong with my health. I didn’t know what specifically, but I was certain something wasn’t right. There were strange symptoms including but not limited to missed menstrual cycles. Oh yes, we are getting all up in my body with this post. So I went to a walk-in and was lucky to see a doctor who, two-years later, is still fighting with me to find clarity in my health.

This particular health journey is a longer, more complex one. It has taken me down two very strange paths. One of which had me receiving a pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound, ultimately leading to a visit with a specialized Gynaecologist, who provided my with a diagnosis that began to make a whole lot of sense for a whole lot of my struggles.

Things were pretty bad around the time of my first  Mindful Pop-up .

Things were pretty bad around the time of my first Mindful Pop-up.

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that affects roughly 10% of all women. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs. It is the most common cause of infertility in women. Symptoms include depression, weight gain (and makes it harder to lose weight), increased acne (or in my case, RANDOM OPEN WOUNDS and hair growth. and irregular periods. Early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and endometrial cancer. Oh and eating disorders.

It’s a common enough condition and I had more than enough symptoms at an early age. But as Amy Medling, a certified health coach and founder of PCOS Diva, explained in an interview, doctors don’t really understand PCOS and it’s up to individuals to educate ourselves and become empowered. Less than 50% of women are properly diagnosed. Shocker, once again the health care system fails to understand women’s health.

PCOS just makes so much sense when you take my full history into account. It was like a lightbulb went off when I first learned about it. And now that I am empowered with understanding behind why my body is experiencing these symptoms, I can better address them and treat them. After quietly asking about my ‘weird skin thing’ for probably close to 15 years, I finally had an answer.

Damn, I should have asked louder.

In the journey of struggling to find an answer, I’ve had clinics not call me to inform me of my appointments, clinics lose my referrals, and have had clinics forget to inform me of things. I’ve had to keep on top of my doctors and stay clear on what appointments I need and when. I’ve learned to ask the hard questions and feel valid in my concerns. I now know I have the right to slow my doctors down to tell me what I need and ensure they’re actually listening to me. And guess what, so do you.

If you have a health concern, do not ignore it. Don’t let your doctor dismiss it. Listen to your body and fight for your health when you feel it’s needed. You only have one body, make sure it’s being cared for properly.