To whom it may concern:
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I wish I could say you never crossed my mind. But you do. Recently, when I start to feel that familiar twinge of pain, I am forced to remember. It takes me back to that year — the first time I started to realize that something was wrong with my body. I’m reminded of the fear I felt at what it could be. You see, I know my body better than anyone, as I’m living in it. So when I started to feel the now all-too-familiar pain every single day, I knew it wasn’t normal. I called your office to schedule an appointment. Back then calling a doctor’s office to make an appointment didn’t fill me with dread and make my armpits sweat profusely. Back then, I still believed you had my best interest in mind.
I talked to the receptionist and let her know that I hadn’t been feeling well and wanted to make sure I had ample 1:1 time with you. She assured me that I would and I hung up the phone. A week later, as I sat in the waiting room, I remember feeling hopeful. I genuinely believed that I would leave your office that day with answers and medicine to make my pain go away. How naive.
When the nurse called my name I followed her through the door. She took my height and weight and asked me all the predictable questions. Had I been smoking? Did I drink? Was I sexually active? No, no, and no again.
I told her about the symptoms I had been experiencing over the past several months; constant abdominal pain, extreme bloating of my abdomen, horrible periods, vaginal pain, extreme abdominal pain while trying to exercise, and an overall feeling of helplessness. She wrote things down on a paper and left. I waited for you, still feeling hopeful.
You came in and began to ask me questions. I told you everything, and as I was talking, I began to cry. It felt so nice to finally talk to someone who I assumed would understand. I was ashamed of my pain back then. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it because I wasn’t sure what was even happening. You were one of the first people I told.
I told you about the days I was forced to stay in bed because my stomach hurt me too badly to move. I told you about the periods I had experienced since high school — the ones that caused me to faint and vomit in front of my classmates — and the pain I felt when trying to exercise. I then told you about the very few sexual encounters I had attempted to have, and about how they all ended in horrible pain and embarrassment. I told you all of this because I thought you would believe me. I thought you would help me.
When I finished telling you about the physical symptoms, I told you about the emotional ones. I tried to explain to you what it had been like to live in pain over the last several months not knowing what was wrong with me or how to fix it. I told you that it had become harder to smile and laugh with my friends. I told you what it felt like to feel betrayed by your own body. I poured my heart out to you. I trusted you.
When I was finally done talking, I grabbed one of your Kleenexes to wipe my tears. You never offered me one. It was stiff and scratchy and made my nose red. You began to talk. You told me that my period sounded “relatively normal” and that I should “take Advil” the day before my next cycle as a preventative. You then said that I appeared “very stressed” and seemed convinced that my stress was the culprit behind most of my abdominal pain. You also told me to add MiraLax into my diet every morning with a glass of water to reduce the abdominal bloat. As far as the painful sexual experiences? You had an answer for that too: use lube. You then prescribed me an anti-depressant and left the room.
I wish I had known then what I know now. I wish I had known about the millions of people who live with my conditions. But I didn’t know. So I went home that day, feeling helpless and confused. I still wanted to trust and believe you at that point, so I began to doubt myself. After all, you were the expert, weren’t you? As the weeks went on, the pain continued, and so did my denial. I had successfully begun to convince myself that I was going insane…that this pain I was feeling wasn’t real. Maybe I was just really stressed. Maybe I did need to be on an anti-depressant. I did everything you suggested. I took the Advil. It may as well have been a sugar pill. I did the MiraLax. The bloating only got worse. I did everything I could to convince myself that what I was feeling was “normal” like you said. But nothing worked.
I went back to you again and again and begged and pleaded for answers. You never gave me any. I wish I had stopped seeing you. I wish I had possessed the courage to fight for myself. But I wanted to trust my doctor. Doctors are supposed to help people.
It took me almost five years to be told that I have a disease that affects nearly 180 million people in this world. FIVE. YEARS. And it might have taken longer, had I not searched my symptoms endlessly on the internet.
I will never get those years of my life back. The ones I spent curled up in a ball in my single dorm room in college pleading with a higher power to lessen my pain while simultaneously begging for answers. The ones I spent convincing myself that I belonged in a mental institution because you told me that my pain wasn’t real.
It’s now been a couple of years since my official diagnosis and I’ve tried to forgive you. I’ve told myself that you didn’t know any better. That maybe you really did think you were helping me. That maybe I overreacted. But the truth of the matter is, I was in pain. Physical pain and mental pain. I was suffering. And you were my only way out. But you didn’t believe me.
I now know that my pain — everything I was feeling — was real. I know that it’s not a figment of my imagination or a side effect of stress.
I’m not sure I’ll ever truly forgive you for what you put me through. I’m also not sure you’ll ever realize what you did or admit to any wrongdoing. But that’s OK. I no longer need your validation. I don’t even want your remorse. I just want you to do better.