“Coping with a chronic illness is work”, Carolyn Thomas
A very new book has just been published by Carolyn Thomas: A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017. It is one of a kind! Finally, a book that allows the woman with heart disease or those with a family history of heart disease, to pour over it and sigh with relief as questions about the leading cause of death among women is now in print as a source of expert information. Furthermore, it is written in a style everyone can understand.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”, Maya Angelou
On June 3rd I heard a documentary on CBC radio talking about the mark of shame, the culture of shame and how it makes one feel. There is so much about the visibilities of women’s bodies that cause us to hide perceived imperfections, in particular the dyeing of our hair so as not to look old, plastic surgery to hide our wrinkles, over use of cosmetics, whitening of our teeth, even the marketing of products to enhance the colour of vaginas! We can never measure up to the standards set for us by the big businesses of the multi national corporations who prey on our insecurities. The cosmetic industry is constantly thinking up new ways to make us feel insecure and shameful if we do not keep up appearances of a youthful woman. We must always be thought of as sexually desirable dictated by our outward appearance. That isn’t to say that I am morally judging those who use whatever means they can to feel good about their outward appearance. Rather, it is meant to point out that we are often prone to hide the fact from ourselves that we cannot stay or look like we are in our 20s forever.While none of this understanding of women’s attempt to look like the Hollywood definition of beauty was any surprise or new to me, having taught in a women’s studies program for many years, nonetheless it got me to thinking about conditions that are invisible and about which we have shame because we cannot measure up to standards of health, for example, with fibromyalgia.
“Doctors are men who prescribe medicine of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing”,Voltaire
Those of us with chronic conditions are constantly seeking relief from the myriad of symptoms that make our lives very challenging. Pain, fatigue, lack of physical abilities, sleep disturbances, depression, rashes, to name but a few of the minor to serious struggles with which we are faced lead us to desperately wanting relief in the form of medications. Living with any one of the daily distressing symptoms affects our quality of life and it is little wonder that we seek help in the form of chemicals to help us get through the day. Many, in fact, are essential to our conditions without which we could not survive. Others are prescribed from the sheer frustration of physicians who want to help but medical answers to many perplexing conditions are not yet available to them. Such is the case with fibromyalgia. What to do with a patient who has chronic pain but to prescribe a pain medication, that may or may not help? If the patient cannot sleep there is a solution: sleep medication. Depression and anxiety? Medications for altering moods.The list of medications for all sorts of conditions is limitless. Pharmaceutical companies are big booming businesses whose profits know no bounds.Physicians could not possibly remember the vast array of information that the drug reps tell them about their efficacy or that they learn about on line. More to the point ‘new’ diseases and conditions are constantly being ‘discovered’ for which new drugs must be invented. Read : The Medicalization of Everyday Life by Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist, whose work in mental illness was compulsory reading for me as a medical sociology student in graduate school, many years ago.