Is your GP gaslighting you?
There is nothing more confidence destroying than going to your GP feeling like a hot mess, only to be told it’s all in your head. Maybe you ended up with a script for an antidepressant, or maybe a more progressive GP sent you off for some blood tests to check your cholesterol or something.
In any case, your health issues remain unresolved and you continue to feel miserable.
Being gaslighted doesn’t have to end this way though, and by understanding why it happens, what the signs are that you are being gaslighted and how you can advocate for your wellbeing, you are more likely to get the results you desperately need, and the important relationship with your healthcare professional that is necessary.
Hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus
Whilst I would like to give the benefit of grace in saying your hormone imbalance has likely been overlooked due to what I think of as the Menopausal Woman’s Shameful Knowledge Gap, and therefore not intentional by your GP, I can’t help thinking that for too long, women have been fobbed off.
And, it’s been going on since the dawn of time.
My first clue is the simple fact that the word ‘hysteria’ comes from the Greek word for uterus.
In ancient Egypt, hysteria was specifically a woman’s issue and was caused by a “wandering womb”.
Galen, in around the 2nd century AD, labeled women, especially widows, as a group vulnerable to hysteria because they had previously menstruated, had been pregnant, and were eager to have intercourse, but had now been denied all this.
In the 1500-1600s, it got even better – women who no longer menstruated were considered hysterical because their uterus retained foul humours, they were sexually deprived or their uterus wandered around the body causing suffocation and irritability.
Although we have come a long way, both in medicine and in society, that concept of hysteria still underpins women’s health issues during perimenopause.
The knowledge gap leaves you vulnerable
The very fact that women often feel shame for going through hormonal change creates a knowledge gap that impacts health and leaves the door wide open for women to be gaslighted by their health professional.
The reason this is such a large issue is those valid health problems go unresolved which may cause further health problems down the track, or, you are left living in your misery thinking that is all there is to life.
It simply isn’t the case, you don’t have to feel like a hot mess.
Three signs you are being gaslighted
There are three signs that your health professional is gaslighting you – as in, you are made to feel like it’s all in your head.
1. You’re perfectly fine. Really.
Your GP uses their learning and expertise to make you feel foolish for questioning or disagreeing with their pronouncement that “you’re perfectly fine”. This is when you really start to question your reality.
Your symptoms and concerns are flat-out denied. In fact, you might as well be told that you are hysterical because your womb is wandering around your body causing you suffocation and irritability.
You are not taken seriously, and your symptoms are just put down to being too stressed, or simply, that you’re ageing. Or maybe it’s your hormones and that’s the norm.
There is never an excuse for your health professional to make you question your judgement
Whilst I like to hold space for GPs as they truly are life-savers who are stretched to within an inch of snapping whilst having to deal with all sorts of rubbish and abuse from their patients, any hint of gaslighting from your doctor is inexcusable.
So, given you really do need a good relationship with your GP, and you are armed with the knowledge to spot if you’re being gaslighted, here is an example of how you can counter being gaslighted so that you can promote your wellbeing and get the help you need.
Respectfully disagree and insist – don’t be fobbed off
Let’s consider the case of heavy periods. There could be many reasons, and many things to check. It may take time for you to get to the bottom of it with your GP, but don’t be fobbed off with “that’s just normal”, or “it’s your hormones”.
If you’ve been having heavy periods, the type that causes you to flood and not want to leave the house, you will probably be low in iron. This causes fatigue, low immunity, thyroid problems (often, weight gain) and anemia. Often your hair starts thinning also. I have also seen anxiety and heart palpitations that don’t seem to have a cause resolved when iron levels are fixed.
If your GP has just said you’re fine, you’re just doing too much and likely you just need to get rid of some stress in your life, then doesn’t offer to test you for iron, serum ferritin to be exact, you need to switch gears. Here is what you can say:
I’ve been feeling really tired and I keep catching colds. I’ve heard this can be due to low iron stores, have I been tested for iron?
My periods are so heavy they stop me from leaving the house. Could I be deficient in iron?
Remember that it isn’t acceptable to be gaslighted by your doctor. If you realise that your symptoms are being dismissed, or you are being made to feel foolish for pushing back, or even if you are told “you’re fine, you’re healthy, nothing wrong” and made to question your reality, this is not alright.
You’re not going crazy, nor are you hysterical
You’re not a hysterical menopausal woman, you have real and distressing symptoms that need addressing. Don’t be fobbed off – ask questions. Research what is going on before you go into your GP, understand what might be the cause and ask to be tested.
You are not losing your sanity, and it’s not in your head. If you feel miserable enough to visit your GP for help, you don’t have to question your reality. Stand up for your health and wellbeing!