Doctors, hey, can I talk to you for a minute? As a patient? Because I think it’s time we had a chat.
See, docs (is it okay if I call you “docs”? I’d like to think we’re all friends here.), I’ve been having some trouble with one of your own. I mean, overall she’s great, but on this one thing, not so much.
In November, I walked into her office.
“I’m depressed and anxious. November is always a hard month for me, but this is different. My lows are lower and the anxiety is worse. Normally I manage these things by running but it’s interfering with my life to the point that sometimes I’m too overwhelmed to leave the house to run it off. I need help. Pretty desperately.”
So she asked me what I’d been on that worked in the past. I listed a few, but she didn’t want to try those. They cause weight gain, you see. So she gave me one that doesn’t.
Within a week or two, I was having bad side effects and needed a switch.
Back in the office.
“Remind me what’s worked in the past again.”
No. No Paxil. Paxil causes weight gain.
“Let’s try Effexor.” She says.
“Um… I’ve taken it in the past and… um… well… you see… I… um… couldn’t have an orgasm when I was on it.”
“That’s a risk you have to take with any antidepressant.”
“Not with Paxil” I mumbled…. inside my head.
A few months and dozens of, ahem, “missed connections” later, I’m spinning into a horrific downward depressive spiral. It’s clear the Effexor isn’t working. And it’s clear if we don’t fix this NOW, I don’t have much time before I am consumed by it and it becomes deadly. (Also, my lady parts are starting to cry me to sleep at night.)
Back in the doctor’s office. Husband in tow.
“What’s worked in the past?”
“Yeah, when she had postpartum depression, Paxil saved her life and got her back to being a mom again. It worked really well. And fast.” says my husband.
“But, did you gain weight?”
“Um, actually, no?”
“No, she didn’t. She just got better.”
“Are you sure? I’m worried about you gaining weight.”
“I am a marathon runner without a stomach.” I finally spoke up on my own behalf. “I don’t even know if it’s possible for me to gain weight. It’s not my concern. I just want something that works.”
“But…. hmmm…. are you still running?”
“Yes! I just ran the Little Rock Marathon a couple of weeks ago. I have a half marathon on Sunday. A 5K the next weekend. I’m still running.”
Finally, with a bit of hesitation, she agreed to Paxil. Results are pending, but I feel hopeful.
Here’s the thing that freaks me out a little, docs. Why are you so worried about my weight, above all else?
I get it. Your jobs are to make sure I stay healthy and “weight gain is unhealthy” is canon, if debatably so.
But depression and anxiety are pretty unhealthy, too. Prioritizing those over weight gain is important. If you think gaining weight will increase my depression, ask me if that’s a risk I’m willing to take to get better. Because I am. I can undo a few lbs. I can’t undo suicide.
And one more thing? I really need you to hear me out on this one. This is important. Pay attention.
I understand that I live in a world where my worth is based on my attractiveness and that the concept of me as a sexual being vs a sexual object is foreign to a lot of people. I understand that doctors are not immune from internalizing this. You’re humans. And your job is to fix bodies, not necessarily to smash the patriarchy. But I want you to know this: I am a sexual being. And I’m really sad that I wasn’t even able to make a case for wanting orgasms over my size 2 jeans.
And I actually do wear size 2 jeans! Let me repeat that: I wear size 2 jeans and my doctor still thinks a satisfying sex life is worth sacrificing over the risk of me growing to a size 4. And we’re talking about depression.
Do you think I’m going to be less depressed if every time I get into bed with someone I have to be like “No, it’s not you, it’s me… it’s my antidepressants. I mean really, you tried and it was great. Really. I’m not complaining. It’ll happen. If anything was going to do it for me, THAT was going to. REALLY it’s okay.”? Because that’s not really how happiness works. Happiness works better without that added anxiety. And maybe you hadn’t considered this, but anyone getting in my pants when I’m a size 2 and not getting off is still going to want to get into my pants when I’m a size 8 and cumming all over the place. So my worth as a human being probably doesn’t go down all that much when I gain weight.
My mental health is just as important as my physical health. My mental health is imperative to my physical health. When we have these conversations about what sacrifices I will make to be mentally healthy, I want to have a say. And part of that is not having my humanity dismissed. I honestly don’t believe that men who walk into the doctor with concerns about their medication interfering with erections have those concerns completely dismissed. But as a woman, mine were. The thought of my happiness being linked in any way to having robust, satisfying and enjoyable sexual experiences never even occurred to my doctor.
I am a complete human being in the same way men are. This means I want to get off. Would I prefer to get off without it being at the expense of having to buy a new wardrobe? Of course. But I want you to take time to think about whether it’s fair to make that choice for me. Whether you would make that call for a man.
If I am speaking up to say that I am hesitant to take a medication that interferes with my sex life, it means that I have very real concerns about that affecting my quality of life. The question of whether that is okay with me never came up. In the middle of a conversation about improving my quality of life.
So docs, I’m asking one thing today. Just one thing. Challenge yourselves to put aside your internalized assumptions about female sexuality, that it is a secondary thing that exists for the pleasure of men, and the idea that being able to have vs being able to enjoy a romp are two very different things. Yes, women can still function perfectly well as sex objects without pleasure. We can still satisfy others. We can still engage with others. We can still give pleasure. So we can still be partners. But we don’t want to just function as partners. We want to be satisfied.
I mean, I know you know that. You know women enjoy sex. Probably because you’ve met and had sex with and/or as a woman. Your patients? Just like those women. Really. And just like those women, we deserve to be satisfied from every sexual encounter in the same way that men are. Don’t take that away from us.
Equality in the exam room is better for all of us, isn’t it?
Photo credit: Flickr/paul Quinn photography