By JO EARLY
Gaslighting. We hear the term often. Gaslighting refers to a form of abuse where the abuser causes their victim to question their reality and doubt themselves. This can be done by dismissing a person’s feelings, trivializing their reactions and denying that anything is wrong. It can happen in any personal relationship, and lately there are plenty of people sharing stories of a potentially deadly variant: medical gaslighting.
Have you ever had abdominal pain dismissed as your period? Have you been told to lose weight to address an issue unrelated to your size? Maybe you’ve been told, “Oh, it’s just because you’re getting older.” These experiences are instances of medical gaslighting.
Women and people of color are affected most by medical gaslighting, but anybody can experience it, especially if you are overweight, have a mental illness or an invisible disability. Medical gaslighting can delay obtaining a correct diagnosis, force a patient to undergo unnecessary procedures and deal with ineffective treatment. It also impacts a victim’s mental health and can make them feel crazy or like they’re overreacting.
Although I doubt the majority of doctors who dismiss symptoms or label someone hysteric are doing it intentionally, there is an unbalanced power dynamic between doctors and patients. There is also the cost to consider, as healthcare in America isn’t cheap. There’s nothing like spending your $75 copay for the privilege of being told to try a low-carb diet for chronic pain.
To try to mitigate medical gaslighting, experts recommend several strategies. First, keep a detailed record of not only your medications, diagnoses and lab results, but also your symptoms: when they occur, if anything triggers them, the area affected and degree of pain. Prepare a list of questions beforehand and bring it with you to avoid forgetting something important. Bring a trusted advocate like a family member or friend who can speak on your behalf if you get overwhelmed.
Although it may seem intimidating, don’t be afraid to walk away from a doctor who won’t listen to you and seek a second opinion.
Remember: you are the expert on your own body. You know when something doesn’t feel right. Don’t let anybody dismiss your pain.