We Turn Away, it Goes Away?

I have been reading up quite a bit on Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain, and Depression lately.

Guess what surprised me most in these readings?

Feminism!

Even me – even feminism-for-bedside-reading-gender-lit-for-pleasure-reading me – did not expect to find feminism’s long pointy nose poking into, of all places,  Chronic Illness and Depression!

Naive me!

Apparently, not too long ago, women complaining of chronic pain, invisible chronic illness and clinical depression were told to grow up, get a life, and stop imagining/faking it. Also apparently, the ‘hysteria’ rhetoric and our beloved Freud had a lot to do with this. Whether fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and their sisters are real, has been a long-winded debate.

It so happens that women are more likely to ‘complain’ of chronic pain, chronic illness or depression than men.

The Freud-ish clan held that this is because women are weak – physically, emotionally, intellectually, morally, magically. That they either fake it, or imagine it because they crave attention and to avoid all their womanly household duties. So, the all strong feminist women of a foregone era fought this, mocked them, and made them shut up and keep their stupid theories to themselves.

Some sociologists believe that the higher incidence of chronic illness & depression among women is purely/mostly sociological. Women are oppressed more, they experience more stress & barely any avenues of stress release, and you can’t blame them for falling mysteriously sick more. Also, men just don’t admit to experiencing pain – physical or emotional – because it is not ‘masculine’ to admit to ‘weakness’. Well, yeah, makes sense, and feminists smile and nod along to this explanation.

Then there are a few biology folks who think this might be because women are biologically, genetically, mysteriously more prone to such things – blame hormones, neural wiring, and such like. Well, who knows?

Now, the feminists would have none of this “biologically inclined” stuff. They hate to even listen to this angle because it only validates the age-old belief that women are inherently weaker than men – intrinsically, biologically, neurologically, by the design of God. Obviously, patriarchy would jump at this to justify all prejudices and injustice against women. Fine.. that makes sense too.

But, what if? What if, for a minute and with a heavy heart, we assume that the biologists are correct, and that women are more prone to certain ailments? Just a big bold IF.

So what?

So freaking what if biology makes women different from men in some painful ways?

Nobody does, and nobody needs to, give a damn about the Freud-ish lunatics – one stays away from their toxic selves, and if possible, throws a heavy paper-weight on their balding heads. Been there, unfortunately not done that – yet.

The sociologists and their friends – they can yap away all they want, and their wonderful theories would do zilch for my pain. By the way, the latest addition to their list of theories is : “You IT-type new-gen kids.. Bad lifestyle.. Very bad! You sit in front of computers all day, and bug us with your pains!”. Truth be told, their theories make one feel slightly guilty, slightly ‘morally’ weak, slightly more depressed, until one finally realizes that whether or not they are right, they are no help!

Personally, I’d jump at the chance of anyone taking chronic pain as a ‘women’s issue’ and researching it from a ‘women-specific’ angle! How delightful it would be to finally see some action on that front – action not involving opiates and friends, and tri-cyclic antidepressants and friends. Even, if at the end, it turns out not to be a ‘women’s issue’, which it most probably would!

Aren’t “feminists” simply hurting women more by refusing to look at this angle?

Plus, is illness a ‘weakness’?

Anybody with chronic illness knows that it doesn’t make them ‘weak’. If anything, it makes them emotionally stronger – at least, most of them.

People with chronic illness or clinical depression simply need specially tailored lifestyles and flexible work opportunities to be as productive and as happy as the ‘healthy’. Along with medical help, of course.

If the ability and art of coping with daily difficulties and making the maximum of life isn’t strength, I don’t know what is.

Chronic illness and Depression are just examples of the “Turning Away” that some mainstream feminists tend to do. There would be many more which come under this “social vs biological” debate. The concept of  ‘feminine behavior’ being another big sore point.

The argument being “Keep it simple and clean – we are in the middle of war..  Murky waters aren’t good battlefields!”

But hey, turning away from some bitter truths doesn’t make them go away, does it?

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7 thoughts on “We Turn Away, it Goes Away?

    • Not all. And, there are quite a few on which the decision is ‘cat on the wall’ owing to oscillating research.

      In any case, it need not be gender-neutral. My point is that illness is not weakness to be so vehemently denied and looked away from.

  1. Pingback: Which Way Is Up With Al? | terry1954

  2. How does women being (supposedly) more prone to depression and psychological illness square with the fact that men are *much* (a factor of 3 or 4) more likely to commit suicide ?

    I -do- think medicine is a feminist issue. Because I agree with you, it’s perfectly likely that there are genuine differences between the genders, and I do have the feeling that many “female diseases” are under-researched. (many – not all: breast-cancer has 5 times the research-dollars compared to prostate-cancer despite similar incidence and mortality-rates)

    It seems to me that disease that has a single, clearly-defined and at best measurable-in-a-lab cause have higher “status” than disease that is multi-faceted and without a straightforward diagnosis. Chronic pains are often in this category. And yes, you’re often given the feeling that you must somehow be to blame for it.

    I developed chronic (well, I assume so, it’s been 18 months and there’s no progress) pains christmas 2011, pretty suddenly. Went to the doc who did tests to make sure it was *not* related to anything that’d be likely to kill me short-term, and after that offered that the most likely cause was simply overweight and inactivity.

    I trusted him, and fixed both. This took a year. I lost 20kgs and became normal-weight. I went jogging 3 times *every* week – including in hailstorms trough the winter. I went from being able to run for one minute to today being able to run a half-marathon.

    That was all well and good, and there’s other benefits to being fit so I don’t precicely regret it, but it made precicely zero difference to my pains. And that was with getting lucky. As a doctor, he should know that simply advicing patients to lose weight without any kind of support for this endeavour is a “treatment” that has a success-rate in the single digits. But it works just FIIINE for making patients feel that whatever ills they have, it’s their own damn fault.

    • Ask the Freud-ians, they’d probably say that women are too weak to commit suicide! When there is ‘gender’ in any issue, it seems to sprout colorful theories which help nobody.

      Chronic pain – I do feel fitness helps. If not for the pain, to keep the blues down. I have started daily long walks again, and it feels better, if nothing else, to be mocking at the pain “Ha.. and you thought you could disable me! :P”.
      Though, when a doctor proposes that as cure, I’d add him to the list of “Clueless, but won’t say so. Here, lets try this to keep you away for a few months.” responses that doctors give in such cases. It is ironically funny – to be able to see doctors as normal human beings with flaws and ego issues only when one is in unbearable pain 24×7!

      • Yes, there’s definitely advantages to being normal-weight and fit. I do feel that it’s been worth it overall. It’s just that it did precicely nothing to fix the actual problem I was having.

        I think you might be right; he was genuinely surprised when I showed up 10 months later and went “I did as you asked. Weight is normal. Fitness is excellent. This didn’t help at all. Your move.” I ended up changing my doc shortly thereafter.

        I could make a speech on the ethics of putting patients on treatments that have success-rates in the single-digit-percentage range, when a doctor opts for the treatment of uttering the sentence “you should lose weight” he should know that this treatment has a success-rate of perhaps 5%. I wonder if the same doc would happily prespcribe a drug that had a 5% chance of improving the patients condition, or if he’d consider that wasted effort.

        And yes, you definitely get people who blame the women. Who in essence say that it’s just that women are incompetent at everything, even at taking their own life. *or* that they’re not really suffering that much, it’s just that they -complain- about it a hell of a lot more than the men do. There’s a core of truth to this: I *do* think men are more reluctant to go see a psychiatrist even when they really should. (but I’d not classify seeking help when you need it as “complaining”)

        I also want to say that whatever your troubles are, I hope that the situation improves soon. I’ve been somewhat worried about you since I noticed that you where reading a lot on handling chronic disease. Not worried in the sense of doubting that you’re perfectly competent, but worried in the sense that I hope you’re okay, and that your days are filled with (mostly) happiness, despite the troubles. If there’s anything you’d like to talk about with me, you’ve got my address. I care. I’ve always got time for you if/when you want me to.

      • I used to make those speeches for years. I think experience has taught me to be both more critical and patient with doctors. I’d even say that your doctor is one of the better ones – I have had more of those who’d prescribe colorful combinations of drugs, and keep changing them forever. With side-effects, the drug gamble is much worse. Apparently, chronic pain is something that involves lots of trial-and-error as treatment.

        🙂 Thanks. Yeah, I’d be okay – I am learning the ropes of the art of coping. Will remember that offer if and when I feel ready to talk.

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