Sometimes it feels like the most stressful place to be is a doctor’s office.
Whether you’re sick or not, you may feel the existential dread of getting a check-up on your health every time you open that door. It’s understandable!
Most of us are not medical professionals, so we cannot intuitively read test results or look at X-rays and understand what’s going on scientifically in our bodies. That’s our doctors’ and nurses’ job … but that does not mean we do not have our voices in that exam room.
It is crucial to remember that, no matter what, there is no one who can better feel what is happening in you than yourself. That’s why it is crucial to self-advocate at every step of our medical journies — no matter how intimidating it can feel to speak up.
Sexual + Being wants to help you become a better advocate for yourself to your doctor. Here are a few tips that have helped us.
Listen to your body (and mind) at all times
There’s a reason why medical professionals typically start appointments with a question: “Why are you here?” That’s because your medical care starts in the same place: with you.
Most of the time you are the only one who can explain how you are feeling. You are the one experiencing the symptoms and/or side effects from long-term conditions. Perhaps most importantly, you are the one actually living in your body.
Everything about your health impacts your life. Listen to everything your body tells you. Taking proper care of yourself means sometimes being the canary in your own biological coal mine.
Overshare, overshare, overshare
Let’s start with the obvious here: Doctors are (or, at least, should be) professionals.
They can (and very much should) be kind and welcoming to you as a patient. But, at the end of the day, they are there to help you — and your lack of brutal honesty about how you are feeling hinders their ability to provide assistance. As such, stop sugar-coating how you are feeling.
Sick or not, some of us carry a need to please people and are told by the world around us to “man up” or “push through it.” This is especially common with women, particularly women of color, and furthers an intense barrier that hinders one’s health and keeps in place health disparities along gender and racial lines. While you cannot control how a doctor may react to what you are saying, you also are not doing yourself any favors by sitting on a health secret either. Plus, doctors cannot treat what you do not bring to their attention. (Yes, sometimes in excruciatingly embarrassing detail.)
Overshare how you’re feeling and your symptoms. Seriously! As long as you lead with openness and respect with your physician, there is nothing you should fear saying. Remember: You are not a bother and your explicit detail could save your life.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion
In the grand hunt for bodily answers, you may hit dead-ends in what one doctor can provide you in terms of medical advice, treatment, or care. But, as may feel obvious but needs to be said anyway, there are hundreds of doctors nationwide who can offer additional service.
A second opinion isn’t just something you see in medical dramas. It’s real and, at times, can be life-saving. Whether that new doctor is a specialist in a specific area or just someone whom you may trust, they can potentially fill in any medical blanks for you.
It is important to note that sometimes a second opinion is the same as the first. And that’s okay!
You should not hold any qualms about that because you are the *only* person who can truly look out for you. Be proud you did your due diligence and fought for yourself and your health.
Ditch a doctor you are not comfortable with
Sometimes this one is much easier said than done, of course, especially in terms of access, insurance restrictions, and geographic location. But it can transform your own health and your relationships with both your medical provider and your own body.
This, in particular, can be crucial for those from more marginalized communities. For centuries, medicine has been overwhelmingly white, straight, cisgender, and male. That means some doctors do not have either the training and/or the lived experience to comfortably and welcomingly engage in some of their patients’ health — especially for LGBTQ-identified individuals.
Finding doctors who specialize in specific aspects of care will undoubtedly break down some of the walls put up in terms of advocating for the service standards you deserve.
Be wary of over-Googling
The headline says it all here. Do not send yourself a-spiraling by incessantly Googling your symptoms. Research is good but only if done so thoughtfully.
Unless you’re a medical professional, be wary of the perils of self-diagnosis, too. Yes, that stomach cramp could be something a bit more sinister … but it also could just be gas.
Above all else, give yourself some grace as you reevaluate how you advocate for yourself. These things come with time and practice but, trust us, they will make a world of difference. For more information and resources in this space, go to sexualbeing.org.