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How Women’s Health Care Needs Are Ignored Or Silenced By Calling Us ‘Attention Seeking’

Women's health care needs are routinely silenced; we need to speak up more, and expect care and compassion for our physical, mental, and sexual health.

Women’s health care needs are routinely silenced; we need to speak up more, and expect care and compassion for our physical, mental, and sexual health. 

Trigger alert: This story mentions self-harm and suicide, and may be triggering to survivors.

“women
don’t endure
simply because
we can;
no,
women endure
because we aren’t
given any other
choice.
they wanted us weak but forced us to be strong.”
― Amanda Lovelace, The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One

I was a teenager when I had my first brush with Depression.

Back then in Shimla, a sleepy small town in the hills, I didn’t even know the term or what it entailed. I didn’t know what was happening to me, neither did my father who was extremely supportive and liberal otherwise, and hence nobody even thought about seeking help for it. But the good that happened was that I was always vocal about it. I could cry about it to my father without being labelled a cry-baby, though the rest of the families and extended circle did label me ‘weird’. I could tell him what I was experiencing; what I failed to tell even him, was expressed in my writing.

It was almost a decade later when I received my ‘diagnosis’, had access to therapy and the terminology, and realized that my writing had saved my life, like literally.

There were suicidal phases many times, rash, risk-taking behaviour that others saw as just teenage angst, but deep-down I know now that those were attempts at self-harm. I even went through a brief period of eating disorder and huge body image issues.

I survived.

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The unfair expectation from women

In our society, women’s health needs are minimised; women are supposed to be thankful about the minutest of privileges.

So, I had a supportive parent, later I was happily married for a while, and was a mother, so the society expected me to be happy and thankful, expected that my ‘depression’ would vanish into thin air. It didn’t.

What all these expectations did do, in turn, was internalization of my pain! I didn’t have anybody to share it with after my father began to himself remain sick, and later passed away. I was shamed for not being a ‘good woman’ or a ‘good mother’ because I was behaving ungrateful and sad, unlike their expectations.

My high-functioning depression has stayed with me ever since.

But I was a survivor

The commitment I made to myself after I survived my first suicide attempt was that I am not going to be shamed about this. I am not going to remain quiet about this. I was good at words, and I just knew that whatever ‘therapy’ did technically to the brain and the body, my words were doing just that to me, and hence I had a story of survival to share with the world. Especially with someone who might be struggling somewhere like me, unaware, alone and searching for the last straw to hang on to.

Now that I am a divorced single woman, I am again advised to not be so vocal about my ‘mental illness’. Well-meaning friends say it will scare the prospective suitors away, colleagues say what if someone has a bias against mental health, they can jeopardize you professionally.

In fact, I have had experiences in the so called inclusive workspaces too, where they first encouraged me to reveal my mental health status to them and later it was used to discriminate against me. It did hurt and was a momentary set back, but this made me more determined to speak about my two invisible health conditions even more vociferously- Depression and Fibromyalgia.

Women’s health needs silenced

Why can’t women have the same right to care and compassion that men take for granted? Why can’t women’s health get the same concern?

When men are sick, they are just sick, but when a woman is sick and demands care or compassion, she is being dramatic and attention-seeking. This is the common perception.

It is a huge sexist bias that we perpetrate even in our homes and families every day, especially for mothers. A mother suffering is the epitome of motherhood and selfless love, is she not? What are her human rights? Does she remain human anymore? Why this dehumanization?

It was hard reclaiming this space, the guilt of not fitting to the ideal mother cliché did bog me down initially, I myself didn’t have a loving mother, instead there was lot of emotional abuse, and I didn’t want to forward the ‘mother wound’ I had inherited.

So, is there a way to do this right–  be a ‘present’ mother and yet be your own person, keep using you voice and asserting your boundaries for the same?

As my daughter is now stepping into her teenage and in my online interactions with many younger women this is “how I would choose to challenge” the notions about all-sacrificing great motherhood and mental health, by speaking about it with shame and fear.

Even after speaking about these for more than a decade now I feel women still don’t share lived experiences enough. Even I must break several layers of these mental barriers in speaking about mental and sexual wellness, which are intrinsically linked. I need to speak more and more about reproductive rights, contraception, sexual desire, side effects of mental health medicines on your body and libido and the like.

Invisible disability and my ‘insignificant’ everyday struggle with it- like my inability to close bra hooks, that has led to my looking for front hooking ones now, my inability to be active during periods, and the like.

I wish my voice and the voice of all co-warrior women grows strong.

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want – to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you – I want to hear you.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

#IChooseToChallenge blogathon: Each one of us can choose to challenge what we see as wrong around us. And here’s a small beginning we propose.

In this IWD 2021 blogathon, we called for your stories of how you would choose to challenge the regressive mindsets around, the injustice you see or are a survivor of, and call out sexism and gender bias. Of how you would take steps towards celebrating women (under this generic ‘women’, we include cis women, trans women, and non-binary persons) and their achievements more. Of how you would choose to challenge the oppression of those marginalised, or the violence you as a survivor, face.

Pooja Priyamvada‘s is the third of the best 3 entries, and wins an Amazon voucher worth Rs 500.

Image source: a still from the Marathi film Kaasav

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About the Author

Pooja Priyamvada

Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant, and poet. An awarded bi-lingual blogger she is a trained psychological/mental health first aider, mindfulness & grief facilitator, emotional wellness trainer, reflective read more...

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