BY TEAGAN WEBB ’18
As someone who works with my brain all day, it can be really scary when my body hurts and I can’t figure out why. “Why can’t I control this? Why is my body falling apart?” I think in a panic at 3 a.m., after googling ‘clitoris pain’ again but this time adding ‘sharp’ and ‘random.’ Luckily, I am blessed with funny, frank and non-judgmental friends. They sit with me while I read forums and tell me about their most unfortunate UTI’s. Moments like these remind me to feel unashamed that I can’t control the most vulnerable parts of my body.
This week, to start off the semester, I want to talk a bit about self-diagnosis, participatory medicine and my experience in the first few weeks of college. Growing up, my parents avoided taking me to the doctor or giving me medication as much as they could. This is partially due to economic instability and partially to the general hippie — “Have you tried sunrise yoga?”— attitude of Boulder, Colorado.
When I first arrived at Mount Holyoke, I was faced with the realization that I had no idea how to buy medicine, call my insurance company or get what I needed from a doctor’s visit. Ask anybody who knows me — I can barely get up the nerve to buy Advil (Who am I? The queen of England?), but I will shell out for some apple cider vinegar and a tincture. Alternative medicine is more comfortable for me because it feels more participatory; I feel more trusted as an expert in my own care. But I recognize that is a feeling born of privilege; I can participate in traditional biomedical cures and spaces — and I do — whenever I need it. My degree and passion is in medical anthropology and biology, so I hopefully know what I’m talking about. Most importantly, I want to teach people to participate in their own care, and find a balance between biomedicine and holistic care which works for them. Becoming a self-advocate is one of the most difficult but rewarding things about growing up.
To me, having a body is not about mastery or control or any other masculine ideas of expertise and competency. I will always value communication over conquering. I have learned the most from the shared knowledge of a community which understands the faults and limits of biomedicine at addressing the health of marginalized people.
Most of all, I want to become an active part of this network, to give as much as I have received from the bravery and honesty of those people who taught me what a yeast infection is and how to trust my body implicitly. So this year, I will be answering questions submitted to an anonymous Google form about sexual health, relationships and bodies.
As a person who often feels ignored, anxious and silly in a doctor’s office, I hope to connect you with resources that make you feel unashamed, valued and competent. But if the topic of the week doesn’t apply to you, I hope my misadventures make you feel a little less alone and embarrassed the next time it burns when you pee.