“Reaction: a boat which is going against the current, but which does not prevent the river from flowing on.” — Victor Hugo
My entire life, I’ve always been that person who says to the doctor, “I’m not allergic to anything.”
I’ve also been that person who reads the potential side effects of a medicine and declares “not going to happen to me.”
Well, lo and behold, this week I got an adverse allergic reaction to something that was supposed to help me, and it landed me in bed for two days. Of course, it also got me thinking…
Initially, I was mad at my doctor. I have a pattern of doing this, and I know I’m not the only one. We look for someone to blame or get mad at when something doesn’t go our way.
On the first day, the doctor was calm and said, “Maria, I mentioned this had side effects. Perhaps you didn’t listen.”
I replied, “Um, no you didn’t mention this kind of side effect because if you had, I would have listened.”
By the second day, my condition had worsened and my doctor said, “Well, there are always some people who have adverse allergic reactions, but we don’t know about them until they happen. So now we can tell others about yours and that will help them.”
“Um, great.” I thought. “Glad I could help.”
As I sat holed up in my room looking like something I can’t even describe, I started looking for the lessons in this experience. (Yup, I’m always trying to find lessons.)
For one, all this is yet another reminder that there is a severe lack of knowledge about women’s health in America. We’re in the midst of a massive gender research gap in medicine and science, which in turn leads to a massive gender gap in knowledge. Meanwhile, the women on the ground are the ones dealing with the ramifications.
Women get 80 percent of all autoimmune diseases. We also get MS, depression, anxiety, Hashimotos, thyroid conditions, Alzheimer’s and strokes more than men. There have also been no long-term studies on hormone replacements. Everywhere we go, we’re met with doctors or experts who say “We don’t know.” Or they say, “We don’t have the data, so we can only tell you so much. Then, you’re on your own.” It’s beyond belief and it’s maddening. I’m having an adverse reaction to all of it, really. This is why I am constantly trying to use my voice and my reporting to speak up and speak out about the injustice of the gender gap in medicine.
On another note, this whole experience has also made me think about the toxicity that we let into our lives on a daily basis. I’ve thought, imagine if we had an outward physical reaction to toxic people, instead of just that gnawing one in your stomach? Imagine if your body swelled up every time someone lied to you. Would you run away from that person faster? Would the person who causes you pain get the chance to upset you?
I tried this theory out on a friend and she took it one step further. She said that so many people also have an adverse reaction to their deepest callings. They don’t want to think they are an artist, writer, poet or freedom fighter, so they push their thoughts away from that calling. They have a bad reaction to them because they’re too afraid to become what their internal voice is telling them to be. They go on to live a false life until, well, they end up sick in bed. Hmm…
While I don’t want you to end up in bed with an adverse allergic reaction, I do think my bump this week has some lessons to teach all of us.
1) Read the fine print on any medication you take and don’t assume you won’t have a reaction to something, just because you haven’t had one before. By the way, most medications haven’t even been tested on women, so ask your doctor if the one you’ve been prescribed has been. If it hasn’t, ask for one that has. And furthermore, ask for a dose prescribed for your age and weight. Not all adults come in the same shapes and sizes. Hello!
2) When your doctor proposes a new drug (or new anything), do your diligence and learn more about it. When they say there are possible side effects, assume that these effects that could happen to you. They have to happen to someone, so why not you?
3) If you do have an adverse allergic reaction, ask yourself what it’s here to tell you about your body or your mind.
4) Also, think about the people or issues that give you a pit in your stomach. Take those things and put them in your mind’s space. Feel the reaction they cause your body and then imagine that as physical swelling. Imagine you look like I did earlier this week. (Trust me, it’s not for public consumption!) List these people in your notes under adverse allergic reaction. Or, if it’s an issue or societal problem that causes you to feel this way, then go out and do something about it.
5) Think about what your true calling in life might be. Are you having an adverse reaction to it, just so you don’t have to go out and actually do it? I’m not telling you that you are, I’m just asking if it might be a possibility. I know it rings true for me.
Ultimately, my takeaway from my unexpected allergic reaction this past week is that all of us are vulnerable to side effects and reactions, so read the warning label. Make an educated decision knowing that you could be the one to suffer from those reactions. And my fellow female warriors, please join me in demanding that our doctors learn more about women’s health at every stage of our lives. We deserve better than we are getting.
Adverse reactions—be it to a drug, a person or our inner voice—always teach us something about our bodies, our minds and our choices. Think about what yours are teaching you and act accordingly.
Dear God, please help me pay attention to my mind, body and spirit. They may be trying to tell me something I need to hear. Amen.
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