We ignore symptoms for a variety of reasons. I can tell you why I do and maybe you are the same way.
- I was taught a long ago by the disinterest of doctors to minimize my symptoms because they seemed to think I was exaggerating my pain or other stigma causing me to retreat. So I began to be more stoic, became to minimize it, and began to only mention symptoms I felt were ‘important’ enough. If they lasted a long time, I would then mention them. Or get severe, then I would mention them.
- I don’t like to make a fuss. It could be just something normal to fibromyalgia or not important. And I don’t want to make a fuss about something that will a) go away on its own or b) isn’t that important.
- I have more important things to talk about with my doctor in the short amount of time I have with her. So I prioritize and those symptoms I do not feel are important enough get shoved to the wayside for some other time.
- It just isn’t bothering me enough to give it attention.
My doc now, who is a great doctor, is annoyed as hell I do this. I will finally mention a symptom and when she asks how long I have had it I say ‘Oh around 6 months or a year.’ And she knows I haven’t mentioned it for all the time when I should have. She gives me a look of disapproval and I smile sheepishly… and do it again for some other symptom.
Here are things I have ignored and Should not have. But keep in mind some things I ignore because of bad experiences with doctors. So reason number one. Stigma. And so I do not then mention something similar because I do not want to deal with similar stigma.
- Woke up with a numb hand. Half of it was numb and over the course of the week the numbness progressed over the hand. I waited for it to go away. It got worse. Tingling, thick numbness. By the time I went to my doctor he was indifferent about it. I waited for my neuro six months down the road. Turned out to be peripheral neuropathy. Cause unknown. Another neuro speculated I had a stroke in my sleep since I was at the time in a status migraine. Bravo on me for ignoring that one.
- The worst chest pains I have ever, ever felt, and I am positive were not fibromyalgia related chest wall pain. After when I mentioned it to my doctor she was frustrated I didn’t go to the ER but said it could have been angina. My heart had been doing some very abnormal rhythm (which I also didn’t go to the ER for, even though they were very scary indeed) things due to undiagnosed hypothyroidism and I suspect it was angina. But how it felt and the intensity of it? That felt like a heart attack. And I did nothing. I didn’t want to make a fuss. Because when I was younger I had chest wall pain and an ER doctor brushed me off because he didn’t believe in FM, never ran one single test. And recently same thing happened to me. Being a woman and being brushed off for having chest pains is a theme it seems. So I didn’t go in. And I know that I should have. It happened two nights in a row. I didn’t do a thing either time. And then since then I use it as my Marker for chest pains. So I do nothing because it Isn’t like Those chest pains. Granted most chest pains I have are chest wall pain.
- I had severe cramping abdominal pain. The worst I have ever felt in my life one night. I did nothing. Writhed in pain all night long. Asked my doctor about it on my next appointment, he said it was likely a burst ovarian cyst. He couldn’t imagine how I didn’t think that pain wasn’t important enough to go to the ER. But I thought it would pass. I just didn’t want to make a fuss over something that likely was nothing. I was waiting to see what would happen. If it didn’t go away, I was going to go. It was agonizing though.
I have other examples of when I should have definitely gone to the ER, but I hate the ER and I hate making a fuss so I worry it might not be anything… but it was and I should have went. There are times I wonder what would make me go to the ER. And what do I think IS worth it? If not a possible stroke, heart attack and writhing pain? What then? What is worth the effort to me? I don’t know.
But the fact is I delay reporting certain symptoms because I don’t think they are important enough. I wait and see approach it. And I don’t want to make a fuss so I won’t go to the ER unless I am desperate… and with chronic pain and illness, it takes a lot to make me desperate. Temporary things usually do not do it. I worry. I really worry. And I contemplate going for sure. But with so many bad experiences under by belt, I just refuse to go.
It is in fact one of the worst Symptoms of being a patient for so many years and exposed to a lot of stigma. This idea that I have to Make Sure First it is something Serious before I do anything about it. And only then when faced with stigma can I demand the attention I deserve for the problem. I am not making a fuss. I am not exaggerating. This is a real problem. No normal person would have waited and not gone to the ER the way I did for any of those incidents. No normal person waits to tell their doctor about a symptom until it lasts or until it is ‘important’ enough.
It disturbs me enough I have been trying not to do this. Actively trying not to feel like I am such a ‘hassle’. It certainly isn’t my job to figure out which symptoms are ‘important’ and which ones are not. I am not a doctor. And ignoring serious problems because of bad ER visits is downright dangerous.
And doctor stigma is dangerous. Being treated differently because I am a woman. Because I have a mental illness. Because I have pain. All these things impact how I then react to a doctor, which then makes treatment more difficult. If I undermine my pain to not be seen as exaggerating then they can never understand the pain I am in. Because they taught me to be stoic and undermine my pain. And they taught me never admit to depression, or they will not believe your pain. So I hid my depression for years. In various ways, they teach us how to behave around them and in some ways that can be detrimental.
“You’re so stoic,” I get from them now. You made me so, I want to say. You made me so.