What Does Wearing A Seatbelt Have To Do With My Cervix?

Part of why I hate medical appointments so much is because of the questions. You know the ones: Do you conduct breast self-exams? Do you floss three times a day? Do you always use a condom? Are you exercising for 20 minutes every day?

And then there are the not-so-common ones. I am in no way joking when I tell you that the OBGYN office I used to go to would ask me if I wore my seatbelt when I was there to get a pap smear. Every single time. I’d shake my head and wonder what the hell that had to do with my cervix. Incidentally, when I had a different doctor in that practice, one who didn’t know me, she advised me to go on blood pressure pills, and I refused. I got “fired” by the office I had been going to for my health needs for 20 years because I didn’t like the medication a new doctor — who didn’t know — me was recommending. So, yes, I routinely lie to doctors, dentists, nurses, etc., and I’m sure I’m in good company — I cannot be the only person that has had to lie to medical professionals just because I want to get an antibiotic for a cold.

I find science and medicine fascinating, but the entire system I’ve experienced as a patient makes it seem like progress does not equate to profit, so they are intentionally trying to hold back care. I’m a difficult patient, and I warn every single practitioner. I no longer go regularly for exams out of the fear, shame, panic and humiliation I experience… so I make sure to do my best explaining to every single nurse that I am the worst patient they will see all day. (Nurses, I have to say, have been the best to me through over 40 years of care, so I do feel guilty about lying to them.)

I was raised as a good Christian girl who turned Pagan in her teens. I have a real solid understanding of guilt, and it’s one of those feelings that eats me up. Therefore, lying when I think it matters — about my health, for example — is quite a big deal. I don’t make that decision lightly. I will still feel the guilt even though I feel justified in telling the doctor, “Oh, I was doing so great on a new workout plan, but I’m in a rough patch and I will try to get to doing something at home instead of an expensive gym.” In my head, that’s plausible. In my head, I want it to be true so badly.

Let’s take a closer look at the inevitable, “Your weight has gone up. Do you exercise?” part of a doctor’s visit. I tell all doctors about my depression and anxiety — I’m actually incapable of lying about that because I’ll end up crying and hyperventilating, and they should know why. But what I don’t tell them — a lie of omission — is that every single day, I hear the voice inside me trying to get me to believe in something. It’s a new day and that today I’ll take those steps. Today, I’ll get back to where I was when I loved my body and worked out five days a week and ate macrobiotic meals and could do 90 minutes of yoga and meditation.

But something new has started to happen.

I’ve started to recognize these as lies I tell myself.

I’ve tried hard. It took me years, but as soon as I had another full-time paycheck, I joined a gym. I started taking chair-dancing lessons, hoping to build strength to try aerials by the next year (that would have been 2015). So it wasn’t always a lie — there were legitimate days when I could say I was exercising and it would be the truth. But then, like all cycles, 18 months later I lost yet another job to company reorganization. Life happens, and I have to go back to pretending I care about what the scale says because now it’s affecting my blood pressure.

It’s hard to tell those professionals that I simply don’t care, and that if a heart attack comes sooner than later, I’m fine with that.

The lies seem to take on lives of their own. I’m sure you’ve heard all the cliches and analogies about webs and how hard it is to keep track. That’s why small white lies seemed like something I could manage. “Yes indeed! I care about my health and I’m looking into a new plan for blah-blah-blah!”

What I’ve found is that my white lies don’t stop with the medical community because I also openly discuss my health online. I love my friends. I do. I am astonished any of them care about me. I don’t want to lie to my friends the way I feel I have to lie to doctors. But here’s the thing people with mental illness have learned: We have to lie. We’re already a burden to people and to society. We have to pretend that we’re doing better and interested in every kind of treatment option.

When you live with something terminal — and I’m going to say mental illness is terminal because it’s not “cured” unless it’s a symptom caused by tumors or something — people mean well and ask, “How are you today?”

Do I tell them the truth?

“I’m fine,” I say.

%d bloggers like this: