No, I Don’t Fucking Need Anxiety Meds: The Covid Misogyny Epidemic by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


“I think you should take medication for anxiety.”

This was my doctor’s response when I calmly listed my Covid symptoms, which had been going on for a month and had landed me in Urgent Care twice and the ER twice, once via ambulance when the hotline nurse thought I was having a stroke because my face suddenly went numb, and my blood pressure, usually below normal, had shot up to 199/113.

I had just described my previous month – two weeks of crippling fatigue, occasional sore throat, then stomach upset arrived day 17 along with fever and cough that sometimes worsened into scary difficulty breathing, then came the pricking and shooting nerve pains, numbness, and feeling that all my blood was cold and trembly and horribly uncomfortable, the metallic taste in my mouth, the painful glands, vicious headaches, a week of horrible adrenaline spikes and insomnia, bladder discomfort, two days of insatiable, continual, desperate thirst, conjunctivitis… hell, I’m sure I’m forgetting a few.

Two doctors had diagnosed me with Covid, but my PCP saw only the negative test results, on day 30 after onset of symptoms, and decided… what? That I was making everything up? That I was exaggerating? That it was all in my head? Her approach to me for the next month, whenever I updated her on the grueling ups and downs of my long recovery, was to ask what would help me accept the fact that I had never had Covid.

I finally did manage to switch doctors. My new, far more competent doctor is a professor at a Medical School. She has several long term Covid patients like me. She uses a broad diagnostic method, which does not rely on the results of a deeply flawed test with a high rate of false negatives. Her motto is, “Patients know most about their own bodies.” Having a real doctor supporting me in my recovery made a huge difference. I may not have needed anxiety meds, but having a decent doctor significantly enhanced my ability to cope with the fears and uncertainties of this terrifying, deadly illness.

My experience got me thinking about how misogyny infects every aspect of human culture, including art, education, religion… and science. Medical misogyny causes women to suffer untreated pain and illness, and even death:

…when it comes to pain, men and women are treated differently… women in the emergency department who report having acute pain are less likely to be given opioid painkillers (the most effective type) than men. After they are prescribed, women wait longer to receive them.

…women in emergency departments are less likely to be taken seriously than men. …once in the A&E women waited significantly longer to see a doctor and were less often classified as an urgent case.

The medical gaslighting of my doctor – apparently a common problem – also made me think about our society’s bias against wisdom from traditionally female domains. This bias came through almost every time I told anyone – medical or nonmedical – about the treatment protocols that dramatically helped my Covid symptoms. Of course I have no idea how different my illness might have been without my treatment protocols. But my experience – not just in my recent bout with Covid, but as a former research scientist, and as accumulated through decades of reading research papers, collaborative skill sharing, and testing remedies on myself and my family – ought not be dismissed as foolish quackery or as worthless pseudoscience.

I won’t go into details, (and I am NOT GIVING MEDICAL ADVICE. THESE ARE TECHNIQUES THAT WORK FOR ME, BUT I ALWAYS ADVISE EVERYONE TO FOLLOW THE ADVICE OF YOUR PHYSICIAN in today’s litigious society) but for example: very hot baths. I began to realize the value of heat in fighting infection over 25 years ago, when a doctor advised me to soak a slightly infected fingernail cuticle in hot water. It worked so well — and it was free! – that I began using hot water soaks/compresses to treat many different ailments— such as pimples, bug bites, bee stings, sinus infections, sore throats, achy joints – with great success. Then one day, when my daughter had a fever with body aches, something clicked in my brain, and I realized – the body makes heat to fight infection. If we provide external heat, the body doesn’t have to work so hard. I put my daughter into a hot bath. The fever broke, the aches and pains disappeared immediately, and she got better that day. Since then, we’ve all been using hot baths to treat fevers and body aches, and they work remarkably well for us.

People nod politely. But actual scientists are quite interested in understanding how hot baths help people fight viruses. For example, here’s a fascinating review, which includes links to studies that show: “In humans, local hyperthermia (20–30 min at 43°C) has been found to improve the course of the disease in patients with natural and experimental common colds, whereas whole-body hyperthermia at 42°C inhibits HIV-1 transcription in AIDS patients.”

Another example: anti-inflammatories. As the scientific/medical communities scramble to understand how anti-inflammatory drugs can help fight Covid, I gaze gratefully at the array of herbal tinctures, teas, and supplements I’ve been taking, which have peer-reviewed data on their anti-inflammatory efficacy. And as doctors begin giving anti-coagulants (“blood thinners”) to Covid patients, I offer prayers of thanks to my anti-coagulant plant friends, which have been helping protect my blood for months.

How would I have fared without my “old wives” remedies? How would this epidemic have unfolded had our society not gradually sidelined female wisdom and focused exclusively on male-centric institutionalized health care? We will never know. But as J.R.R. Tolkien says, in a beautiful Lord of the Rings scene about using plants to heal life-threatening illness, “Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.”

Keep your fucking anxiety meds, and your medical gaslighting, and your pain bias, and your patronizing attitude. I respect science. I respect medicine. I respect women. And I respect myself. And I’m alive and well, continuing to spread feminism and healing wherever needed. Rock on, sisters, we will get through this together, we and our brilliant brains and our plant friends and our shared wisdom. Here’s to you, powerful females, Sacred Wise Women! In the face of cultural negation, I salute us and our #OvariesOfSteel!

 

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.



Categories: Healing, Women's Power, Women's Spirituality, Women's Voices

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19 replies

  1. “Patients know most about their own bodies.” (AND) “Having a real doctor supporting me in my recovery made a huge difference.: Understanding and believing that we know the most about our bodies is crucial to diagnosing illness and treating it. Just as important is having a medical professional who can genuinely HEAR us…When in New Mexico I developed breathing problems and dizziness etc and was told by a doctor that I need to to see a psychologist ( I am one – she must have forgotten)… I return to Maine – my doctor heard me, and prescribed tests – the tests revealed that I have emphseyma – a serious and ultimately terminal disease.

    Your experience must have been so hard – I am so sorry – and so glad that you wrote this article.

    We must learn to trust the truth of our bodies – my body KNEW I was ill and I believed her.

    Like you, I have been using natural remedies for most of my life – with my present condition I choose to use pinenes – natural bronchial dialators from trees – to help with breathing – rather than inhalers that are full of steroids…

    I feel fury that you had to suffer so much – when no one believes you – eventually doubts creep in – and that’s another real problem.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh Sara, your courage and grace always inspire me. Thank you for sharing this and relating to me so compassionately. I was very lucky to have had two other doctors so calmly certain of my Covid, otherwise I might well have thought I was losing my mind! I have never fought for my life so hard or so long. But like you, I have been building trust with my body for a long time, and with my brain, and I hope and pray that all our voices reach all the many women who are gaslighted and neglected until females receive as good health care as males… and our culture rediscovers respect for broader kinds of wisdom. Wouldn’t that be amazing?! <3

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  2. what a horrible story and the “evil” (should I say ignorant???) doctor was another woman. i find this the hardest to take: some women have been so carefully taught in patriarchal thinking and methods. in our fields too of course.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Carol. I agree, it’s even harder to take from other women… where’s the solidarity?? But yes, women are so carefully trained to please the wider male gaze in so many ways, including by disrespecting other women!! It’s dizzying. :(

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I sure hope you’re feeling better! Your story is more than scary. It’s horrendous. Good for you for taking proven “old wives” remedies. Bright blessings to the old wives and the remedies and to you.

    My PCP shares an office with an older male physician. When the “girls” in front answer the phone, it’s always with his name, never hers. I like her because she gives me free inhalers that the salesmen leave in their office, but just about all she knows to do is to write prescriptions. I bet she learned that from her “senior partner.”

    Let’s all do whatever we can to stay healthy and avoid drugs that may do more harm than good. Ditto doctors that will probably do more harm than good. Let’s get more independent, scientifically-trained, compassionate, female doctors. How do we do that?

    One more thing: I have fun telling nurses (of both sexes) that Ph.D.s were scholars 600 years before M.D.s even learned to wash their hands. True! That makes us the Real Doctors, right?? The nurses love it. You all who hold advanced degrees can do the same thing. If a physician insists on addressing you by your first name, address him by his first name. If he insists on being called Doctor, you insist on being called Doctor. Yes, that’s a tiny step in the march against patriarchal medical practice, but it’s at least a start. Go for it!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Barbara, thank you so much. I love the way you always go straight to the “how do we do this? What are the next steps?” and to the “let’s all do this empowering thing together” ideas. I just love that about you. You’re right, of course… I haven’t done that with titles, but I will join you! Why not? Great test of whether a doctor is an ego-bound jerk. As for how to get better doctors… I think if we had a free ratings service for women to review doctors so that we all increasingly choose doctors like this, that is what we will increasingly get. Angie’s list is a paid service. I’d like to see a free service, for females! Thoughts?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t do social media much, but I’m wondering if women have created groups, like in various cities, to rate doctors. I’m always ready to tell people either in person or via email about physicians I’ve encountered. Like a surgeon who left his mask and gloves in my lap a couple years ago. (At least that was before the pandemic.) Or a female doctor who tried to diagnose me–I had an infected hand, which she didn’t even look at. Ahhhh, there are stories, like the ER guy who called me sweetheart and tried to insert a drip in my neck. Like, he didn’t know about the carotid artery? Ladies, let us talk to each other and improve care and save lives! Let’s rate medical care! We can get organized. Yippee!

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  4. I am so delighted that you paid attention to your own wise inner self and followed your own inner knowledge. What a gift from you to share it with us as well.

    And oh yes. “pay heed to the tales of old wives.” Great line and duly noted!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Janet. And for your prayers!! I remember the first time I read that line from Tolkien decades ago, I think I jumped out of my chair in glee. A hundred years ago, he was trying!! We will keep trying! <3

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  5. Thank you, Trelawney. Beyond infuriating. Dangerous misdiagnosis. Sadly, your doctor drank the poison. Systemic. How to become aware of our own complicity?

    I find it difficult to count all the patronizing, bullshit diagnosis beginning rather early in my life. I do believe the first one was “childhood rheumatism.” Nope. Clinical depression withmultiple prescriptions and treatment from iron tonics to phenobarbital. And menstrual problems. A body that just hurt and hurt some more. And … heart palpitations, relentless nightmares, fainting, just fainting. Holter Monitors that showed, several times, there was nothing wrong with my pounding, racing heart. Voices. Anti-depressants. Anti-psychotics.

    By age 43, in desperation, I turned to meditation, journaling and dreams. In mid-life I made the Descent to the Goddess a la the amazing Sylvia Brinton Perera, Jungian Analyst. Learned about the myth of Inanna. Utterly fantastically miraculous. Unorthodox? Not really in the world of the Goddess. And through meditation, I found the source of my multiple issues. Pre-verbal childhood molestation. And, the repressed feminine. I worked to understand my complicity in my own silence.

    Now, I have written extensively about dreams and healing, dreams and finding the inner world, dreams and the Divine Feminine. Misogyny? False memory syndrome was a patriarchal favorite in the early 90s. Healing from the devil was another. Thank goodness, burning at the stake has been outlawed.

    Now? I am alive and well. Thanks to forums like Feminism and Religion and sisters like Trelawney, I am speaking out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am so glad you have found your path to wellness! My father was a psychotherapist, and he helped numerous people discover preverbal abuse and molestation, and he invented non-medication treatments for them, too, and helped a lot of people. I found that very inspiring growing up. We are alive and well, and we are speaking out!! I believe if enough of us keep speaking, wellness will grow and flower. Speak on, sister. <3 <3

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  6. Trelawney, I am so glad you got rid of that doctor and found a good one, and that you’re feeling better. I’ll bet all of us have been dismissed by doctors who think it is all in our heads or we’re just suffering from anxiety, etc. It reminds me of the time my mother got hit in the face with a baseball while trying to help my brother improve his batting. When she went to the doctor he asked her if it was “that time of the month.” My mother said, “I’m almost 40, do you know how many ‘that time of the months’ I’ve had?! I got hit in the face with a baseball!” She was furious at his stupidity!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Linda… what a story. “I got hit in the face with a baseball”… I cannot stop shaking my head at this. But you’re right, I’ll bet we all have stories. I have plenty more, too. It seems that not believing women is much more respectable than believing us!!! Grrr….

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  7. Trelawney, I am so sorry for your illness and for the brainwashed FEMBOT physician who attempted to diminish you–blaahh on her! Thank you for this outstanding post that made me smile, over and over again….always love your directness and impassioned writing.

    I teach a course for undergrads in Women’s Health & Sexuality that includes the original physicians’ (women’s) plant medicine practices and the history of how medicine in Europe and then America was violently taken from women and placed in the hands of Euro & EuroAmerican upper-class men–who became the founders of the ivy-league medical schools of today–yep–rotten to the core, literally, but many physicians today are changing that trend!

    I recommend following Dr. Aviva Romm to FAR readers. She is a Wise Woman & Midwife, and a Yale-trained M.D. who is on the board of their Integrative Medicine school…she will turn you on to true women’s medicine!

    Gaia Blessings Everyone!…..and keep Elecampane Tincture on hand for Covid breathing problems (under guidance from your healthcare practitioner, of course).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Stephanie… and ooooh, thanks for the recommendation! I’d also LOVE to see your syllabus!! And thanks for the herbal tip as well! Your course sounds AMAAAAZING…!! Gaia blessings to you! <3

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  8. Thank you for sharing this and so powerfully showing how your own experience relates to and represents this dynamic of the gaslighting and silencing of women’s experiences. You are a true warrior goddess for women everywhere, whether they appreciate it or whether they are still stuck in patterns of internalized oppression and misogyny. Rage on, sister.

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  9. Thank you for this post and goddess speed your full recovery! I just read an article about people whose symptoms linger after the virus has left and the tests are negative. COVID-19 has presented in such a range of unpredictable ways. Real and humble medical professionals admit how much is unknown. Listening to patient’s should be a number one priority.

    I have had similar experiences with lyme disease, which, after having it fifteen or more times, I definitely know more about than most doctors. I have had doctors tell me: that’s not a lyme rash, that’s a bruise, even though a quick google search confirms that the rash can present that way and the rash is hot to the touch and in a place where a bruise is unlikely but the lymph system is active. And even though I have fever, aches, and exhaustion. I am also prone to ear infections, which I can detect before most doctors.

    When I choose a physician I tell her: I know my body. And I ask: will you listen to me when I tell you what is happening? Fortunately I have found a primary physician who does listen. I am glad you have too.

    I wish you WELL! And thanks for the tip about hot baths!

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  10. Oh Trelawney, I’m so sorry to hear about how the “injury” of a brainwashed M.D. was piled on top of your COVID-19 experience. It’s hard enough to heal from one, especially a new disease that we’re just learning about. I’ve experienced very little sexism in my health care, because I have a medical researcher for a husband. Before I see a doctor, I ask him what words to use and sometimes take him with me. Having an feminist ally of the “right gender” has helped me many times.

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  11. thank you Trelawney, I have come back to read your story here again. I learned a few new tricks re herbs for my bag of self-scripting :) … actually things I was already doing (being an old hand at “self-scripting” hehe) but didn’t realize the extent of their value. Best wishes to you and your healthy fury! x

    Like

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