For the past year, I have been listening to women’s stories about the aging process and personal experiences related to menopause. When I began researching this topic, I was startled to find out that half the women over the age of 65 are living below poverty and with some form of disability. Yes, women live longer, but are we living better? These women confided in me many of the same issues that the readings for Monday explored. Some of these issues included lack of voice, mind/body duality, and meanings surrounding health and illness. In reflection of these stories, I cannot help but feel that these women were speaking directly to me and other women my age. Almost every participant I interviewed said, “It is you who needs to know this information because it is too late for me.” I now have become a part of their story which is our story. In order for me to take some responsibility in accounting for what I have witnessed, I have decided to share some of the advice that I was given.
Cahn discussed the ways in which you may become alien to yourself during the course of medical treatment. The body can become colonized by the medical community if dialogue is absent between patient and provider. Several of the women I talked to mentioned how important it is to find a doctor who is right for you. In these circumstances, meanings about health and illness are co-constructed between patient and provider. This is even more important when there may be several overlapping medical concerns. For example, Fibromyalgia patients have shared with me that physicians are quick to assume that this disease is the cause of every medical problem. Therefore, it is important to find someone who is open to listening to your unique story that carries with it a unique historical context.
Several of the readings talked about the ways that mind/body is negotiated during health and illness. For Cahn, illness is an ongoing process of becoming living and learning about embodied experiences. For Avery, the body is an important aspect of her lived experiences yet she does not allow this to define her. Several of the women I interviewed shared similar stories. As one colleague in class mentioned, the idealized understanding we would like to have is not that easy. She used an artichoke as an analogy for the complex layers of meanings (some imposed while others we create). Some of the women I talked to about the aging process used the body as a focus to dismantle cultural conceptions of women and aging. In our society, a master narrative devalues women and for some reclaiming the body becomes a process of empowerment. However, some of the women I interviewed talked about the importance of listening to your body, especially when the physician wants to symptomize with reason. When you know something in your gut is telling you something is wrong, act on this intuition and do not stop until you get answers.
Finally, Mairs discussed the importance of writing as a process to acknowledge voice. However, I do not believe writing is the only answer. After my interviews with participants, it seems that we are failing to listen to one another due to generational shifts. We need to open up a space where all stories are valued and we come to learn from one another. Several of the participants talked about voice during the healthcare interaction as well. They said their voice was not listened to during healthcare interactions. Now, they come to the doctor’s office with questions and a list of items to discuss in order to initiate a dialogue. Once again, the advice given to me was, “if the physician is not willing to listen, then find another who will.”