2019 · health

taboo tear-down

There are always things we feel awkward talking about but I’ve learned that almost nothing makes people more squirrelly than discussing their own bodies – whether with friends, partners, or even healthcare professionals who have seen it all.

I’m always grateful my parents made talking about all the things that are “taboo” in conversation normal: bodies, bodily functions, sex, and feelings. Although it hasn’t always been easy to do, I’ve never felt shame when discussing even the most socially unspeakable topics. Coupled with my experience working in healthcare technology and educating patients on self-advocacy, I can honestly say my comfort level discussing my body has ensured I stay healthy.

In early July, I started feeling unwell. Nausea, stomach pains, and gassiness were making me miserable. When the usual go-to mix of Gravol, a bland diet, and some stool softeners didn’t make me feel better after a couple of weeks, I went to the doctor. I explained my symptoms and was told I could head home – it was just some trapped wind and constipation. I had lost nearly seven pounds and begun vomiting, too. A week later, I’d only gotten worse and went back again. The doctor then thought maybe it was a partially blocked bowel – and recommended I take some laxatives.

I spoke to friends and even acquaintances at the gym about my symptoms. I heard their stories and I learned from them. I was shameless as I asked nurses during my rounds of tests and curiously inquired about every element of my doctor’s examinations and thoughts. I spilled the details on everything – from the colour and consistency of my bowel movements to the fact I wasn’t even able to keep food down for more than a few hours.

Finally, after six weeks of feeling ill and three weeks of chasing medical answers I was diagnosed with giardiasis – a parasitic infection.

When I shared this diagnosis, I was inundated with comments ranging from “That’s so great – you know what it is is and will be treated and feel better!” to “That’s gross,” and it really hit home how taboo these things are… especially when I received several private messages from people saying they’d been too afraid to tell anyone they’d been having a hard time in the gastrointestinal department.

No one wants to talk about the daily, ho-hum things like pooping and farting and we’ll whisper and blush about yeast infections or vaginosis but guess what? WE ALL POOP. WE ALL FART. Yeast infections and vaginosis and constipation and diarrhea and gas are totally normal and the more we whisper about these things the more we’re harming our own wellbeing.

Mental health issues and mental illness were swept under the rug for years. Now they’re the sexiest topic, from a hashtag point of view. When I worked in healthcare tech, WE LOVED getting involved in social media conversations about mental illness because the engagement would be through the roof.

Cancer was quietly referred to as The Big C or The Illness and patients and their families suffered quietly. Who’d want to talk about such a thing? Well, now… everybody. Illnesses that were hidden no longer are… so why are our day-to-day body things?

I’ve talked about body issues I have with girlfriends only to have them look at me, totally shocked, and say “I thought I was the only one!” about things like chronic constipation, weird cramps, or pain during sex.

It’s these weird taboos and whispery conversations that keep us from understanding our bodies and taking the best care of ourselves. When we don’t talk openly, we can’t learn what is and isn’t normal. We suffer silently. We miss windows where we may have been able to receive treatment. We can’t live our lives to the fullest.

And that just won’t do.

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