For six years I went without health insurance. Not because I didn’t try, and not because I was a healthy 20 something who didn’t need insurance, but because, in fact, I have so many serious health issues no insurance company would touch me.
I never thought I would have access to health care. I’d resigned myself to living with this pain for the rest of my fertile life.
You see, I have ovarian cysts, which cause debilitating pain when they burst. It feels like a small explosion, then contractions like something trying to get rid of itself. Jagged, fiery pain shoots up and down my leg. My leg goes numb. I get nauseated.
I also have a fibroid tumor which explains the constant ache. Add to that endometriosis, which does a number on my digestive system. I vomit so often I rarely leave my apartment.
Enter the Affordable Care Act and I finally have access to health care! The solution is in sight, but not within reach. Doctors agree, a hysterectomy would largely make my issues go away. Except I am only 32 years old, doctors don’t want to terminate my fertility. Never mind that I decided long ago not to have children. They don’t trust me to make that decision.
They don’t trust me because I have bi-polar disorder. I’m self-employed, independent, and self-supporting. I’m articulate, talented, intelligent, but I’m bi-polar, and that may pose the biggest risk to my life.
According to a study by psychiatrists at Oxford University, bi-polar women like me can expect to die nine to 20 years sooner than other women my age. Those odds are worse than smoking. Heavy smoking cuts eight to ten years from a person’s life span.
Mental health patients typically engage in risky behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse. Not me. They attempt suicide at a higher rate. I have thought of suicide, but I’ve never tried to kill myself. Researcher Dr. Seena Fazel points to another issue that resonates with me. “The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.” I have experienced how the stigma of my bi-polar diagnosis creates a barrier.
Eighteen months ago I rushed to the Emergency Room with stroke-like symptoms.The entire left side of my body was numb and drooping. I was slurring my words. As soon as they looked at my chart and saw the meds I was taking for my bi-polar disorder, they stopped talking to me and talked to my friend instead, as though I wasn’t even there. It was extremely offensive.
When a scan showed no signs of stroke, the doctors discharged me even thought my friend pleaded with the doctors to do something. We thought the symptoms indicated something seriously wrong, but the doctors waved me away. “There’s nothing we can do.”
(The next day I went to Planned Parenthood. They immediately took me off birth control. Stroke can be a side effect of hormonal birth control. Because I presented with these symptoms, the risk is too great for me to continue on the Pill.)
Now doctors brush me off regarding my decision to not have children. After convincing two doctors to schedule the hysterectomy, my insurance transferred me to a third doctor who refuses. She actually told me a mentally ill woman of my age shouldn’t be making decisions about my fertility. I say it’s not her place to put my fertility before my health when I have already decided not to have children.
The bi-polar disorder drove my decision. I would have to get off my psych meds to get pregnant because every medication could be dangerous to the baby. After the baby was born I’d have a 95-percent chance of postpartum depression. Plus raising a child as a bi-polar parent would be that much more difficult.
For seven months now I have been in a relentless tug-of-war with my insurance company. I’m determined to have the hysterectomy. The alternative is untenable. I’m functioning at 50-percent. I’m not wiling to use narcotics, being bi-polar makes me high risk for addiction. This cannot persist. I would have to drop out of life.
Already in the past four months I’ve had to turn away work. My income has dropped below the poverty level. Unless my situation resolves I may have to give up entirely and apply for disability.
The Oxford researcher, Dr. Fazel, gives me this hope. “With political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline. We now need a similar effort in mental health.”