H Y S T E R I A
I became obsessed with the fear of losing pieces of myself three years before it actually happened. Swimming in the brackish black of the Atlantic on a moonless night, a joke went awry about being in the ocean during shark week, and I panicked about losing an arm. And while it all started as paranoia, this night manifested slowly, and the next thing I knew I was leaning over a counter at my summer job selling tickets for a mediocre Savannah river cruise, scribbling on a notepad about the tragedy of losing something. It wasn’t a fear of losing something vital that would kill me, but the fear of losing something I had two of. Something that could be ripped away from me violently, leaving me changed and haunted permanently, with a constant reminder of my loss. My symmetry crippled.
It started taking over my work. My roommates reluctantly adjusted to the norm of having a corner of our living room devoted to discarded furniture, broken mirrors, shards of glass - anything I could photograph to help me understand what was happening. When I first decided the series was finished, I called it Crippled Symmetry. I chalked it up to my deep feelings of astrology, taking to heart my identity as the Gemini twin and using it as a reasoning for my hyper-extended fear of something separating my halves. But there was still an itch somewhere I still couldn't scratch - and I decided not to find out. I decided to forget.
I graduated college and took a job in Chicago. I took a job in New York. I went about my life normally until one night I found myself folded over in agony, puking off the side of an emergency room bed alone in Brooklyn. I was ignored for an hour, a vomit bag tossed at me by a passer-by without a word. I asked to an indifferent room as loud as I could manage to be seen by a doctor, only to be answered by a sweet janitor with down syndrome, who handed me paper towels to wipe my mouth after he cleaned my half digested spaghetti off the floor for a third time.
The IV kicked in at 5 am, and once my x-rays came back and doctors finally believed that I was actually in the worst pain I ever encountered in my life, I was rushed in for emergency surgery.
I had an ovarian cyst that was 10 cm in diameter, doubling the size of the ovary itself, and while listening to the doctors tell me it was just menstrual pain, the ovary had then undergone torsion - my left fallopian tube wrapped around it three times, until the tissue became so starved of oxygen that it suffocated, choked out and black. While I was under, they removed the entire affected ovary and the fallopian tube, and with its removal, the ghost of Crippled Symmetry crept back in its place.
This idea of being off balance, of being incomplete, never left me. I was bedridden for over 3 weeks and grieved over a loss I couldn't understand. I woke from nightmares of rocking back and forth on a bare hospital bed, alone, not being able to lie still, sweating, crying, having no idea what was happening to me, vomiting, and still being written off as a woman in hysterics.
When I went in for my 3 month check-up, I was furious at the lack of explanation my doctor gave me. I asked him so many questions - how did this happen, what was the cause of this, could this happen again? But he dismissed me repeatedly with an annoyed “I don’t know”. How can it be 2017, and doctors have no idea what causes even the simplest cysts on a woman’s ovary - which nearly every woman will get multiple times in her life? How do we just not know?
I was one of the lucky ones. I had insurance, and I was finally listened to just in time before my very large cyst ruptured. I’ve read stories of women bouncing from doctor to doctor, given nothing but ibuprofen or birth control, telling them it’s normal, you’re just exaggerating, you’re just being hysterical. I’ve read stories about women dealing with this pain for years until a doctor finally takes them seriously and looks close enough to diagnose them. I’ve also found that once they’re diagnosed, there’s really not that much more that can be done.
And the more I read, and the more I think about that night in Brooklyn, the angrier I get.
This anger has lead me down the rabbit hole of female hysteria. This has been a blanket explanation used to silence and ignore women since the time of Hippocrates - but to my horror, I found that Hysteria was only declassified as an actual diagnosis in the 1950's. This sexist form of “diagnosis” has created an unacceptable gap in the understanding and treatment of women's reproductive health, displacing what should have been literally hundreds of years of research that was doggedly pursued for men, but never for women. Ovarian Cysts, Endometriosis, PCOS - most of these health issues affect at least 1 in 10 women at some point in their lives, and though most have been medically documented since the 1800's, the research completed has been staggeringly disproportionate. So as a result, they’re still entirely incurable, doctors have no idea of their causes, and they can only treat symptoms with either birth control, or invasive surgeries that many can’t afford - which are often only temporary fixes in the first place.
Today, Hysteria is a testament to making real what I’ve been told is only in my head. A way to push into light everything a woman has desperately needed when she’s been ignored by those who are supposed to help her. It's a way to bring physicality to suffering, and to drag the real history of hysteria out of the shadows.