Several years ago, a friend I hadn't seen in a while wrote to tell me she'd been sick for some time, but she had to go to many different doctors for months before she could get a diagnosis. In the first paragraph of her letter, she had described her symptoms, and it seemed pretty obvious to me what was wrong with her.
I reached the second paragraph, and discovered that I was right, and then I wondered: If I knew her diagnosis that quickly, why didn't all those doctors? My friend had a fairly common autoimmune disease, and autoimmune diseases affect mostly women.
"I'd go to doctors, but I never got any answers," Venus Williams told New York Times writer Karen Crouse yesterday, in an interview about her withdrawal from the U.S. Open. Williams has Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that has affected her for years. In the Times article, Crouse quotes Dr. Frederick Vivino, who says that: "Because they look a lot better than they feel, some of our patients have been told they're hypochrondriacs or they're depressed or they are experiencing these symptoms due to menopause, and they just accept that. That's why people go years before being treated for autoimmune diseases."
As a psychotherapist, I have heard this story many times. Some things never change. Autoimmune disorders and disorders that mimic autoimmune disorders affect women by the thousands, yet there is still a shortage of attention to symptoms and accuracy regarding diagnosis provided by medical professionals. It's the 21st Century, yet much of the time, when women are in pain, it's still assumed that the problem is "emotional."
Williams has suffered with swollen and painful joints, extreme fatigue, swollen hands, and respiratory difficulty for a long time. Considering the pain and discomfort she has lived with for so many years, it's no less than amazing that she has had an elite tennis career. She told Crouse that she has not had anything to help her "but my own will." That is one impressive will, but Williams--like so many other others with autoimmune diseases--should not have suffered alone for so long.