When I was thirteen years old, my body began to change, just as everyone’s does. However, I started to feel very off, both mentally and physically, in a way that seemed different from the changes my peers were going through. For example, I experienced an amount of anxiety that I didn’t even know was possible. I also inexplicably stopped getting my period completely out of the blue. Simply put, I did not feel like myself, and based on what my physical and mental health were telling me, I knew that it was something more than just the normal growing pains that all young girls experience as they grow up.
With the support of my mom, who trusted from day one that I was in touch with my body and mind, I went to various different doctors to try and figure out what was wrong. Basically, all of their responses boiled down to the same thing: “It’s just teenage girl angst! You’ll get through it. Here’s some anxiety medication.” In terms of my vanished period, no doctors seemed too concerned because I was still young and had gotten my period at an even younger age. My hormone levels were not completely normal, but nothing alarmed any doctor enough to do anything other than tell me to just wait for it to come back. I specifically remember one doctor saying something along the lines of, “If it’s still not there when you’re sixteen, we’ll deal with it then.”
After countless medical experiences like this, I was feeling confused and frustrated. The doctors must know what they’re talking about, right? I’m probably just being a dramatic teenager. I need to suck it up and just ride out whatever weird phase I’m going through. As a thirteen-year-old who had no idea what was happening to her body and mind, these were the kinds of self-deprecating thoughts that went through my head. However, I had various symptoms regarding my physical and mental health that just seemed to be getting worse.
I knew something was wrong. There just had to be.
The only part of my body that no doctor had examined was my brain. I wasn’t experiencing any physical pain in my head, so it was difficult to convince a doctor to order an MRI, and many refused to. Finally, my mom and I convinced a doctor to order one, probably because he saw how desperate we were, not because he actually thought anything was wrong. Whatever the reason, I am forever grateful that he did. The MRI did in fact reveal that something was wrong: I had an arachnoid cyst sitting in my brain, pressing up right next to my pituitary gland.
Finding out this news, I felt a mixture of shock and relief. I truly believed that this would be yet another dead end in my quest to discover what was causing my hardships. Instead, I now knew that there was actually something in my head that was not meant to be there. This was information that allowed my frustrating search for a problem to come to an end and enabled me to begin searching for a solution.
Arachnoid cysts are harmless on their own, and it is pretty rare for people who have them to even know that they have them. They only cause issues depending on which parts of the brain they are affecting, which was what happened in my case. The pituitary gland is responsible for secreting hormones, which helped explain my lost period and my various other symptoms that could all be traced back to hormones being out of line. Now that we knew what was wrong, I could begin a journey of making it right and helping myself feel like myself once again.
This experience that I had at age thirteen taught me that I know my body and my mind better than anyone else -- even doctors sometimes. I am grateful that I learned this lesson young. As I make my way through adulthood, I will always remember that barely-teenager who knew something was wrong with her, even when so many people with fancy degrees and important titles were writing her off as just another anxious teenage girl. I know that the doctors I visited before discovering my cyst were just doing their best, as a normally harmless type of brain cyst would not be the first thing to come to mind when examining my symptoms to even the most accomplished of doctors. I am also grateful for the medical expertise and help I received once discovering the cyst. However, it was important for me to learn that I am and always will be my body’s best, brightest, and boldest advocate, especially as a woman. Doctors have a history of brushing off women’s health concerns and not taking women as seriously as men when women explain that they believe something is wrong with them medically.
Because of my experience, I will navigate medical environments for the rest of my life with the confidence that comes from understanding that I am the only person in the world who truly knows my body. I know I can and will fight for what my body needs in order to be well.