Recent writing: benzodiazepines, the ‘sex recession’, and early menopause

November’s features for Grazia, The Pool, and BBC Three covered a pretty interesting range of subjects: anxiety, addiction, sex, millennials, periods, fertility, and the menopause.

‘I’d Treat Myself With Diazepam In The Way People Treat Themselves To A Glass Of Wine After A Stressful Day’ – for Grazia:

Lena Dunham this week revealed that she’s six months sober, after three years of misusing anti-anxiety medication Klonopin (Clonazepam). Speaking on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, the 32-year-old actress said: ‘I was having crazy anxiety and having to show up for things that I didn’t feel equipped to show up for. But I know I need to do it, and when I take a Klonopin, I can do it.’

Over time, Dunham added: ‘It stopped being “I take one when I fly” to “I take one when I’m awake”. I didn’t have any trouble getting a doctor to tell me, “you have serious anxiety issues, you should be taking this”.’

Continue reading at Grazia…

Are we stuck in a global sex recession? – for The Pool:

It’s probably telling that my response to a recent Atlantic article on the so-called “millennial sex recession” was a shrug. “Who the hell has time for sex?” I quipped. “We’re all too busy stressing about the end of the world.”

Hyperbole aside, it is clear that sex has slipped down our priority list. Over the last few years, an increasing number of headlines have mourned the millennial generation’s collective sex life, with study after study after study showing we’re having less sex than our parents – but why?

Continue reading at The Pool…

The truth about early menopause – for BBC Three:

Most women don’t even think about the hormonal roller coaster that is the menopause until they hit their mid-40s, with 51 being the average age for women’s periods to actually stop. But Adele Stevens is dealing with hot flushes, mood swings and the end of her fertility aged just 25. To make matters worse, she’s going through it at the same time as her mum, who is in her 50s.

Adele is a mum herself, to a six-year-old daughter. “All my friends are having babies at the moment and I still want another one, but I don’t know if it’s possible now,” she says.

Continue reading at BBC Three…

Recent work: Charities of The Prince of Wales, and LDN WMN @ Google Arts & Culture

The Charities of The Prince of Wales

The Charities of The Prince of Wales

I’ve been back at Google Arts & Culture over the last couple of months, working with them and the team from Clarence House on a new digital project to celebrate the Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday. It’s been a bit of a change from my usual areas of work, but after all the fun we had working on the Road to Equality (parts 1 and 2) earlier in the year, it was great to be back working with the Google Arts & Culture team again, as well as some of the brilliant charities founded and supported by Prince Charles.

The project, which launched on 14 November, gives an insight into the life, work, charities, homes, gardens and art collection of the future King, and was a collaboration between Google Arts & Culture, Clarence House, The Prince’s Foundation, Royal Drawing School, Royal Collection Trust, Turquoise Mountain, Highgrove, Duchy of Cornwall, Prince’s Trust, Dumfries House, and British Fashion Council.

The personal highlight for me was learning about the restoration of Dumfries House, its stunning collection of Chippendale Furniture, and how its charitable and educational programmes are transforming the local community.

There’s also a beautiful virtual tour of Highgrove Gardens, an insight into the work of The Prince’s Trust, and a 360 degree look inside the Prince & Patron exhibition – part of the 2018 Buckingham Palace Summer Opening – featuring artworks and objects from Royal Collection Trust, The Prince’s private collection, Royal Drawing School, The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, and Turquoise Mountain.

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Road to Equality pt.3

A week later, on 21 November, we also launched seven new pieces of Road to Equality content, marking 100 years since women in the UK won the right to stand as MPs. Working again with The Mayor of London’s culture team, I put together exhibits on the recent LDN WMN public art exhibition, celebrating forgotten women from across north, south, east, west and central London, as well as showcasing the work of young women and non-binary artists.

Alongside this new content for The Mayor of London, I also had a chat with Scarlett Curtis, writer, activist, and curator of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies)and wrote a brief history of women MPs in the UK Parliament.

Introducing Hysterical Women: a feminist blog exploring sexism in women’s health

Hysterical Women

In October I launched a new blog, Hysterical Women – a project I’ve been thinking about and wanting to explore for quite a long time now. Visually it looks pretty similar to this one, but I wanted to create a dedicated space to focus on one specific strand that’s come up over and over again in my work over the last couple of years: the stereotype of the ‘hysterical woman’ in healthcare.

As I wrote in my (Wo)Manifesto for Hysterical Women:

Hysterical Women was born out of frustration. Time and time again in my work I speak to women who’ve been dismissed, disbelieved, distrusted, and denied diagnosis or choice over their own healthcare. Women who are made to feel like ‘hysterical’, ‘attention seeking’ ‘drama queens’ or ‘hypochondriacs’. Women who are told they’re ‘just hormonal’, or that it’s ‘all in your head’. Women who are told their (often male) doctor knows their body and mind better than they do. And women living with conditions that are so overlooked and underfunded that there’s a worrying lack of research, knowledge, awareness and treatment available.

From menarche to menopause – their first period to their last – women’s health, and their health-related choices, are constantly scrutinised. But how much are they really understood? What role do our hormones really play in all of this? And how much of it is just good old-fashioned, institutional, medical sexism?

For a long time I’ve been wondering how to start drawing all these threads together, and highlighting the patterns that exist in all areas of women’s health: mental, physical, sexual and reproductive, menstrual, maternal, menopausal. Then it came to me – like most of the best ideas – over a G&T-fueled session of putting the world to rights with another woman.

I am constantly in awe of the strength, passion and determination of the other women I have the privilege of working with, and the amazing things that can happen when those women put their heads together. I hope Hysterical Women will be a place where more of those conversations can happen – a hub for news, research and, most importantly, women’s own voices.

I’ve been really heartened by responses to the blog so far – and in particular by some of the conversations it’s sparked on my Facebook page. I’ve had the privilege of sharing some brilliant guest posts, on topics including Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the perimenopause, vaginal atrophy, fibromyalgia, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), and the LLETZ cervical biopsy – and there’s plenty more lined up over the coming weeks and months.

Guest post submissions are also very welcome (please get in touch!) – and I’d particularly like to feature more stories from women of colour and trans/non-binary people who’ve experienced sexism and other discrimination in healthcare settings, and healthcare professionals or researchers who are working to improve things for women.

I’ve also launched a monthly sister newsletter, That Time Of The Month, which you can sign up to at: tinyletter.com/sarahgraham7. Otherwise you’ll find a weekly guest post and a weekend round-up of news and research on the blog itself, or on my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram profiles.

Recent writing: fertility myths, and women’s cancers

September was Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, and I wrote for Patient about how to spot the warning signs of the five different gynae cancers: ovarian, cervical, womb, vaginal and vulval cancer. Also in September I wrote for Grazia, debunking some of the most common myths around fertility.

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October, I worked with both Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now on two features – for Patient and BBC Three – about two women’s experiences of living with secondary breast cancer. Special thanks to Emily and Beth for speaking so candidly about such a difficult subject.

How to spot the warning signs of gynaecological cancer – for Patient:

More than 21,000 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer each year in the UK, but how many of the types and symptoms could you actually name?

This September, for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, charity The Eve Appeal is calling for cancer education to become part of the Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum in schools. Knowledge of gynaecological anatomy, and awareness of gynaecological cancer symptoms, are crucial to early detection and treatment. If you’re feeling clueless, here’s the charity’s Ask Eve nurse Tracie Miles with your need-to-know guide.

9 Common Fertility Myths Unpicked – for Grazia:

Fertility. Of all the ‘F words’ out there, it’s by far the most frustrating – not to mention baffling. You spend more than a decade of your fertile life trying desperately not to get pregnant and then, as your 35th birthday edges ever closer, it all gets very complicated. When should I start trying? How long should it take? How can I improve my chances?

The simple answer is that there are no simple answers. Everyone’s different, and there’s no exact science when it comes to fertility.

But there are some pretty unhelpful myths out there that don’t make matters any clearer. And some of them are so widespread you might even have heard them from your GP – never mind what you’ve been told by your impatient mother-in-law, your best friend, and all those frantic Google searches.

Continue reading at Grazia…

How to cope with metastatic breast cancer – for Patient:

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 13 October is Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day – which this year is all the more poignant as it falls just six weeks after 40-year-old You, Me and The Big C podcaster Rachael Bland died from the condition.

Metastatic, or secondary, breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis that can turn women’s lives upside down and leave them and their families facing an uncertain future. We spoke to blogger Emma and charity Breast Cancer Care about how to cope when you find out your breast cancer has spread.

‘I was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer when I was 22…’ – for BBC Three:

By Beth Brown, as told to Sarah Graham

My daughter Amelia was 18 months old when I first noticed something wasn’t right. It wasn’t a lump or one of the classic signs you think of, more like a hardening on the skin at the top of my breast. But with a toddler to care for and our wedding coming up, I had other things on my mind. Everything else seemed fine, so I pushed it away, got on with life and didn’t go to the doctor until after my wedding – a few months later.

Even when I went to hospital for scans and tests, I didn’t think it was going to come back as cancer. The thought didn’t even enter my mind. I expected it to be a cyst or something easy to treat – that they’d remove whatever it was and we’d go back to our normal family life.

But the longer I was at the hospital, the more I started to think something wasn’t right. I kept seeing other women coming in, having their tests done and going again within an hour or so – while I was there for about eight hours, having test after test.

When they finally sat me down and told me it was cancer, I was really shocked. I gripped my husband’s hand in panic, my mind racing. Weeks earlier we’d been so happy, celebrating our wedding, planning for the future. And now this. As soon as you hear the C-word, you immediately start thinking the worst. More than anything I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘but what about Amelia?’. I was terrified, and it just felt so unfair.


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Feeling off your game? On perimenopause

Women who are otherwise bossing life are having their careers, fitness goals and sex lives scuppered by the perimenopause. Never heard of it? Exactly.

For October’s Women’s Health magazine, I reported on the hormonal headwind that no one sees coming:

Forty. The big 4-0. When life really begins. It’s a decade that’s been rebranded as effectively as the British monarchy; and if you’re not there yet, you’re probably pretty chill about entering a life stage where you no longer have to fake it, you know your own mind (no more pretending you know who Wiz Khalifa is) and you’re smashing more goals than Harry Kane when England’s World Cup hopes were still alive. It’s how Women’s Health Editor-In-Chief Claire Sanderson felt in the months before her Big Birthday. That is, until something began to feel a little… off.

‘At first, my symptoms were physical. My periods – which had always come like clockwork – started to become irregular, my breasts were really painful and I was starting to carry more weight around my waist. Things felt so off that, even though my husband has had a vasectomy, I began to think I must be pregnant.’ After months of struggling to fall asleep, PMT that was off the scale and ridiculous arguments with her husband, Claire began to open up to other women – and once she did, their stories kept coming.

Daily tasks making you feel as if someone’s upped the incline on a treadmill; a body that feels straight up weird; about as much interest in sex as you have in the finer points of tax law. Happy, successful women, inexplicably off their game. It wasn’t until Claire confided in a friend who’s a practising doctor that she heard the term perimenopause – the term used to describe the process of transition from menstruation to menopause – a diagnosis later confirmed by her own doctor.

Download the PDF here to read the article in full.


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent work: Cervical screening for survivors of sexual violence

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

During the summer I had the privilege of working with charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. I was commissioned by Jo’s Trust to write two new resources for their website, looking at cervical screening support for survivors of sexual violence. While smear tests offer the best possible protection against cervical cancer, they’re also understandably traumatic for women with a history of violence and abuse.

The first of these new resources was therefore aimed at survivors themselves, offering practical tips and advice on how to cope with the screening appointment if you choose to attend. The second, longer resource looked at how healthcare professionals can better support these patients both practically and emotionally, with sympathy and understanding of the issues at stake.

These resources launched online at the end of August, to coincide with the publication of a survey on survivors’ experiences and attitudes towards cervical screening. I wrote about the survey results for both Patient and Refinery29, looking at survivors’ experiences, practical tips on preparing for a smear test, and signposting to the Jo’s Trust resources.

The Trauma Of Going For Your Smear Test As A Survivor Of Sexual Violence – for Refinery29:

The Trauma Of Going For Your Smear Test As A Survivor Of Sexual ViolenceWhen Julia was 12 years old, her mother, who was in her early 30s, died of ovarian cancer. The following year, Julia was raped.

Now 35, she is terrified of developing gynaecological cancer like her mum. But as a survivor of sexual violence, she’s also terrified that going for a smear test – the best protection against cervical cancer – will force her to relive the trauma of rape.

She’s not the only one. Research published today by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, in partnership with Rape Crisis and My Body Back Project, found that nearly half of survivors don’t attend cervical screening tests as a direct result of their experience. Another quarter of the 131 survivors they surveyed said they’ve put off going for their test for the same reason, while only 15% regularly attend when they’re invited.

The potential ramifications are huge. One in five women aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence in her lifetime. If almost three-quarters of those women delay or avoid their smear test, it’s fair to assume they’re at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. And many of them are painfully aware of this.

“I’m a radiographer working in a busy oncology hospital, and I’ve seen what happens when people don’t go to screening tests or ignore their symptoms,” says 40-year-old Kate, who was raped in 2013, just after having her smear test.

When her next screening invitation came, three years later, Kate says: “I felt sick. I genuinely believe cervical screening saves lives, and I wasn’t prepared to let [my attacker] jeopardise my health; that felt like another way for him to win. It was too important to not go, but I knew I would find it difficult in a way I never had before.”

Continue reading at Refinery29…

Preparing for your smear test as a survivor of sexual violence – for Patient:

“I remember a viral tweet a few years ago that said: ‘If you don’t go for your smear test, you’re stupid. It takes minutes and it can save your life’,” recalls 41-year-old Sam*. “Everyone was retweeting it but it was so overly reductive that, as a survivor of sexual violence, it was difficult to read. I mean, sure, it does take minutes, and it’s usually fine, but I knew it wasn’t ever that simple.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is one of the deadliest but most preventable types of cancer for women. The NHS cervical screening programme – which can detect abnormal, pre-cancerous cells – saves around 5,000 lives every year. But knowing all this doesn’t make the experience of going for your smear test any less traumatic or distressing for women like Sam.

In the UK, one in five women aged 16-59 have experienced some form of sexual violence – and many of these women avoid going for their smear test as a result. A report published by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust reveals that almost half of the survivors they surveyed had chosen not to attend cervical screening because of their history. Another quarter had put off their smear for the same reason – and that reason goes far beyond embarrassment or stupidity.

If you’re a survivor of sexual violence, the cervical screening procedure is understandably reminiscent of your past trauma: the position and penetration; the exposure and vulnerability; the lack of control; and often even the language used, like “open your legs”, or “it’ll be quicker if you relax”. But, despite the difficulties, remember that you are just as worthy of good, preventative healthcare as anybody else.

While going for a smear will probably never be a pleasant experience, there are things that both you and your healthcare professionals can do to make the screening process as painless and stress-free as humanly possible.

Continue reading at Patient…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: HPV, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and childbirth

My work on sexual and reproductive health in August covered everything from heavy vaginal bleeding to painful (and even traumatic) vaginal childbirth, as well as looking at the lesser known (and surprisingly common) sexually transmitted virus HPV. 2018 marks the ten year anniversary of free HPV vaccines for girls over the age of 12 on the NHS. In July it was announced that these vaccines will be extended to boys of the same age from next year. But, despite growing awareness, do many of us really know what HPV actually is? I wrote a need-to-know guide for Patient, exploring how HPV is transmitted, who it affects, and what it does.

Also for Patient, I spoke to The Eve Appeal’s gynae nurse Tracie Miles about possible causes of heavy periods and abnormal vaginal bleeding – from benign fibroids to gynaecological cancer. And I wrote for Grazia Daily about two recent reports on women’s treatment options during childbirth.

‘It Was A Shadow Hanging Over My Whole Pregnancy’: We Need To Talk About The C-Section Postcode Lottery – for Grazia:

Giving birth by caesarean section has long been seen as the “too posh to push” option for expectant mums. Either dismissed as “the easy way out” (which it isn’t; it’s major surgery!), or criticised for not being the “natural” or “maternal” way of bringing your child into the world, the C-section generally gets a pretty bad rap.

But for some women and their babies it is the best option – either in the form of an emergency caesarean following labour complications, or as a birth plan in its own right. Sadly, women pursuing the latter continue to face stigma and obstacles at what’s already a challenging and emotionally charged time.

Research published on Tuesday by maternal human rights charity Birthrights found that: “the majority of NHS Trusts in the UK make the process of requesting a caesarean lengthy, difficult or inconsistent, adding anxiety and distress to women at a vulnerable time.”

According to the charity’s director, Rebecca Schiller, maternal request caesareans are the number one reason women contact the Birthrights advice service. Their reasons for wanting a C-section are varied, but most couldn’t be further removed from the “too posh to push” stereotype.

Continue reading at Grazia…

What causes heavy periods and abnormal vaginal bleeding? – for Patient:

Whether you’re 13 or 53, abnormal or unexpected gynaecological bleeding can be a massive source of stress, worry and confusion. But, while it could be an early sign of uterine or cervical cancer, it may also be a sign of something far more benign. The difficulty is knowing how to tell the difference!

We speak to specialist gynae nurse Tracie Miles, from charity The Eve Appeal, to find out what your bleeding might be a symptom of, and when you should be concerned.

Firstly, Miles says, it’s important to understand what ‘abnormal bleeding’ might look like.

“Bleeding is not just necessarily that Snow White moment of fresh red blood on a white panty liner,” she says. “It could be a sort of sludgy brown staining, like the kind you might get towards the end of your period, or it can be a mucus with a bit of a pink tinge. Be aware of any kind of abnormal discharge or bleeding, and any changes to your ‘normal’ monthly cycle.”

As for the potential causes, this varies depending on your life stage – whether you’re menstrual(ie still having regular periods), perimenopausal, or postmenopausal.

Continue reading at Patient…

What Do Different Pain Relief Options In Childbirth Actually Feel Like? – for Grazia:

Pain relief during childbirth is an emotive topic – from whether you have it at all to the type of pain relief you go for. And now a recent study has challenged the routine use of pethidine – a drug that’s been widely used to relieve labour pains since the 1950s.

With so many different debates raging on the subject, how the hell are you meant to know which choice is best for you – especially when you’re trying to get an entire person out of a space far smaller than the average head? We’ve got the (non judgmental) lowdown on the most common options available.

Continue reading at Grazia…

What you need to know about HPV – for Patient:

In 2008 the NHS introduced free vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV) for girls over the age of 12 years. Ten years on, it was announced in July that this vaccination programme will be extended to cover boys. But what exactly is HPV, who is it most likely to affect, and why is it a threat to public health?

HPV is a common virus that affects the skin and moist membranes around your body. In fact, it’s so common that 80% of people will contract HPV at some point in their lives.

“There are about 200 different types of HPV and, for the majority of them, they won’t do you any harm at all. There are no symptoms, and the body’s immune system will usually clear the virus without the need for any treatment,” explains Kate Sanger from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

So far, so good… The problem arises, however, with certain strains of HPV that are considered ‘high risk’. These forms of HPV can cause genital warts and are responsible for around 5% of cancers worldwide, including virtually all cases of cervical cancer. Until recently therefore, vaccinating girls to prevent cervical cancer has been a clinical priority. But HPV can also lead to other forms of cancer – including anal cancer, penile cancervulval and vaginal cancer, and cancers of the head and neck, like throat and mouth cancer.

Continue reading at Patient…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you need help or advice with, please check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: leaving London, PTSD, and sex addiction

It’s been almost 12 months since we left London for suburban life in Letchworth Garden City. Despite the small downsides (looking at you, Govia Thameslink Railway!) I haven’t looked back for a second. In fact, it’s arguably up there with one of the best things I’ve ever done – particularly for my mental health, which has come on in leaps and bounds since we moved. So when The Independent were looking for someone to write about the latest stats on thousands of people moving out of the capital each year, I had plenty to say on the subject!

I’ve also been doing a lot of writing for Patient.info recently – including, in August, a feature on the psychology of sex and love addiction, and one exploring the misconceptions and realities of living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

London is over. Like thousands of young people, I’m so glad I left – for The Independent’s Indy Voices:

LondonWhen I moved to London at 22, fresh out of university, it felt like the most exciting place in the world to live. The hustle and bustle, the nightlife, the cultural scene and, as a trainee journalist, the job opportunities. Fast forward five years and, 10 months ago, I was moving out for a new life in the Hertfordshire suburbs.

By 2017, I felt alienated by the soulless capitalism of life in the city. My anxiety was at its peak, and the crush of the tube made me claustrophobic.

Scarred by a year of rush hours on the central line, I found myself only applying for jobs where I could travel slightly later, and on quieter lines, before deciding that freelancing from home was actually the way forward.

As more and more friends left their high-pressure London jobs for a calmer and more affordable work-life balance elsewhere – or, like me, to go become self-employed – it became apparent that the London was no longer the centre of the employment universe. Not only were there job opportunities elsewhere, but the working cultures and cost of living were far less intense.

While friends in London would repeatedly blow me off to work late, those outside the capital seemed to have exactly the kind of work-life balance that had driven me into self-employment in the first place. Unemployment in the capital might be down, but it’s only because we’re choosing to leave for greener pastures at a rate of 100,000 a year. New roles are sitting empty because there are fewer and fewer people to fill them. The crisis in housing affordability is making the capital less attractive to those in their late-twenties and thirties, who could previously be found knuckling down to city life at key points in their careers. For millennials, however, our expectations are changing.

Continue reading at The Independent…

What it’s like to be a recovering sex addict – for Patient:

As of July, compulsive sexual behaviour is now officially recognised as a medical condition by the World Health Organization (WHO). More commonly generalised as ‘sex addiction’, the disorder is a complex one, difficult to define and to diagnose. While the idea of being addicted to sex is both mocked and sensationalised in media and popular culture, the condition can in fact be debilitating for sufferers – and the shame and stigma only make matters worse.

“Men always used to just be a distraction,” says recovering sex and love addict Alice*, 32. “I used sex, love and romance to medicate uncomfortable feelings like guilt, stress, or fear – and that constant, obsessive search for male comfort took over my life. If I didn’t have a sexual partner, I felt like I was staring into a black abyss.

Continue reading at Patient…

Things people with PTSD wish you knew – for Patient:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects roughly one in ten people but, like many mental health issues, is widely misunderstood and surrounded by misconceptions. PTSD UK describes the condition as “essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event”.

It’s a surprisingly common way for the mind to respond to situations of intense panic and fear, but it can have a debilitating impact on the lives of those affected. We spoke to people living with the condition about the things they wish others understood about PTSD.

Continue reading at Patient…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: women’s pain – from endometriosis to vaginal mesh

Women’s pain is not taken seriously. It’s something I see over and over again in my work on sexual and reproductive health – and, equally, when I’m writing about mental health as well.

I had three pieces on sexual health published in June and July, and two of these focused on the issue of women being disbelieved, dismissed, and left suffering in agony by healthcare professionals. Which isn’t necessarily to criticise the hardworking and under-resourced healthcare professionals working on the frontline of NHS services, but it’s clear that there is still far too little knowledge, understanding, and research when it comes to so-called “women’s issues”.

There is now an increasing amount of awareness about the issue, which is great. In the weeks since these pieces were published, the controversial vaginal mesh surgery was suspended in England, and NICE published their first standards guidance on the diagnosis and management of endometriosis. But there’s still a lot of work to be done before women’s gynaecological pain is taken as seriously as (for example) male sexual dysfunction.

Should vaginal mesh surgery be banned? – for Patient:

When Kath Sansom first went to her GP, worried about incontinence, she was a fit and active mother of two teenage daughters who, like many women of a certain age, had started to experience embarrassing leaks during exercise.

“I was referred to a consultant, and the vaginal mesh operation was very much sold to me as a quick and simple fix. I was told I’d be a day case, out in 20 minutes, home in time for tea, and back at my desk in a week,” she explains. In reality though, Sansom says she came out in so much pain she could hardly walk – and she’s not the only one.

In January this year, 58-year-old Lucinda Methuen-Campbell from Wales killed herself, having suffered in “agony” following a pelvic mesh operation two years earlier. Before her death, Methuen-Campbell told her former partner that: “There didn’t seem to be any way out of the pain.”

Complications linked to the mesh implants have become a global scandal in recent years, with hundreds of British women taking legal action against both the NHS and mesh manufacturers after being left in constant pain and discomfort. Tens of thousands more in the USA have sued manufacturers, with payouts totalling billions of dollars.

Continue reading at Patient…

“Doctors told me my period pains were nothing. Then I collapsed.” – for Stylist:

For 10 years, Robyn battled extreme pain, but was continuously dismissed by doctors when she went to them for help. She was finally diagnosed with endometriosis – but five surgeries later, it was clear the damage had already been done. Here, she asks why women’s health issues aren’t being taken seriously enough.

This week the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Orilissa, the first new pill developed in 10 years to treat endometriosis. It’s a small step in the right direction for the 200 million women worldwide who suffer from the debilitating condition, but progress still feels glacially slow, as 29-year-old historian Robyn tells Sarah Graham.

A decade is a very long time when you’re living with endometriosis. Doctors treated me like an attention-seeking hypochondriac for 10 years before I was finally diagnosed, and I’ve had to fight for specialist treatment. The fact that Orilissa is the first drug to be approved in the past 10 years just proves how under prioritised the condition is. But could the move indicate that we are finally near the end of womankind’s long wait to be taken seriously when it comes to our health?

What happens to your body when you come off the pill? – for Patient:

The contraceptive pill has long been hailed as a feminist revolution in sexual health. First licensed during the 1960s, ‘the pill’ has been giving women control over their reproductive systems for nearly six decades. But, in recent years, there’s been a growing movement of women turning their backs on this method of birth control. So, with many of us having been on the pill since our teens, what actually happens to your body if you do decide to come off?

Recently, after almost a decade, I stopped taking the pill. Not because I plan on getting pregnant (sorry, mum!) but because I, like a growing number of fellow millennials, had started wondering what life would be like without my daily dose of synthetic hormones.

After investigating the pros and cons of both hormonal and ‘natural’ contraception, I decided to take the plunge and give contraceptive app Natural Cycles a whirl, in (extremely cautious) combination with condoms. I took my final pill, got all my details set up in the app, began dutifully taking and recording my temperature each morning, and waited for the app’s algorithm to start alerting me to my ‘green’ (non-fertile) days.

Having been on the pill for almost my entire adult life though, I quickly realised I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would I instantly revert back to a hormonal teenager? Or would I instead be transformed into some kind of empowered earth mother, in tune with my natural cycle? And how long would it actually take for my periods – and my fertility – to go back to ‘normal’?

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.