AJ's Story - Winnipeg, Manitoba

September 2014 - June 2016 - In my first year of university, I became severely ill and started to experience disabilities as I had issues with movement and coordination. With over 30 symptoms ranging in severity and consistency, I knew it would be a challenge to get medical assistance - however I had no idea the amount of discrimination that would occur preventing me from receiving a diagnosis.

My male family doctor, that I have seen since changing from a paediatrician, was very persistent in "diagnosing" me, without any tests, as a "young female, with lots of stress" and requested I seek mental health support. There was also a suggestion that due to the fact that I was female, my menstrual cycle and sexual activity could be causing the symptoms; however he did not refer me to a gynaecologist. After nearly a year of the doctor not listening to my requests, not sending me for tests or offering solutions other than OTC medications, I transferred to a female GP. Within two months of seeing her, and connecting with other professionals, as she heard me out fully, found I had three chronic illnesses, requiring 2 major surgeries and a organ removal, hospitalization for treatments and daily medications for the rest of my life.

In the moment, it did contribute to a significant amount of mental health stress. I felt like my self-esteem and confidence went out the window. I truly had a hard time reconciling if my symptoms were ones that were physical in nature or emotional. This is continued to this day, and even though I have a great team of professionals, I do feel hesitant to share some things with them. And I am almost terrified and not willing to share with friends or family. Now looking back on the experience, I wish I had someone to support me during this time who was willing to speak up too. If I would have been more open, despite my fears, I believe I could have found more resources through these supports.

I am mad and saddened that in Canada, these experiences are more common than not; however, overall it all supports the notion that it's important to speak out and share stories of injustice as it provides an opportunity for change and a chance for support.

I believe my skin colour and gender was a large part of the issue, as well as my childhood and educational level - first year of university. My childhood was filled with trauma and it led to drug use in teenage years. I felt that was the focus and the reason for the automatic assumption that mental health was the cause of my reasons. I didn’t provide feedback. I am not aware of any platforms or options for the issues I experienced.

Health care professionals are experts, yes, but we as humans are extraordinarily in tune with our bodies and our opinions need to be respected - especially if the result is not in conjunction with education.

Submitted by AJ