Saturday – 10am – 11am, Vinyl Cafe
By Press Room Contributor Bridget Lutherborrow
Writing about health can be fraught. The stakes are high and there’s often a lot of personal investment. This is how Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen introduces the panel Health Goths, at the wholesome time of 10am at the Vinyl Café on Saturday. The other two panellists are Will Egan and Asiel Adan Sanchez. Will is a nurse who writes a blog about living with type 1 diabetes. Asiel is a non-binary medical student who writes behind the scenes pieces from a medical perspective. For Asiel, writing is a way to pull apart the idea that medicine is objective. For Will it’s a way to empower himself, his medical knowledge helping him back up his lived experience.
Will and Asiel both happen to be medical professionals, but Giselle writes about mental health purely from a personal perspective, and she’s been confronted before about her medical qualifications. Will points out that people who have chronic health problems are actually experts in their own experience. However, this is very different to being an expert on the condition. Nevertheless, writing can provide a space to communicate information that isn’t widely available anywhere else. It can be a way to clear up misinformation – like that you’ll get diabetes from eating lollies. Writing from the perspective of a non-binary person, Asiel is keen to pick apart the way medicine forces gender and sexually diverse people to closet their experience. “As a health professional – as shitty as it is – other doctors listen to you a little more intently. So you can change minds that way.”
Writing can be a way to explore how different people experience health differently. For instance, Giselle’s experience of depression as “something for the white anglo kids”. Asiel agrees that there’s an assumption that mental health is experienced the same across all cultures. “Writing is important because we’re using our own voices and there’s more potential for someone to read it and make sense of that experience.” But it may be that different communities need to find their own ways of articulating mental health issues, outside of anglo understandings.
Writing about health has been met with a positive reaction for the panellists. Although, Will says, a lot of people are shocked by the things he writes about. When he wrote about passing out during sex due to low blood sugar there was a massive response from people who had experienced the same thing. Heath writing can give access to the areas of a person’s life that doctors don’t have in the consultation room.
Giselle has had similar feedback when she wrote about having a condition that made sex painful. Medicine is limited in providing treatment for women and it was difficult for her to get a diagnosis. At this point Asiel requests to “have a rant about that”. “That” being that healthcare and medicine is framed by the patriarchy. While everybody knows about erectile dysfunction and a lot of money goes into research, we’ve only recently discovered the anatomy of the clitoris. Medicine needs to shift to think about women in a sexual way. This is how, hopefully, writing about health can help improve the treatment – in writing about health the narrative of health is diversified.