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The Importance of Feeling Heard

The Importance of Feeling Heard

Introduction

Hey, beautiful soul. It’s Jaclyn from The Lost Labia Chronicles in partnership with Lichen Sclerosus Support Network (LSSN). Yup! If you follow me on social media (@thelostlabiachronicles) or are on my newsletter, you already know that I have partnered with LSSN to help reach more people with lichen sclerosus content and education. My goal in creating TLLC was always to help support folks in their LS journey by providing evidence-based information and to help folks with LS feel heard and supported. I was a one-woman team from 2021-2022. 

However, I believe in joining forces with other powerful LS warriors in the LS community, we can reach even more people and have a deeper impact. Thus, I have partnered up with LSSN and will be creating content on LSSN’s website. This way folks with LS don’t have to go through multiple websites to find information and support resources; everything you need to find will be under one website now!

For my first official post for LSSN, I wanted to discuss the importance of being heard. This is a post from the heart. It is based on lived experience and anecdotes. It is a topic that I see recurring time and time again in LS support groups (support groups listed at the end of this post), but something that isn’t discussed much in the medical community. 

Healing and LS: Why It's About More Than Just Steroids

Let’s talk about healing and lichen sclerosus. For many of us, when we think about healing our lichen sclerosus we think about treatment; and this is super fair. For folks who are suffering from itch and pain, it is natural that treatment would be the first thought that comes to mind when asked about healing and LS. 

Treatment is, of course, a fundamental part of living with lichen sclerosus. Following your treatment plan (e.g., topical corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors) is crucial for reducing inflammation, slowing the progression of the disease, and reducing the likelihood of developing vulvar cancer (in the case of steroids). Check out the video below to learn more about these two treatments.

But there is more to healing than just healing the skin. Lichen sclerosus doesn’t just affect our physical health; it affects our mental health as well. There is a lot of healing that also needs to take place with respect to our mental health.

How Lichen Sclerosus Can Affect Mental Health

Living undiagnosed with lichen sclerosus for years can lead some folks to experience feelings of frustration, hopelessness, agitation, depression, anxiety, and isolation. Processing a lichen sclerosus diagnosis can involve depression, anxiety, anger, grief, and more. Many folks with vulvar lichen sclerosus feel ashamed and embarrassed about their condition, and, therefore, keep their feelings balled up inside of them. 

However, this takes its toll on our mental health and can start to wear us down. I believe part of the antidote to the pain of holding it all inside is to feel heard

Dismissal and Feeling Unheard at the Doctor’s Office

When I was diagnosed with LS, my doctor very quickly informed me LS is an autoimmune condition, that it’s manageable but must be treated for life, and to use the prescription she sent to my pharmacy daily. That was it

My experience seems to be quite common. At support groups, I often hear folks saying their doctor said it’s manageable and made it seem like no big deal. Before the patient could even vocalize their thoughts, the doctor walked out the door.

Image of a person with brown skin and curly hair leaning to the side, supporting their head in their hand. Next to them is a person with dark hair and a white top with their hand on top of their shoulder to demonstrate support and the importance of feeling heard.

This interaction results in many of us leaving our doctor’s offices feeling invalidated and unheard. The conversation wasn’t safe and supportive; instead, it felt dismissive and hand-wavy.

Feeling Unheard by Friends and Family

Some folks choose to share their diagnosis with friends and family. However, this doesn’t always have the healing effect we would want. For example, I know a lot of folks who told a friend or family member about their LS only to hear, “oh yeah, well I get yeast infections too, and it’s not that bad, at least you aren’t dying”. Of course, while some of them might mean well by these types of comments, they can make us feel massively unheard and invalidated. It can make us feel small, insignificant, and worthless. It’s not a great feeling.

The Importance of Feeling Heard

This is unfortunate because feeling heard is healing. There is a healing power in feeling truly seen and heard as your authentic self. Having your emotions, thoughts, and feelings validated by someone else; it can be magic for some. For some, it gives them permission to truly sink into and feel their feelings, which is also crucial for healing.

With that, I want to share an impactful quote by Dr. Michael P. Nichols, 1995.

“Few aspects of human experience are as powerful as the yearning to be understood. When we think someone listens, we believe we are taken seriously, that our ideas and feelings are acknowledged, and that we have something to share. A listener’s empathy, which is an understanding of what we are trying to say and showing it, builds a bond  linking us to someone who seems to understand and care, thus confirming that our feelings are recognizable and legitimate.”

Nichols, 1995.

Feeling heard is transformational and I think it’s an important piece of one’s healing journey with lichen sclerosus and mental health.

Different Ways to Feel Heard

Doctor/Healthcare Providers

Good healthcare providers will actively listen to you and validate your emotions. For example, if you start to cry after your diagnosis, they might encourage you to cry and say it’s OK to feel your emotions while handing you tissues. They may follow up and say that it can be a lot to process in the beginning, but there is hope. Additionally, they may offer mental health resources to help support you. They will not compare you to their other patients because they know each patient is unique and going through their own stuff.

Friends and Family

A good friend or family member will also actively listen to you and validate your emotions. They will not respond with things like, “it could be worse”, but instead say things like, “that sounds awful. I’m so sorry you had to suffer alone like this. Thank you for sharing this with me. What can I do to help better support you on your journey”.

If you are looking for ways to approach friends and family but aren’t sure how, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter as I will be launching a couple of eBooks on this topic this year.

Support Groups

A great way to feel seen and heard is to join a lichen sclerosus support group. Why? The folks in the support groups also have lichen sclerosus, so they know first-hand about the physical, sexual, and mental health struggles that come with having LS. They are way less likely to invalidate your feelings. Instead, it’s the opposite. Folks in support groups show up with genuine empathy, compassion, and tenderness for others in the group. They make space for your wins and for your struggles. They validate your pain and emotions, which can help you feel more whole. For many, this is where healing can really start. It starts by feeling heard; by feeling held compassionately by others. (See the end of this post for support groups).

Image of a person with short, curly, grey hair hugging another person with dark brown hair showing the kind of compassion, empathy, and solidarity found in support groups.

Joining the Lichen Sclerosus Virtual Meetups back in 2020 was definitely pivotal to my healing journey. After the session, I sobbed my eyes out. For the first time in over a decade, I felt truly seen and heard. I didn’t feel alone. There was a beautiful community out there ready to embrace me (and others), regardless of where they were in their journey, and that was magical. I will always be grateful to Kathy from LSP for spearheading those.

Here is a podcast episode you may enjoy.

Overcoming Appointment Anxiety by Lichen Sclerosus Podcast.

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter as Kathy is publishing a piece on support groups on January 10th!

Conclusion

In sum, lichen sclerosus doesn’t just affect our physical health. It also affects our mental health. When we talk about healing, it’s important to consider both. Feeling heard can be a huge piece towards healing the mental health pieces of living with LS.

Support Resources

FREE Lichen Sclerosus Virtual Meetup hosted by myself and Kathy of Lichen Sclerosus Podcast – sign up here.

LSSN Membership – sign up here.

If you are struggling with grief and emotions, feel free to book a 1:1 call with me.

Simply click on this link to learn more about lichen sclerosus peer support calls.

Image of a person with dark brown skin and dark hair wearing a yellow shirt sitting at a desk on a call. The title text reads, "1:1 LS Peer Support Calls, book now".

For a more detailed list of free and paid support resources, check out my LS resources page here.

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Sign up to LSSN’s monthly newsletter here.

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References

Why Listening Is So Important Some material excerpted from The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P.Nichols, Ph.D., The Guilford Press, 1995 

12 Comments

  • Susan

    What a great society. I am looking forward to listening to the videos which are presented in a nice and easy way understand without too much medical jargon. The presenter really understands this awful medical problem. I am one who is embarrassed about this so good to have a “support group” to turn to.
    Thank you so much
    .

    • Jaclyn Lanthier

      Hi, Susan. Thank you so much for your kind comments on my post; I appreciate you. I can totally relate to the feelings of embarrassment and shame that can arise with LS. I’m glad you found us and are part of the community.

      • Jeanne

        LS can be such a scary diagnosis. It’s just not something most people ever even hear about. If it wasn’t for this lovely group of ladies helping me when I was first diagnosed and answering questions in the meetups ….I wouldn’t be as positive about things as I am now or feel as good about myself.

        • Jaclyn Lanthier

          Hi, Jeanne! It really can be very scary. Aw, I love hearing that the meetups had a positive impact on your LS journey. We appreciate you!

  • Julia

    Thank you!
    Thank you for this topic. I just had the most wonderful appointment with a new doctor, a naturopath. I felt so validated, heard, seen and felt like a human (as opposed to the crappy way a lot make us feel, like “oh dear, you worry too much. I know best, don’t even try to educate yourself”) He said that the choices I had been making were absolutely correct and if we added a few things and tweaked a few others, it would be even better for my body. I have never felt so great after a doctor appointment; full of hope and confidence… all the difference!

    • Jaclyn Lanthier

      Of course! Ugh, this makes me SO happy. It truly makes such a massive difference when we feel treated like a human with dignity, respect, and care. Love that you had such a wonderful experience.

    • This is wonderful to hear, Julia! It’s so empowering when you’re part of a team versus being talked at. Woohoo!!! Look forward to hearing about your progress.

  • Mara

    Thank you Ladies!! I was just diagnosed last week and who knew this was an issue. I left my provider’s office with not a ton of information and did not know what kinds of questions to ask in the moment of diagnosis. The information available can make this diagnosis seem very scary. I am looking forward to being apart of community for support and information. Thanks again.

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