More empathy for women


At the risk of too much personal self-disclosure, I feel the need to write about my having developed more empathy for women. Having been described as a “manly man,” by a woman who feels she knows me, it has always been difficult for me to understand women. Fortunately, an experience I’ve had has given me more insight into women – shallow though it may still be.

Dr. Carl C. Bell, staff psychiatrist at Jackson Park Hospital’s surgical-medical/psychiatric inpatient unit, and clinical professor emeritus, department of psychiatry, University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Carl C. Bell

About a year ago, I had learned I had prostate carcinoma, which is now in remission – thanks to a proctectomy, radiation, and hormone therapy. The antitestosterone hormones I need to take for 2 years are turning me into an old woman, thus my newfound empathy.

After the surgery, I found myself leaking – something that I probably only experienced as a child and of which I have little memory. I now have some more empathy for the problems women have with leaking each month or in general – it is a constant preoccupation. The leuprolide shots I am taking are giving me hot flashes, causing me to be more emotional about things I really don’t understand, and apparently I am at risk for getting osteoporosis – all things that happen to women that have been mildly on my radar for years but for which I lacked direct and personal experience.

Since having my testosterone turned off by the leuprolide, my joints are more prone to aches and pains from various injuries over the years. Because I understand that “motion is lotion,” I have some control of this problem. However, the hormone therapy has greatly reduced my endurance, so my exercise tolerance is far more limited – I understand fatigue now. When I was telling another woman who feels she knows me about my experience, she told me it was hormones that made it more difficult to lose weight. And, I am gaining weight.

All in all, I believe my experience has given me more empathy for women, but I realize I still have a very long way to go. Nonetheless, I will continue in my quest to understand the opposite sex, as I am told “women hold up half the sky,” and I have always believed that to be true.

Fortunately, women are ascending in psychiatry and, with some serious dedication, the dearth of scientific understanding of women’s issues will be a thing of the past. I am hoping that women psychiatrists will answer questions that men never even thought of asking, and fill that void of knowledge that we men psychiatrists have in our testosterone-bathed brains.

Dr. Bell is a staff psychiatrist at Jackson Park Hospital’s Medical/Surgical-Psychiatry Inpatient Unit in Chicago, clinical psychiatrist emeritus in the department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, former president/CEO of Community Mental Health Council, and former director of the Institute for Juvenile Research (birthplace of child psychiatry), also in Chicago.

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