By Arthur W. Frank
This was a book recommended to me by a good friend with a chronic illness, who is inspires me on my own journey making sense of illness. This friend is very talented, and uses her creative spirit to help get through even the toughest times including stays in the hospital. She actually has an Etsy page where she is an expert crochet craftwoman, and makes things as creative as colons to give to those suffering from ulcerative colitis. Needless to say, she is a very interesting person, so when she recommends a book, I read it! She told me to start out with an author, Arthur W. Frank, who is a Canadian professor, psychologist, and someone who has gone through serious illness. In the book, "At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness" he writes about his experience going through a heart attack and then cancer. The purpose of his book is not to give advice on how to cope, but rather as a narrative to open up the conversation in our society about illness in general. It is a "taboo" subject and people tend to shy away from it. Rather than do a proper book report, I'm going to list some of my favorite quotes, and I invite you to chime in if you decide to read it!
When the body breaks down, so does the life. Even when medicine can fix the body, that doesn't always put the life back together again.
Let your self grieve your losses and find people who will accept that grieving. Illness can teach you that every part of life is worth experiencing, even the losses. To grieve well is to value what you have lost. When you value even the feeling of loss, you value live itself, and you begin to live again.
Every day society sends us messages that the body can and ought to be controlled. Physicians justifiably think it is their duty to restore the control that the sick are believed to have lost. One less I have learned from illness is that giving up the idea of control, by either myself or my doctors, made me more content. What I recommend is to recognize the wonder of the body rather than trying to control it.
Stories we tell ourselves about what is happening to us are dangerous because they are powerful. We have to choose carefully which stories to live with, which to use to answer the question of what is happening to us.
Although illness just happens, we can organize its experience to make our lives meaningful. We can have both a faith that allows us to accept whatever just happens and at the same time a will to bring about the change we desire.
The responsibility of the ill, then, is not to get well, but to express their illness well. Those who express their illness live their lives fully to the end of the illness. For me this is enough- it has to be enough. If we cannot value life for itself, then we see ill persons only in terms of what they could be doing if they were well, and we see children only as what they will do when they become adults.
When the ordinary becomes frustration, I have to remember those times when the ordinary was forbidden to me. When I was ill, all I wanted was to get back to the ordinary flux of activity. Now that I am back in the ordinary, I have to retain a sense of wonder at being here.