What To Read If You've Been Diagnosed With Chronic Or Mental Illness

The period immediately following your diagnosis with a lifelong condition manifests as a whirlwind of emotions that can be difficult to navigate for even the most-well-supported individuals. To help you through this trying time, I've got 15 books to read when you've been diagnosed with a mental or chronic illness.

In February 2009, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder, Behçet's disease, one of those illnesses that you have to explain to most people you meet, because they've never heard of what you've got. Later that year, my doctor diagnosed me with anxiety, depression, and IBS. I sank into a very dark place as it dawned on me that I would be taking multiple medications for the rest of my life — no small ordeal when you're a 19-year-old college student.

Even as I railed against my inability to go out and party into the wee hours like my friends, I felt guilty for my negative attitude toward my diagnosis. At that point, I had been living with this condition — one that usually shows up when you're somewhere between the ages of 20 and 40 — for as long as I could remember, at least 15 years. I had been misdiagnosed with Herpes Simplex 1 and Coxsackievirus, told I did not have the condition with which I was later diagnosed, and treated as a suspected intravenous-drug user in the meantime. My diagnosis was supposed to be the light at the end of the tunnel, so why did it feel more like a cave-in?

I wish I had had these books when I was first diagnosed with Behçet's. They're just the kind of thing I needed to recognize that my response to the news was nothing to be ashamed of. Check out my recommendations below, and share the books you read after you were diagnosed with mental or chronic illness with me on Twitter!


'Furiously Happy' by Jenny Lawson

In her second bestseller, Jenny Lawson, A.K.A. The Bloggess, gets brutally honest about living with mental illness. If you're ever embarrassed to pick up your giant bottles of medication at the pharmacy, Furiously Happy has a plenty of hilarious advice to help you get over it.

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'In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Illness in America' by Laurie Edwards

Anyone who has a chronic illness will tell you that you can't win against the opinions of the ignorant, who will say you aren't trying hard enough on your bad days, and aren't really sick on your good ones. For some insight into how we got to this point, check out Laurie Edwards' In the Kingdom of the Sick.

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'Wishful Drinking' by Carrie Fisher

For most of her life, Carrie Fisher lived with manic depression, substance addiction, and the bikini-clad shadow of Princess Leia. In her 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking, Carrie lays out all of the messed-up details of her personal life, told with her signature dry wit.

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'A Body, Undone' by Christina Crosby

In 2003, a cycling accident left Wesleyan University professor Christina Crosby quadriplegic. A Body, Undone recalls Crosby's life on both sides of the accident, studded with poetry, theory, and emotional accounts of her transition into a new way of life.

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'Sight Unseen' by Georgina Kleege

U.C. Berkeley English Professor Georgina Kleege has been legally blind since she was 11 years old, her vision altered by macular degeneration. The essays in Sight Unseen combine anecdotes from Kleege's life with analyses of blindness' representations in film, literature, and history.

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'Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation' by Eli Clare

Activist and author Eli Clare examines life and politics at the intersection of disability and queerness in Exile and Liberation. If you've ever been inclined toward activism, or if your new diagnosis gets you fired up, you have to read this book.

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'The Camera My Mother Gave Me' by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted author Susanna Kaysen tackles a chronic condition other than Borderline Personality Disorder in her 2001 memoir, The Camera My Mother Gave Me. For years, Kaysen lived with vaginismus, a condition hallmarked by intense vaginal spasms, which made intercourse difficult or impossible. In Camera, she struggles to understand what brought on the condition and how to treat it.

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'The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness' by Elyn R. Saks

A mental-health scholar with bonafides from Vanderbilt, Oxford, and Yale, Elyn R. Saks walks readers through her life with schizophrenia and psychosis in The Center Cannot Hold.

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'Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada,' edited by Liat Ben-Moshe, Chris Chapman, and Alison C. Carey

People with disabilities make up half of those who are killed by police in the U.S. each year. They're also over-represented in detention centers across the country, where between 30 and 40 percent of inmates have disabilities, and many do not receive the basic medications and assistance they require. Disability Incarcerated contains essays from scholars in a variety of disciplines to present an accurate portrait of the added oppression that people with disabilities face behind bars.

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'My Body Politic' by Simi Linton

While hitchhiking to an anti-war protest in 1971, Simi Linton survived an accident that killed her husband and friend and left her legs paralyzed. In My Body Politic, she examines her transition from pacifist protests to disability activism, the latter a world lush with brilliant figures overlooked by the mainstream.

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'You Don't Look Sick!' by Joy H. Selak and Steven S. Overman

Living with an invisible chronic illness has its own set of frustrations, but thankfully, Joy H. Selak's You Don't Look Sick! is here to help you navigate the world of chronic illness from the moment of your diagnosis. Chock-full of tips on juggling doctors, insurance companies, and rude people, this is an invaluable resource for any new spoonie.

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'Feminist, Queer, Crip' by Alison Kafer

Another book about the intersection of gender, sexuality, and disability, Alison Kafer's Feminist, Queer, Crip tackles feminist disability studies in a new way, challenging current narratives about the limits of ability and the possibilities of the future.

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'Passing for Normal' by Amy S. Wilensky

In Passing for Normal, Amy S. Wilensky recalls a lifetime of wrestling with the realities of her chronic conditions — Tourette's syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder — and the misconceptions of those around her.

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'The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating' by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

After the onset of a neurological condition restricted Elisabeth Tova Bailey's mobility, she took comfort from an unlikely source: a garden snail placed among a pot of planted flowers by a friend. Observing the small creature brought Bailey peace, so much so that she felt compelled to write a memoir of its time in her life.

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'Girl in the Dark' by Anna Lyndsey

Anna Lyndsey didn't expect to live out her adult life in the shadows, but the development of a rare sun allergy made long sleeves and blackout curtains a necessity. Even her computer screen became a source of agony, the light from it burning wherever it touched her skin. In Girl in the Dark, Lyndsey reflects on all facets of her chronic illness, both physical and psychological.

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