15 Books To Read When You've Been Diagnosed With Mental Or Chronic 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!
1. 'Furiously Happy' by Jenny Lawson
2. '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.
3. 'Wishful Drinking' by Carrie Fisher
4. 'A Body, Undone' by Christina Crosby
5. '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.
6. 'Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation' by Eli Clare
7. '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.
8. 'The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness' by Elyn R. Saks
9. '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.
10. '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.
11. '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.
12. 'Feminist, Queer, Crip' by Alison Kafer
13. 'Passing for Normal' by Amy S. Wilensky
14. '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.
15. '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.