I'm embarking on a health pilgrimmage. More on this later...maybe. I've also been working on my first zine, Chronically Yours, about living with chronic illness, so I've been doing a lot of reading and research about coping and support for chronic illnesses and chronic pain. I've found some really wonderful resources and readings, and some of them deserve full posts but for now I wanted to take a moment to share some of my favourites with you.
Gabor Mate: When the Body Says No
When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress is a must-read when it comes to chronic illness. It's about the link between different types of stress and psychological issues, their physiological effects, and the tendencies of specific emotional/psychological profiles to lead to the development of specific chronic illnesses. The author, Dr. Gabor Maté happens to be from Vancouver, though this book is well known nationally and abroad (he also has a more recent book about addiction, "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts", which I've heard is also fantastic).
I had a doctor recommend this book to me back when I was in university. I bought it, but then thought it was about psychosomatic illness (ie. symptoms fabricated by the mind that have no real physical source), was offended, and stuck it on a shelf... For several years it sat there unread, and yet I never got rid of it. A couple years ago, through a discussion with a friend, I learned the difference between psychosomatic illness and somatic illness, which is real physical illness caused by the physiological effects of prolonged psychological stress. My curiosity about the mind-body connection kicked in, and I decided to dust off the old book.
It was absolutely fascinating, reading case study after case study of people who grew up with particular family dynamics or emotional issues and then developed severe chronic illnesses later in life. It really hit me that the point is not that the symptoms are created by a faulty mind, but that chronic stress changes our bodies in a very concrete way.
I thought a lot about my own history, childhood, family dynamics, path in life, and the chronic stress from living with IBS from a very young age. It really opened my eyes and started me on a path to stop living a life ruled by stress, and start seeking a path to more significant emotional wellness to help support my body as much as possible to lean towards health rather than disease.
This interview clip gives a good idea of what the book's content is like:
NY Times Opinionator: Anxiety + Bedside
Opinionator is an exclusively online section of the NY Times, and writers post articles loosely collected around a specific set of topics. I've subscribed to the RSS feeds for two of the health related ones, Anxiety (about living with anxiety disorders) and Bedside (about the healthcare system), and I've found these to be extremely honest and poignant accounts of experiences with both.
White Coat Black Art & Dr Brian Goldman
White Coat Black Art is a radio show on CBC Radio One, hosted by Dr. Brian Goldman, an ER doctor in Toronto. It's one of my favourite radio shows, digging into the darkest corners of medicine and the Canadian healthcare system from the perspective of healthcare professionals. It's amazing to hear an experienced doctor acknowledge so many of the challenges the system faces, and what the consequences of those often are.
The show airs on CBC Radio One on Monday and Saturday at 11:30am, and also has a great blog written by Dr. Goldman. Whether you're a healthcare professional, someone with health problems, or someone who's healthy, this is a wonderful show to tune into.
I discovered Sarah Wilson's blog probably a couple months ago, and have really enjoyed reading through the archive of posts, particularly the ones about health. She lives with an auto-immune thyroid disease, and suffers with a lot of the same symptoms and problems that I do, so reading through the backlog of posts on health related topics has been just amazing.
Topic matter focuses a lot on self-care, food, and managing chronic conditions, and could be really helpful for anyone living with a chronic illness regardless of whether it's an auto-immune disorder. She also does a lot of posts about food and health, and posts low-sugar recipes, as decreasing sugar intake is thought to help reduce inflammation.
Most of Me by Robyn Michele Levy
This is a wonderful, touching, and dark humoured book written by Vancouver author, Robyn Michele Levy, who was diagnosed with both Parkinson's disease and breast cancer within the same year. She takes you along on her journey through loss of control of her physical and mental health, diagnosis, treatment, and to her final destination: a new normal. She navigates changing family relationships, a changing body, and the ups and downs of the healthcare system with such honesty and vulnerability, you can't help but relate (especially if you've had health issues yourself). One of my favourite books in a long time.
When Language Runs Dry
This is a compilation zine I discovered while working on my own zine, as I'd done a search for other zines on chronic illness. The stories in it are extremely personal, and I felt like I'd finally found "my people", others who go through things like I do, who know what it's like to live a life that's constrained by chronic illness and pain. If you enjoy reading zines or have health problems, I strongly recommend reading this - I especially liked hearing about the concept of "radical communities of care" and found myself wishing something like this existed in Vancouver.
My Leaky Body by Julie Devaney
If you follow me on any social media you've probably heard me exclaiming how amazing this book is already. I just finished reading it a couple nights ago and will keep this short because I'm still letting it all sink in.
Everyone should read this book. Everyone.
It's an incredibly, painfully detailed and honest book about her experiences with the healthcare system, and with being diagnosed and treated with irritable bowel disease (Crohns/Colitis). I've gone through maybe only a fraction of what she has, but I can relate so immensely to the rude aggressive unhelpful doctors and the years of feeling like crap, wondering if things are ever going to get better.
She now does workshops and performances about her story as a healthcare advocate, and tours the country to help improve the system for herself and all those who follow. Her activism and her experiences combine to make her work both extremely personal and significant nation-wide. Embodiment of "the personal is political".
I've got a stack of books to read on coping with chronic illness, that I ordered as sort of "research" for both personal purposes and the zine. I'd love to hear about any blogs, books, etc. about chronic illnesses that you have found really helpful.