Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review: How to be Sick, by Toni Bernhard

For my full list of ME/CFS book reviews, click here.

Bernhard is a former UC David law professor who was stricken with ME/CFS on vacation in 2001 and has never recovered.  She has a severe case of ME/CFS, and is mostly bedbound.  She and her husband were dedicated Buddhists from well before her illness, so she writes this book to share her Buddhist philosophies with others who have chronic illnesses.  

First, let me assure you that the book is brain fog friendly.  The main body is only 161 pages, with short chapters and generous line spacing. 

The first two chapters alone makes the book worth reading.  Here, Bernhard recounts the early history of her illness, from onset to diagnosis.  For me, such stories always stir up strong emotions.  Reading someone else's account of those first confusing months before diagnosis can be extremely satisfying.  Bernhard writes about it in a universally relatable way.  

The remainder of the book is Bernhard's presentation of various Buddhist practices as ME/CFS coping strategies.  Bernhard knows that not all of these practices will resonate with all readers, but she presents them as a sort of menu from which readers can select what they prefer.  And if fact, my experience with the book was somewhat of a pick-and-choose experience. 

Too cold: At times, it felt as if the book was attempting to elevate common sense coping strategies to the level of spiritual practice, which often included the assignment of an exotic sanskrit word.  For instance, I'm not sure that I need to know the sanskrit word for:  if you're thinking about something unpleasant, you should try thinking about something else.  

Too hot: At other times, it felt as if the book's techniques would require a deep commitment to Buddhism in order to benefit from them.  Bernhard suggests various mantras and concepts for meditation which seem esoteric and inaccessible.  (One that I particularly struggled with was: "This is just my life." No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't wrap my my around that one.)  

I don't know anyone who merely dabbles in Buddhism.  It tends to be an "all in" or "all out" proposition.  So it is not always clear what the author is suggesting that the reader do with some of these concepts, short of becoming a full-blown Buddhist.  

Just right.  Much of the book offers the reader an opportunity to share in the common experiences - the fears and frustrations - that most PWMEs feel.  Seen in this light, the coping techniques almost become tangential to the gratification of connecting with another person (the author) who is able to articulate so many of your thoughts and replicate your experiences.  

For me, the book's best moments were those that started with common sense ideas but grew into something more.  As a psychologist would say, these moments "validate" you.  After all, you may have had the thought that you should focus on the positive, but the Buddhists have had 2500 years to fully flesh out this idea.  So you may find that your own vague coping techniques are presented here as fully formed ideas - that the book pushes you farther along on a path you started on your own.  

And of course, as with all books written by PWMEs, the author should be commended and thanked for having the courage to share her thoughts and experiences for the benefit of others.  To that end, I also note that the book is published by a non-profit organization.  

In short, it is well worth the quick read.  I recommend it.  (★★★★)

No comments:

Post a Comment