Anna Lyndsey lives in the darkness. Although she was once an average person with a job, a boyfriend and a new apartment, in 2005 her skin began to feel like it was burning while she sat in front of the computer. At first she just rigged a fan to her desk. The fan didn’t help. She just got worse, and soon the condition spread and all forms of light affected her entire body. She ended up confined to her bedroom, covering the cracks in the doors and windows in case some light creeps in. If she has to leave her house, she’s holed up in a coffin like Dracula as her someone else drives the van.
When her symptoms are at their worst, Anna has to spend months in her room, listening to audiobooks and making up elaborate word games to keep her mind busy. At their best, she might be able to walk outside of her house at night, provided she dodge the streetlights.
Girl in the Dark is a beautifully written memoir about what it’s like to live in the shadows. At times wrenching, Anna (not her real name) continues to fight against falling into total despair. But she’s also funny, explaining how she and her boyfriend-later husband-manage to have sex in total darkness (there’s a fair amount of crashing into things).
What seems to drive her the craziest is the New Age gurus who say they can fix her through special diets or healing crystals, or the shamans who say her illness is caused by a childhood trauma. She admits “It’s my misfortune to have a condition that is particularly susceptible to metaphor.” Anna bristles at the idea that her illness is psychosomatic. From her book, it seems to me that she folded pretty quickly. Instead of fighting for a more accurate diagnosis (she said no specialist was willing to make a house call; considering how rare her disease is, I find that hard to believe) she instead focuses on boarding herself up.
But in the end it doesn’t matter if the disease is psychological or not. To Anna, the pain caused by light is very real and the lengths she goes through to maintain her sanity while shuttered inside a single room are intense. Reading this book, I couldn’t imagine what I would do in her position. But I’m sure I would not have been able to write something so honest and wonderfully readable.