This is a memoir about being diagnosed and living with multiple sclerosis, with a heavy focus on the mental adjustments that the author has to make at each stage. I have very conflicted feelings about this book- it was a simultaneously enlightening and frustrating read, and I would recommend it only a limited basis with several caveats.
The good: I don’t have MS (or any other debilitating health conditions) so, reading a first person account of what it is like to be diagnosed and live with MS has given me a greater appreciation for how mentally tough those who live with it are. I have so much more empathy for individuals going through this, and I’ll likely be thinking about this the next time I interact with someone who has a disability that impacts mobility/ muscle control. I also think this memoir (or at least the start of it) would be a valuable read for health care providers looking to improve their beside manner. Cathy’s story starts with how she was given bad health news (MS diagnosis) in a cold and unhelpful manner, and without much hope for the future. This unpleasant experience triggers her break with traditional medicine and search for ‘alternative’ treatments. Like reading about the reasons for people becoming anti-vaxxers, stories like Cathy’s can remind health professionals that how they say something is as important than what they say- maybe even more important.
The bad: two words: ‘alternative medicine.’ I have minimal patience for people who decide that because they’ve had a ‘bad experience’ with traditional medicine, or they don’t like what they’re being told, that this medical issue is solvable on their own/ with the help of charlatans. Medicine is a science, and it works because it has been tested, is repeatable, and has a causative not correlated effect. I know there is a lot to be said for the placebo effect, but the placebo effect is also a scientific phenomenon, and it differs from a quack ‘curing’ you in his basement using energy healing. Let me also be clear: you cannot positively think your way out of a disease like MS. If you have MS (or cancer or autism or so many other medical conditions), you did not get it because of Catholic guilt, or your own ‘matyr’ complex or any negative thinking you did. Cathy gets really close to being reasonable when at one point when she posits that some of it might be genetics- yes! That is more plausible!- but then she basically says ‘we’ll never know and it doesn’t matter because I believe that my The Secret-like thinking is magic that will someday cure me!’ (She talks about magic in the same vein as the Insane Clown Posse’s ridiculous and widely mocked ‘Magic’ music video, which has the line “magnets- how do they work?!”).
Overall, I found this novel so frustrating because I wanted to root for Cathy but even her positive-thinking attempts were veiled in pseudo-science. I am all for optimism, positive thinking, and avoiding thinking about yourself as a victim generally, but especially for people going through tough times. I am not for framing positive health developments as being somehow conditional on receiving quack treatments or believing that letting go of ‘Catholic guilt’ would change cells at a molecular level. No Cathy, no! Step away from the crystals!