3.18.2005

Editors' note: Writer Paula Kamen will be guest-blogging here on Fridays in March.

SICK LIT OFFERINGS FOR EVERY POSSIBLE DEVIANCE AND DYSFUNCTION:

In doing this work over the past few years, I've come across some amazing and very helpful books on this topic that are often off radar -- all dealing with the theme of what I call "tired girls," or women with invisible disabilities. Here are some highlights:

FOR FEMINIST THEORY WONKS: The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability (Routledge, 1996) by Canadian theorist Susan Wendell rocked my world. Although the author is a noted feminist philosopher, the book is very clearly written and easy to read, even in a few sittings. She combines scholarly thought and insight from her own chronic fatigue syndrome to discuss and formulate relevant feminist theory on invisible disability -- and the concept of "making friends" with your body. Basically, she discusses the challenge to recognize the "negative" or "weak" parts of women's bodies as a part of our human reality, not necessarily always glorifying the body as a source of "truth."

FOR DRUGGIES: I met Jonathan Michel Metzl, a University of Michigan women's studies professor and psychiatrist, at a conference on the social meanings of "Depression" last year at the University of Chicago. In his new book, Prozac on the Couch (Duke, 2004), he analyzes some of the gender-bias involved behind some (not all) prescribing of antidepressants to women. He argues that drugs are not necessarily gender neutral in meaning and always purely "scientific" --  and should be criticized with a gender critique, just like Freud. Some examples are ironic, in retrospect, like a very prominent 1970s medical-journal ad for Valium with the headline "35 and Single," blaming depression on the horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing female patient's lack of gender-norm conformity. (However, as I always say, if you need those meds, take 'em! Depression is a real biological thing.)

FOR COMIX FANS: Suzy Becker poignantly describes her harrowing brain tumor surgery and recovery in I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? (Workman, 2004). It's like a book-length version of the 1992 comic that I just bought online, Wimmin's Comix #17, "the kvetch issue," edited by Caryn Leschen (aka Aunt Violet), that showcases a variety of women comics artists talking about problems without easy answers.

FOR THOSE DEALING WITH (AND TRYING TO ACCEPT) CHRONIC PAIN: Three
self-published accounts by women about mostly female ailments, which include:

--A Pained Life: A Chronic Pain Journey, by Carol Jay Levy, on trigeminal neuralgia, one of the most painful syndromes known to humankind

-- I Will Not Complain by Hazel Lucretia Reese (on chronic daily headache) by a retired telephone company worker who has overcome immense struggles.  (In contrast, my motto is: "I Shall Complain.")

--Live Well With Chronic Pain by a doctor, Liza H. Leal, who suffers herself from rheumatoid arthritis.

AND, last but not least, I recommend to chronic pain sufferers as a necessary coping tool the non-slick book: From Patient to Person: First Steps, a workbook for dealing with chronic pain.

It includes common-sense anxiety-decreasing management advice, which isn't always obvious to those in the middle of their worst suffering and resulting life turmoil. It's published by the American Chronic Pain  Association, theacpa.org, where you can order it. Like other good books on the topic, Step #1 is acceptance. That doesn't mean "giving up," but for the time being going on with life the best way you can, despite imperfections.
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