book review, review

Book Review: Stop Being Your Symptoms and Start Being Yourself

So I picked up a self-help book on how to stop being so sick. I never do that, but I figured what the hell. Plus this wasn’t one of those “the cures to arthritis the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know” types, but one about how to focus less on your illness and actually *GASP* live life. I’m not sure what I expected. This book didn’t really hold that much advice for me, but maybe that is because I already do so many of these things on my own. I also found myself wanting to punch these people in the baby maker.

The book begins by talking about things wrong in medicine today like distrust of doctors and malpractice suits being so commonplace and the like. I think this places an awful lot of blame on the patients though, saying that they need to be more trusting and patient. While that can be true, a lot of us would never have been correctly diagnosed with our illnesses had we all been ideal patients following our white coat wearing knights.

One of the things that is easiest for those of us with chronic illnesses to do is to overly focus on pains in certain spots. Apparently that makes them worse according to these docs, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. But maybe I’m not being trusting enough again. Nonetheless, one of the coping mechanisms they suggest is to be aware of the sensations in your body – every single one. Recognize them then move on to the next hot spot. By really focusing on these spots, you may be able to realize that issues you think are related to your illness are things your body just goes through. My question here is how the fuck you’re supposed to do this when you’re already sick?

To their credit, Barsky and Deans do suggest learning relaxation meditations and how to recognize thoughts and feelings and let them go. These are both definitely habits that we all should develop, no matter our religious preferences. It is very calming to be able to recognize negative thoughts and acknowledge them but not internalize and take them on. You can then really work on creating positive thoughts to combat the negative, which is very hard but eventually works for many people. I actually find myself kind of attractive now, but that’s after a few years working at this so who knows what you might experience.

They think that patients allow their illnesses to run their lives – and we’re talking about illnesses like MS and RA that they specifically mention in this book. I’m sorry, but believing that we choose to miss events and opt out of activities because we’re overwhelmed mentally by our bodies instead of dealing with the fucking physical issues associated with these diseases – that can be fatal, thanks – I just can’t even really respond to this. Depression can and does accompany chronic illnesses for many, but that doesn’t mean that I missed my niece’s blessing because of depression – I miss it because of a double fucking flare of both my Still’s and my fibro. There’s not really any choice for me there, and if there had been I would’ve been there.

They suggest making more plans and doing more things you normally would have been doing and that will somehow cheer you up. Excuse the balls out of me, but it doesn’t just happen like that. You can’t cheer up a fibro patient out of a flare. Laughing and attempting to go to lunch with friends doesn’t make it happen. Going out and buying a new shade of lipstick does not, like some activists apparently feel, make you feel better. You get home exhausted and pay for it when you’re already not doing well.

I will leave you with a quote that I think illustrates why I made a mistake in picking up this book, and why maybe I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone:

Pain that we believe can be assuaged, that we think is unnecessary, and that we feel we shouldn’t have to bear hurts more than pain we know is unavoidable. “Curable pain is unbearable pain,” as Ivan Illich has pointed out. Pain and discomfort are most excruciating just when the relief we have been expecting has failed to materialize. The pain of your fractured ankle becomes agonizing after you’ve swallowed a pain pill but it hasn’t take effect yet. Something similar happens with chronic illness: if you believe your infirmity is treatable and that the symptoms are therefore avoidable and unnecessary, they seem more burdensome and more severe. Curable pain seems to be unbearable pain. Once you believe your arthritic hands shouldn’t hurt as much as they do – that relief would be forthcoming if only you got the latest breakthrough treatment or found just the right specialist – then the aching and stiffness become intolerable. (209)

I don’t know about you, but my pain is real and it is just. It isn’t dependent on meds – trust me, I paid attention while reading this book and shortly after. My pain is because my body fucking sucks, not because my brain makes it worse.

There are so many times I want to slap authors. Today is no different.

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  1. I have to agree with yout, KirBir. I'm gonna guess that the authors have not, themselves, ever had to deal with the kind of chronic pain that RA doles out. Such cluelessness is depressing, isn't it?

  2. Amie Lout says:

    I also agree, to find an actual self help book that they write but have no idea the types of reasons people have for buying them is silly. I have gotten very tired of those books that are so general. But I will tell you, Mae Chinn Songer has a fantastic blog about her philosophy on how the brain works and how you can train it with new beliefs and habits. I don't know if her concept will work for pain, but I don't see why it can't help.It's a process, but its worth a look! Her blog is at, there is also a book of hers coming out soon, but her blog is fantastic. Good luck!

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