Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reflections on a book by Norman Cousins

--for Lily--
I recently read a book called "Anatomy of an Illness", subtitled "reflections on healing and regeneration". It is by Norman Cousins, and is pretty widely known. It was first published in 1979.

It helped put to words about what it is like to live with pain, or a disease, and how he was able to overcome it with the will to live, and with joy.

I am dreaming of getting off the sleeping pills. I feel psychologically dependent on them. I'm sure there is a chemical dependency element, as well. I got on them after NF, when the PTSD was raging, and I needed them. Now, I'm sure I can do without them, but I don't know how to do that and keep sleeping every night. I can be crazy spinning tired, and have lots of pain by the end of a day, but as soon as later evening hits (after kids go to sleep), I have that second wind (or 3rd or 4th by that point), and I cannot get myself to sleep without a pill. Cutting it down to half a pill hasn't been successful. I have made an appointment with my doctor who prescribes them to me, and I want to discuss it with her at length. I intuitively feel that it has a lot to do with the difficulty I have to get out of bed in the mornings.

One quote I liked from the book is regarding patients feeling their own healing potentials without prescriptions:
..."no medication they [doctors] could give their patients was as potent as the state of mind that a patient brings to his or her own illness. In this sense, they said, the most valuable service a physician can provide to a patient is helping him to maximize his own recuperative and healing potentialities."
That was a bit about medicines, and now, a little about living with this PVNS disease.
1. I am in pain in my hip and thigh joint regularly at this point.
2. I am four months past arthroscopic surgery to remedy it. I had a short, heavenly reprieve. But in my assessment, it is now growing back with all it's symptoms. (this waits to be confirmed by Prof. Meller. But I recognize the feeling so well.)
3. It can be very upsetting thinking that there are no good treatment options for me, and I may live this way forever, doing whatever treatments possible to slow down the process of losing the natural joint.

Norman Cousins said some very good things about having an illness that may not go away:
"not every illness can be overcome. But many people allow illness to disfigure their lives more that it should. They cave in needlessly. They ignore and weaken whatever powers they may have for standing erect.There is always a margin within which life can be lived with meaning and even with a certain measure of joy, despite illness. Not all serious or even fatal illnesses are accompanied by high fever or unremitting pain. It is possible, therefore, for at least as much emphasis to be placed on the quality of life as well as treatment."
Emphasis on quality of life, in tandem with treatment. And a fair measure of faith to go with that. (I added that part. I need that to do all the other stuff.)

Now, lastly, I want to quote what Cousins says about the psychology of barriers between the ill or those in pain, and everyone else.
"There was first of all the feeling of helplessness-- a serious disease in itself.
here was the subconscious fear of never being able to function normally again-- and it produced a wall of separation between us and the world of open movement, open sounds, open expectations.
here was the reluctance to be thought of as a complainer.

here was the desire to not add to the already great burden of apprehension felt by one's family; this added to the isolation.
here was a conflict between the terror of loneliness and the desire to be left alone.

here was the lack of self-esteem, the subconscious feeling perhaps that our illness was a manifestation of our inadequacy.
Wow can I relate to that last one. I do, however, feel there is an element of truth to this. That is to say, our situations are tailor made for us to grow and change into better human beings. "Manifestation of inadequacy"? You could put it that way, but I prefer to say Manifestation of Gd in our lives, helping us heal our inadequacies.

1 comment :

  1. Great post Sarah. Cousins -- and you -- say it so well.