I was blessed to have been asked to review this book, Chronic Resilience, by Danea Horn (Conari Press, 2013) for the Journal of Participatory Medicine. I usually avoid books that are classified in the “self-help” category – those of your that have read my blog postings know how I feel: that there is no room for unicorns in the management of medical issues ..nor bunnies, rainbows or platitudes and false hope (which to me = denial).
Well, I so happy to say that Danea Horn’s book was an amazing, pleasant surprise, and one that I would highly recommend to anyone that has a chronic illness. The book is marketed towards women, but I do not see why men could not benefit from the content as well.
I suffer from three different, unrelated chronic illnesses, so this book was especially relevant to me. I have read many books, articles, research papers and blogs tailored to the individual with chronic and unique medical conditions. “Chronic Resilience” is the first book I’ve read that highlights and teaches the reader to embrace the strength gained when going through a traumatic event, and continue to apply it to living with a chronic illness. (Uniquely, this coincides with a trend in the psychosocial community to look at PTSD not as a “disorder,” but as the gaining of “post-traumatic resilience” – strength achieved through surviving trauma and adversity successfully, and learning new skills throughout that experience. Danea educates the reader about this special resilience via “journal prompts” – suggestions for self-exploration – along with the stories of others with chronic illnesses and the unique skills they found that they possessed during the course of their illnesses. It is important to note that the way in which she presents the journal exercises doesn’t feel like at all homework, or a like a typical journaling assignment from a therapist. All of her journaling exercises are in context with the subject matter, and bring to light the resilience that we as humans develop when faced with adversity, but often forget about when the long and complicated names of diagnoses, test results, and the fears of what the future may bring are piled upon us.
The “Chronic Resilience” unique journaling exercises help to make YOU the focus of the book. I found the most important activities to be in the first few chapters, as these helped me to become not just the reader of the book, but an actual, active participant in the book. I wasn’t just learning about others’ experiences of their inner resilience despite having chronic illnesses – it honestly felt as if my saga was woven into the stories presented. I had expected a chapter about each woman that had graciously volunteered their story for inclusion in this book, – but was ecstatic to find that Danea had seamlessly integrated the challenges faced by these women within each chapters. She uses a different woman’s experience with which to illustrate a different aspect or lesson of human resilience. By combining these narratives with the emphasis on a specific aspect of resilience, along with the journaling prompts, Danea helps the reader to identify her own strengths and beneficial place in her own life.
Danea speaks specifically about taking “ownership” of your health. She emphasizes the necessity of caring for your body, listening to it’s cues, knowing when to slow down, and learning your new limits. Most importantly, she emphasizes that “ownership” is not “becoming” your illness – being “a cancer patient” or a person that “suffers from fibromyalgia.” Some of the things “ownership” is: learning what IS in your control in your life, becoming educated about your condition (from valid sources), assembling (as Danea calls it) a “kick-butt medical team,” and seeing a counselor when you feel overwhelmed with your diagnosis or its limitations.
Overall, Danea’s book is a refreshing breeze in the mire of self-help books about dealing with chronic illnesses (those typically heavy with platitudes,”positive affirmations,” lists of impossible rules to follow, and the “chin-up buttercup” rainbow and unicorn imagery.) She provides lists of helpful resources throughout, and lists many interesting and relevant references. Although this book wasn’t written specifically from the “e-patient” perspective, it does directly address how to become a participant in your health care – and how to successfully communicate your needs, fears, concerns and questions to doctors, family and friends. Danea has done a truly unique and beautiful job of teaching us how to be human, in spite of what obstacles we have in our lives.
I do hope that is you have a chronic health challenge, or know someone that does, that you pick up a copy of this book.