How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers
I recently read How to Be Sick for the third time! Each time I read this book I take away comfort and knowledge…comfort from knowing I am not alone and knowledge from the helpful practices she shares in the book. The author offers both a chronology of her illness and an introduction and explanation of primarily Buddhist-inspired principles and tools that help her deal with being sick.
(Important side note: people of any religion can benefit of this book…the concepts in the book are not ‘religious’ in any way and I believe they should not conflict with one’s own spiritual beliefs).
As I read her book, a feeling of relief comes over me, from knowing I am not the only person practically home-bound due to their health. Of course I know this to be true without reading the book, social media is full of us ‘spoonies’ sharing snippets of our lives, but there is something about reading her account of her illness and its impact on her life which I really connect with. For instance, I can so relate to her going to great lengths to stay at her job. She resorted to teaching her class sitting in a chair instead of standing, not to mention peeing in her office (you have to read the book to get those details)! Her account reminded me of when I was still trying to work and I would lay on the floor of my office during every break and lunch hour and then, like Toni, I would go home and crash for the entire night. We both pushed until we could do it no more. She then shares examples of missing out on family and social activities, being unable to take care of herself and a myriad of others issues we all face when living with pain/illness. She shares her story in an incredibly honest, open and humble way. She admits to breakdowns and at times not handling things well, however, she always moves forward from these challenges. She details the specific tools she uses to handle each type of situation.
The tools she refers to include Buddhist principles and practices such as the four sublime states, Tonglen and mindfulness. In non-Buddhist terms, these principles relate to compassion for oneself and others, acceptance, peace, and awareness. She keeps her explanations simple and easy to understand so readers unfamiliar with Buddhism should have no problem grasping them; while those familiar with Buddhist practices, will welcome learning how to apply the principles to living with illness/pain.
She references the work of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh whose books, meditations and talks first introduced me to mindfulness and led me to the realization that I had finally found an approach that truly could help me live with chronic pain. Therefore, it was validating to have Toni include some of his practices in her book.
She also highly recommends and explains teachings of self-help author and speaker, Byron Katie, in particular, an inquiry tool called “The Work” where one is asked to go through a series of steps to challenge the thoughts towards one’s situation and then turn the thoughts around. I think we all have quite a few thoughts related to our pain/illness that could be effectively challenged with this method.
If it sounds like the book offers a lot of helpful tools and information, you are right! The author summarizes all the tools at the end of the book which makes the book easy to refer to and trust me you will want to refer to it over and over again.
Overall the book is wonderfully written and packed with so many transformative ways to approach dealing with illness and/or pain. Most importantly Toni serves as an inspirational example of someone who, living with illness, is changing lives and making a difference in the world. As Toni says, “there is sickness, but I am not sick.”