Chronic Lyme, PTSD, Addiction, Etc. in “Sick”

Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour is largely about the author’s many years of struggle to get appropriate diagnosis and treatment for chronic Lyme disease, otherwise known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). Nicole Clark, Vice:

Her symptoms include dizziness and fainting, severe insomnia, constant aches and headaches, limping, inability to regulate temperature, dysphagia (inability to swallow), and complete disorientation. In Sick she recounts countless doctors misdiagnosing her with depression, anxiety, diabetes, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, to name just a sampling of conditions.

But there’s also so much more than chronic Lyme. “I have been sick my whole life.I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in some sort of physical or mental pain, but usually both.” The many and varied reasons for this she’ll try to explain.

Some info about Khakpour’s earlier life (Kirkus Reviews):

A child of the Iranian Revolution, her earliest memories were of ‘pure anxiety.’ She survived the trauma of living in a war zone and moved from Tehran to Los Angeles. As she grew into adolescence, she writes, ‘everything about my body felt wrong,’ and her feelings of dysmorphia remained one of the constants in an often chaotic life. In college, Khakpour, who had long been fascinated by the ‘altered states’ that drugs could produce, began a ‘casual [long-term] relationship’ with cocaine and cultivated the ‘heroin chic’ look fashionable during the 1990s. In addition to her experimentation with drugs, the author endured harrowing experiences with sexual assault and depression.

Eventually needing help for the developing problems of central concern to Sick, Khakpour faces further obstacles and assaults on her health. Rien Fertel, AVClub:

Internists and nurses laugh at her, call her crazy. Friends and physicians blame a nightmarish litany of diseases, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to lupus to diabetes to Parkinson’s, Hashimoto’s, and various cancers. She’s prescribed a rainbow of pills: Ambien, Ativan, Celexa, Klonopin, Neurontin, Paxil, Remeron, Seroquel, Xanax. She tries nutritionists, acupuncturists, ayurvedics, and other new age healers, spending over $140,000 on her well-being.

Lidija Haas, New Yorker:

When doctors disbelieve her, or when her relapses reliably ‘coincide with global turmoil,’ she wonders whether her symptoms might indeed be psychosomatic, some form of P.T.S.D.; after she becomes addicted to the pills prescribed to treat her insomnia, she seems open to the suggestion that maybe her addiction is the main source of her problems. She cheerfully lists the ways in which she damages her own health, including by smoking cigarettes every day during the writing of her book.

Sick is not told chronologically “but rather by city and the lover who was is living with her at the time, linking illness to place and person. The constant is the racism Khakpour endures because she is a brown-skinned woman in post-9/11 America” (Vice).

A widely applauded memoir without a particularly uplifting ending, “…Sick is a bruising reminder and subtle revelation,” states Kiese Laymon, “that the lines between a sick human being and a sick nation are often not lines at all. The book boldly asserts that a nation wholly disinterested in what really constitutes ‘health’ will never tend the bodily and emotional needs of its sick and vulnerable.”

To read an excerpt, titled “Does My Disease Need a Name?,” click on this HuffPost link.

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