While it may not be a popular topic of discussion at the dinner table, living with a chronic or incurable illness can be frustrating and overwhelming at times. There can also be seasons of incredible loneliness, even though the world seems to buzz all around you. I know this reality because I have lived it for the past 16 years.
In the down periods of my chronic illness journey with lupus, I noticed connecting with others who were on a similar life path typically brought me out of my slump. Sometimes this connection would happen face-to-face or via a digital platform. Other times the connection would occur through the written word.
In fact, getting lost in a book penned by someone who “gets it” has helped inspire me on numerous occasions. Sometimes a book would get me out of bed, suddenly motivated to face the day. And then there were times when a book gave me a green light of sorts, to rest, take some “me” time, and shut the world out for just a moment longer.
Many of the following books have made me laugh out loud and cry happy tears — tears that represent sisterhood, empathy, compassion, or a reminder that this hard season too shall pass. So settle down with a hot cup of tea, cozy blanket, and tissue or two, and find hope, courage, and laughter in the following pages.
Carry On, Warrior
Have you ever been asked, “If you were trapped on a deserted island, what item would you bring?” For me, that item would be “Carry On, Warrior.” I have read the book fifteen times, and bought ten copies to give to my girlfriends. Obsessed is an understatement.
Glennon Doyle Melton brings readers through a variety of hilarious and touching life moments as she deals with recovering from alcohol addiction, motherhood, chronic illness, and being a wife. What brings me back to this book time and time again is her relatable and transparent writing. She’s the woman you will want to grab a cup of coffee with and have raw, honest conversation — the kind where any topic is up for grabs and no judgment is cast in your direction.
One Door Closes: Overcoming Adversity by Following Your Dreams
I always seem to root for the underdog, being entranced by stories in which people face insurmountable odds and come out on top. In “One Door Closes,” written by Tom Ingrassia and Jared Chrudimsky, you can spend time with 16 inspirational men and women who share their rise from the pit. From a well-known singer who overcame throat cancer and drug addiction to a young man who suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car, each story highlights the power and resilience of the body, mind, and spirit. Included is a workbook section that allows readers to reflect on their own struggles and dreams, with action steps to reach desired goals.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
After I laughed my way through Jenny Lawson’s first book, “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on “Furiously Happy.” While some may think a memoir about horrific anxiety and crippling depression couldn’t lift anyone’s spirits, her off-the-wall humor and flurry of self-deprecation prove them wrong. Hilarious stories about her life and struggles with chronic illness send us all a message about how humor can truly change one’s perspective.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
The alluring writing of Elisabeth Tova Bailey is sure to capture the hearts of readers everywhere living with and without chronic illness. Upon return from a vacation in the Swiss Alps, Bailey suddenly develops an enigmatic illness that alters her life. Unable to care for herself, she is at the mercy of a caregiver and random visits from friends and family. On a whim, one of these friends brings her violets and a woodland snail. The connection Bailey makes with this tiny creature, which moves at a pace similar to her own, is remarkable and sets the stage in “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” for a unique and powerful book.
Though Dr. Brené Brown has written numerous life-changing books, “Daring Greatly” spoke to me because of its specific message — how being vulnerable can change your life. In my own journey with chronic illness, there was a desire to appear as if I had everything together and that the illness was not impacting my life. Hiding the reality of how illness affected me physically and psychologically for so long caused shame and loneliness to grow.
In this book, Brown breaks down the idea that being vulnerable is not being weak. And, how embracing vulnerability can lead to a life full of joy and increased connection with others. While “Daring Greatly” wasn’t specifically written for the chronic illness community, I feel it has vital information regarding the community’s collective struggle to be vulnerable, especially in the face of those without health issues.
Shake, Rattle & Roll With It: Living and Laughing with Parkinson’s
Vikki Claflin, a humorist and writer known for her blog Laugh-Lines.net, gives readers a hilarious yet poignant glimpse into her life after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 50. After many dark days, Claflin turns to her optimistic side to carry her through. She believes by getting readers to laugh at her bizarre experiences and mishaps with illness, they can find the humor and hope in their own. Pick up a copy of the book here.
When Breath Becomes Air
Though “When Breath Becomes Air” author Paul Kalanithi passed away in March of 2015, his book leaves an inspiring and reflective message that is eternal. Nearing the end of his decade-long training as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi is unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung cancer. The diagnosis reverses his role from life-saving doctor to a patient facing death, and brings about his quest to answer, “What makes life worth living?” This emotional memoir is as spectacular as it is bittersweet, knowing he left behind his wife and child too early. It’s sure to prompt readers of any age (and any health status) to ponder the things in their life that truly matter, knowing death is inevitable.
I Am: A 60-Day Journey of Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is
For readers looking for an encouraging book with a faith-based foundation, my immediate suggestion would be “I Am” by Michele Cushatt. After an exhausting battle with cancer changed how she talked, looked, and lived her daily life, Cushatt set off on a journey to uncover who she was. She discovered how to stop buying in to the constant pressure of measuring up, and learned to stop obsessing over the thought, “Am I enough?”
Through transparent personal accounts, backed by solid biblical truths, “I Am” helps us see the harm in negative self-talk, and find peace in how God sees us rather than how others see us (our health issues, lifestyle, etc.). For me, the book was a reminder that my value isn’t in my career, how much I accomplish, or whether or not I achieve my goals despite lupus. It helped shift my longing to be accepted and loved by the world’s standards to instead be loved by the one who made me exactly how I’m supposed to be.
These books are ideal options to bring along on your summer vacation, whether it’s a trip to the beach, or a lazy day spent lakeside. They’re also my go-to choices when I am too sick to get out of bed, or need to indulge myself in supportive words from someone who understands my journey. For me, books have become a pleasurable escape, a friend when illness seems overwhelming, and an encouragement that I can persevere no matter the difficulties I am facing. What’s on your summer reading list that I should be reading? Let me know in the comments!
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Marisa Zeppieri is a health and food journalist, chef, author, and founder of LupusChick.com and LupusChick 501c3. She resides in New York with her husband and rescued rat terrier. Find her on Facebook and follower her on Instagram @LupusChickOfficial.