In her debut memoir, a psychiatrist learns important lessons about physical and mental well-being while dealing with her own illness.
At one point in Carmichael’s engrossing book, she stresses the importance of “finding the right story—that is, understanding the connection between physical symptoms and responses to stress and anxiety,” and this balanced, holistic approach informs the work as a whole. Her own medical odyssey began when she was 30 years old and pregnant with her first child. She noticed a strange tingling in her legs but simply marked it down to her pregnancy. She did the same thing two years later, during her second pregnancy, when she experienced numbness. (“Strange how you can be so wise and fool yourself at the same time,” she writes.) Other symptoms came and went, and she ignored them, until 10 years after the initial symptoms, when it became obvious that something was seriously wrong. After she received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, she began to notice a split between facts and emotions that she explores throughout this book: “While the neurologist looked so pleased at making the diagnosis,” she writes, “he did not seem to notice or care that I was emotionally devastated.” This disconnect prompted Carmichael to explore the psychological aspects of chronic pain and disease, starting with her own. “In retrospect, I can see that I was depressed, but I did not know that then,” she writes. “I could not sleep through the night and had difficulty concentrating, but all I knew was that I felt numb inside.” Using a combination of historical overviews and individual case studies, she effectively illuminates the value of understanding the emotional elements of a patient’s battle with chronic pain. Overall, she effectively points out the personal, almost spiritual, aspects of chronic care, while also stressing the need for more empathy on the part of doctors.
An intriguing memoir that provides an eye-opening perspective on institutionalized medicine.