What Doesn’t Kill You

Once in a while you come across a book and you suddenly have this urge to buy cartons and cartons of this book, plant yourself on a busy corner, and pass them out to everyone who walks by.

This is how I feel about Tessa Miller’s What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness – Lessons from a Body in Revolt.

While our chronic illnesses and experiences are vastly different, the book is so very relatable. The bottom line is everyone living with a chronic illness and everyone who knows someone living with a chronic illness, should read this book. 

I don’t remember how I first learned about this book. But I do know that this is one of the few books I have bought sight unseen. I bought it based on what I read about it. I bought it because I had a desire to read something by someone who “gets it.”

And Tessa Miller gets it:

“I needed a book written by someone who exists in that foggy space between the common cold and terminal cancer, where illness doesn’t go away but won’t kill you. I needed someone who lives every single day with illness to tell me that 1) I wasn’t alone and 2) my life was going to change in unexpected, difficult, and surprisingly beautiful ways.”

“I didn’t know then that my life had changed forever. That I’d be able to divide my experiences into before I got sick and after I got sick.”

“I became a professional patient, and a good one. I learned that bodies can be inexplicably resilient and curiously fragile. I would never get better, and that would change everything: the way I think about my body, my health, my relationships, my work, and my life. When things get rough, people like to say, ‘this too shall pass.’ But what happens when ‘this’ never goes away?”

“And they shouldn’t doubt the level of pain you’re in just because you’re not writhing around on the floor; chronic illness patients learn to live with a shocking amount of physical discomfort and often go about it looking natural.”

“But grieving yourself when you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness is different. The emotions might be similar to those felt when mourning a loved one—anger, sadness, numbness, disconnection from reality —but the process of ‘moving on’ is more complicated. Whereas the loss of a loved one has a sense of finality, the loss of self from chronic illness can feel never-ending.”

“See, chronically ill people grieve two versions of ourselves: the people we were before we got sick and the future, healthy versions that don’t exist (or, at least, look much different from what we’d imagined). There’s no guidebook for this kind of ongoing self-loss. No Hallmark card that says, ‘Sorry you’ll never be yourself again.’ “

“Your body and your brain are not two separate entities. They’re a partnership. What happens to your body affects your brain, and what happens to your brain affects your body. Taking care of your brain’s health should be no less of a priority than taking care of your body.”

“ ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,’ as the saying goes. But that isn’t the way it works at all. Some people have more suffering, and some have less, and there’s no rhyme or reason why. Bad stuff happens to good people with no other explanation than it just happens. Little babies die suddenly and horrible old billionaires live to see 105 and decent people get sick forever. Shit will never make sense.”

“And despite what the writing of a memoir signals, I don’t love to talk about myself IRL; the page makes me appear much braver than I am. But despite the fear, I keep sharing my stories through writing because that’s how humans connect and stay alive. Stories give us empathy. They make us strong. They offer perspective.”