Part Two of Blogging About Your Illness: Why Do People Write About Their Illness?

Part I. The Mechanics of Blogging About Your Illness

Part II. Why Do People Write About Illness?

As I mentioned in the first part of this presentation, writing about our illness is an age-old tradition. The cave people did it.

It is simply being recast because of the internet. Here are some reasons people today say they blog about their illnesses: to clear my head - your mind gets cloudy when you get diagnosed, so you don't want to forget all the things you're hearing - and so you start to write them down; it gets hard to tell your story over and over again--it's easier to say to people 'Log on, and see where I'm at'; to create an info-portal for other people with a similar diagnosis; and to share stories about medical treatments with fellow sufferers. Some of us are comfortable with the thought of perfect strangers reading about our darkest fears, but we find ourselves unable to speak frankly with those closest to us. Yet on a blog, and through the process of writing, we feel a responsibility to be painfully honest. I find myself in this situation, and I hope that my blog will open the door for a conversation with friends or family that I wouldn't ordinarily talk to about my illness in such depth. If it's important for them to know the whole story, and if they didn't read it in my blog, they wouldn't get it. It is important for me that all of my friends and family have the opportunity to know me better, if they want it. But for many, a primary aim of blogging about our illness is to achieve an emotional catharsis by writing and disseminating our thoughts online. Some theories about why this actually works will be in the next section, The Benefits of Blogging About Your Illness.

Probably the best answers to the question of why people write about their illnesses lie in the books by Arthur W. Frank, "At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness" and "The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics". (In the interest of honesty and integrity I'll tell you that I haven't actually read these books yet. There wasn't time to lay my hands them. What I'm going to say about them here comes from the book descriptions and the editorial and customer reviews on I should have time now to get copies for myself and check them out since I didn't get to this part of the presentation at the ICI Awareness Week conference!)

The first book is a "scholar's pilgrimage with illness”.

It's a memoir, an exploration of the events of illness from within. To illuminate what illness can teach us about life, Frank draws upon his own encounters with serious illness - a heart attack at age thirty-nine and, a year later, a diagnosis of cancer. He offers insights into what happens when our bodies and emotions are pushed to extremes. The book ends by describing the existence of a "remission society," whose members all live with some form of illness or disability.

Remission society. I'd say remember that term. We're going to be hearing a lot more of it in the future.

Frank's second book, "The Wounded Storyteller", is the collective portrait of the members of the remission society.

This book says that ill people are more than victims of disease or patients of medicine; they are wounded storytellers. People tell stories to make sense of their suffering; when they turn their diseases into stories, they find healing.

Drawing on the work of authors such as Oliver Sacks, Anatole Broyard, Norman Cousins, and Audre Lorde, as well as from people Franks met during the years he spent among different illness groups, Frank recounts a stirring collection of illness stories, ranging from the well-known—Gilda Radner's battle with ovarian cancer—to the private testimonials of people with cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and disabilities. Their stories are more than accounts of personal suffering: they abound with moral choices and point to a social ethic.

Frank identifies three basic narratives of illness: restitution, chaos, and quest.

Restitution narratives anticipate getting well again and give prominence to the technology of cure.

In chaos narratives, illness seems to stretch on forever, with no respite or redeeming insights.

Quest narratives are about finding that insight as illness is transformed into a means for the ill person to become someone new. My blog strives to be a quest narrative. Gilda Radner's book is a quest narrative. More on this when I talk about the benefits of writing about our illness in the last section.

Part III: The Benefits of Blogging About Your Illness


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