I am writing this blog post from a hospital room, where I am about to spend another couple of weeks. My own medical story is irrelevant as for now, but my current situation explains maybe my interest and different understanding of the story Porochista Khakpour is telling in her powerful memoir Sick.
It is a personal story about years of abuse against her body, trauma, PTSD, suicidal tendencies, unhealthy life choices that develops in a country - US - whose medical system is a utter failure - compared to the one I am familiar with in Europe, particularly in Germany where I am living right now. A country can make you sick, the lack of a country can make you sick, poverty and lack of proper medical resources can kill you in the end. A mixture of all the aforemetioned toxic elements, plus drug abuse, plus years-long misdiagnoses lead to Khakpour´s critical situation: reaching a late stage of Lyme disease. This malady is transmited by a bacteria spread by ticks. There is no clear indication when exactly she was infected with, but she lived with the symptoms for over a decade.
The effects of this bacteria-induced chronic illness are overwhelming for the overall body balance. `The first sign of a Lyme relapse is always psychiatric for me. First the thick burnt fog of melancholy that crept slowly - mornings when I couldn´t quite get out of bed, sticky inability to express my thoughts, hot pangs of fear and cold dread at unpredictable times, a foundation of anxiety, and panic - that fluorescent spiked thing, all energy gone bad, attacking like clockwork around noon daily - all unified toward that endless evil in white, insomnia`.
Did I write ´body´ in the previous paragraph? This is the word that Porochista Khakpour refused for a long time to fully acknowledge. Normality used to be for her for a long time being disconnected from the body. She just moved to NYC - one of her many relocations on the East Coast, from the LA temporary home of her Iranian parents where they settled after the Islamic revolution waiting for that moment when they can come return - and ´time was always runing out´. ´No one I knew went to doctors. No one I knew was healthy. No one expected it. If you were alive, then you weren´t dead. That was it. It was just not in our culture to care´.
She lives her intense live of writer in the making, freelancing, applying for academic jobs, getting scholarships, dating, getting on and off various drugs, dating while regularly dealing with bouts of chronic illness. She suffers abuse, is facing racial discrimination, is trying to cope with childhood trauma and the dislocation from Iran, has fears and the body and soul are thrown into chaos again. It´s a permanent coming and going, a strong tension shredding the very fragile balance. Still not enough to easily assume the official status of a ´sick person´: ´I did not want that life, I did not want to be that person, and maybe a part of me knew I had no choice´.
The permanence of the chronic illness that is not named until the very end of the memoir - because diagnosed so - makes the reading repetitive and many episodes look similar. But this is what happened until the medical diagnosis was clarified. Meanwhile, she keps misunderstanding and desconsidering her body: ´It has taken many years to see my own shell, this very body, as a home of sorts. I can report that even now I struggle with this concept (...)´. And this is a feeling I am very much familiar with.
Sick. A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour is a testimony of life burning hot and the pressure our body put on us to take choices after living in denial that only we can make the choices. It´s a bitter herb to figure out that spirit is not enough, but after all, it may be a reason this shell of a body is carrying on us.
Rating: 5 stars