A good friend is overwhelmed by illness. Constant concerns about medicine, appointments, pain management and pending surgery and its aftermath have virtually erased her confidence and her sense of self. When I asked what she would like to do if she could, the answers were scarce, still connected to the need to organize a life around her chronic illness. This seems wrong. It happens, though, all too often. An otherwise smart, creative person is absorbed into the role of patient, or as my friend put it, into feeling like someone else's science experiment. As a nurse I saw this time and again. The thing is living with chronic illness is a reality. No magic pill or wand will remove it. How then to get back to some sense of who she is, of getting outside her box of pills and ills?
Here's what I am about to suggest: she might begin an autobiography of sorts, a life told on paper can build a perspective of and a distance from the all-encompassing role of patient-hood. I'm about to take her a loose-leaf binder, some index cards, some fat pens (easier on sore, stiff hands) and a set of suggestions about getting started on her book. I've asked that she commit to morning pages, a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. And to create a Life Line--a year by year gleaning of memories and notes that she can, at her pace, enlarge and explore. Oh, yes, and sticky notes--for whatever marking she wants to review later. I've offered to become her writing coach. Not a censor or a critic or a therapist--but someone who helps her develop a process that supports her efforts--looking at whatever interferes with writing daily, what happens when she has an AHA! moment, what resources and tools might make her more productive. What she writes is hers, not mine. After all, it's her life, and I have my own to write about.