Friday, November 20, 2015

MinM* Books: Ann Romney - In This Together

My last trip home, Dad found a new addition for my Misadventures in Medicine book-list. I had heard of Ann Romney's journey through MS, and the remarkable way she had beaten it back with a combination of conventional medicine, horseback riding, and alternative therapies. But I didn't know much more than that, so I was excited for the chance to read more about her, especially through her own words.

In This Together
Ann Romney

It's a quick and easy read, and one I'd recommend, with a few caveats:

First -- put politics aside. While she touches on things that happened in the campaign, it's her story, not Mitt's.

Second -- at different points I struggled with thinking: this is not my story. Not my disease. Not my faith. Not me

Even though my symptoms look like MS, and there are pieces that have labels (migraines), 'looking for answers' or deciding how to move on without them is different than accepting the diagnosis and moving on with treatment. But I was glad I got past that because her story is remarkable, and she has a valuable perspective on living with chronic illness and seeking healing.

Third -- I wished she had spent more time on the early years of diagnosis. It's one thing to say you were angry or frustrated, it's another to allow people to journey through that with you and see how it was in the moment, not just in hindsight.

But there was a lot that was good about this book. She has an inspiring story and I am glad she is sharing it.

My suggestion is this: Read the Afterword. 

If you pick up this book in a store, with no intention of buying it, flip straight to the afterword and read it.

If you buy the book and settle into a cozy chair, read the afterword and then go back to the beginning.

I wish it had been structured so that the points in the last section were spread throughout, and the stories linked directly to each one. But it wasn't; so that's my suggestion: read the afterword first.

It included some great strategies for dealing with serious, chronic illness, and I am thinking about setting up a journal based around them.

And one of her suggestions was to create a Well-List, of big and small goals that would mark healing, and it really made me think of what a well-list/wishlist would look like for the new year.

Strategies from the Afterward:
- Deal with depression
- Make and strengthen connections with others 
- Make achievable goals 
- Identify your strengths 
- Take Action
- Express Gratitude
- Use Your Faith or Spirituality
- Maintain Hope
- Give
- Use Humor
- Experience the full range of emotions 
- Maintain your Health

One theme that ran through them was making the effort to keep from cutting yourself off from the world. That illness can be an isolating thing, and can be life-shrinking. To push boundaries, make connections, and not to cut yourself off from emotions -- cry, get angry, yell, smile, laugh...

But I especially liked what she said about giving, and how that links back to staying connected to others:
"giving forces you to engage in the world... too often people who face challenges don't want to participate in the world; they want to be left alone. Forcing yourself to give whatever it is you have to offer can change your entire attitude... the most valuable thing you can give is your time....for people facing serious issues, the world continue to move forward without them. Forcing yourself to participate in that world, even when you don't feel great, can make a huge difference" 

One other thing that hit home was realizing that unlike cancer or other illnesses, there's not a standard set of therapy protocols for MS -- different doctors treat patients differently. Which, I have to say, is ridiculous, though not surprising. In my very long-winded list for the fixing of medicine, a systematic way of defining and treating undiagnosed illness is tops, so I can both relate to and be frustrated by her very different experiences with different MS doctors.

In short, a good easy read that's an interesting look into a patient who's been successful at overcoming her disease. I'd recommend it to anyone dealing with life-changing illness. (But skip to the ending first.)

*Misadventures in Medicine
*Strategery: tools and strategies for dealing with it

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