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Sick: A Memoir Paperback – June 5, 2018
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“Porochista Khakpour’s powerful memoir, Sick, reads like a mystery and a reckoning with a love song at its core. Humane, searching, and unapologetic, Sick is about the thin lines and vast distances between illness and wellness, healing and suffering, the body and the self. Khakpour takes us all the way in on her struggle toward health with an intelligence and intimacy that moved, informed, and astonished me.” (Cheryl Strayed, New York Times bestselling author of Wild)
“Sickness, in the world and in the body, is an attempt to flatten the individual, to make it conform to an inflexible name. Porochista Khakpour resists this on every page. Her writing is first of all vibrant, humming, strong, tall, striding. It powers through paper frailties. Survival, she reminds us at the end of Sick, can be an act of the imagination: it is the courage to insist on seeing yourself decades in the future, climbing a mountain, squinting into the sun, sitting down at the desk to write what happened.” (Patricia Lockwood, author of Priestdaddy, named one of the 10 best books of 2017 by the New York Times)
“Porochista Khakpour’s Sick is a bruising reminder and subtle revelation that the lines between a sick human being and a sick nation are often not lines at all. The book boldly asserts that a nation wholly disinterested in what really constitutes ‘health’ will never tend the bodily and emotional needs of its sick and vulnerable. Somehow, Khakpour manages to craft the minutiae of the moments spent keeping herself alive while obliterating what could have easily been written as spectacular melodrama. I’m most amazed at how time itself, and point of view, are ‘sick’ and ‘sickening’ in this wonderful memoir. Khakpour has done more than something I’ve never seen before in this phenomenal book; she’s done something I never imagined possible.” (Kiese Laymon author of Heavy)
“I’m so excited for the world (you!) to read Porochista Khakpour’s Sick because now you’ll understand. Understand what it’s like to navigate a broken medical system; understand what chronic illness does to the self; understand the damage that doubt and ignorance can wreck; understand how living and self-destructing, writing and working, loving and sex doesn’t just stop when you’re ill. And for those of you who understand this all too well, this book gives a voice—a fierce, booming, brutally honest voice—to the millions of people silently suffering with invisible illnesses of their own. ‘I always felt broken in my body,’ she writes, and I shudder with recognition. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Porochista for giving so much of yourself in this miraculous memoir. The world is a better place with your book in it.” (Susannah Cahalan, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of Brain on Fire)
“Thank you, Porochista Khakpour, for writing an unflinchingly honest, complicated memoir about living life with Lyme. Sick should be required reading at every medical school!” (Kathleen Hanna)
“Sick is a riveting plunge into the most profound mysteries of mind and body—the haunted labyrinths of addiction; a chronic illness that mightily resists answers; and, ultimately, a diagnosis that proves just as confounding: late-stage Lyme disease. As Porochista Khakpour works to uncover the roots of the maladies upending her physical and mental health, she raises vital questions that challenge the common perceptions around illness and treatment and recovery. Miraculously, Sick emerges as a force of life.” (Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel)
“This is a story of towering frustrations written so beautifully that through the weird alchemy of art it ends up lifting the reader’s spirits. You read these elegant sentences and get the elusive click that you get in the presence of the real thing. To the list of brilliant fiction writers penning timeless memoirs—Nabokov, McBride, Wright, Styron, Ward, Gay, both Wolffs, to name a few—we now indelibly add the name Khakpour. Khakpour battles a disease that attacks the quality of one’s life in every way, but perhaps the most poignant element here is the world’s lack of faith in her affliction, so that she faces the double indignity of fighting a fearsome foe on the one hand and arguing for its potency on the other. This is a gripping, moving, thoughtful meditation written at the highest levels of narrative engagement.” (Matthew Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves)
“This is a book that throws me into the time of my own being. I experience Porochista Khakpour’s Sick as an act of radical friendship because nobody should know this much about anybody else unless they love each other and this book, so quotable and well-phrased at absolutely the worst of moments, and there is a lot of ‘worst’ here -- because this is a book of physical suffering, is stalwartly framed by love -- of family and friends and sex and all kinds of partnership as the activist bedrock of health, and finally love of the city too. Born in Tehran, Iranian American author Porochista Khakpour habitually picks New York City as her sanity and her chosen rite of return. Thrumming, diaristic, unabashedly wild and homeless-feeling, Sick is something gut-wrenching and new, a globally intimate book.” (Eileen Myles, author of Afterglow)
“This memoir is not your traditional illness narrative. Porochista Khakpour threads together a startling tapestry of stories about a young woman seeking place — in the America she flees to as a refugee of Iran, in a medical system that offers her no answers, in the empty promises of pill bottles and dangerous lovers, and ultimately, in the body. Electric, daring and staggeringly honest, Khakpour’s writing takes us to the very edges of what it means to be alive.” (Suleika Jaouad, author of the New York Times “Life, Interrupted” column and video series)
“Sick stages on the page what is at stake for a body under endless siege from addiction, illness, trauma, dislocation and dispossession. The questions emerging from this body story challenge ideas about identity and the too-easy logic of sickness and health, as well as the bi-cultural boundaries of being. What does it mean to be alive inside a raging body? By sharing her body story, Porochista Khakpour gives the reader a profoundly generous gift: an unflinching narrative of the deep desire to live. Sick is a triumph of the imagination as she holds her heart out to you.” (Lidia Yuknavitch, National Bestselling author of The Book of Joan)
“Khakpour writes honestly about her psychological struggle…Her remarkable story is one of perseverance, survival, and hope.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Lucid, eloquent, and unflinchingly honest, Khakpour’s book is not just about a woman’s relationship to illness, but also a remarkably trenchant reflection on personal and human frailty. A courageously intimate memoir about living within a body that has ‘never felt at ease.’” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Being a writer with Lyme is a double-edged sword ... So I thank Porochista Khakpour for doing what I know to be both impossible and necessary: telling her story.” (Electric Literature)
“This book is something to keep by our desks rather than our bedside tables: not a consolation but a provocation.” (Slate)
“Khakpour’s unbridled vulnerability lifts the veil on the many misconceptions surrounding diagnosis and treatment, in addition to detailing the vast uncertainty that comes with living with chronic illness and finding treatment, and hope, in a flawed healthcare system.” (Paper Magazine)
“Porochista Khakpour’s memoir, Sick, is a deeply powerful and harrowing odyssey through the most profound mysteries of mind and body.” (Book Forum)
“Khakpour is a citizen of the world but a foreigner in her own “Lyme-struck” body. Her searing memoir about trying to make peace with a chronic illness redefines both dislocation and belonging.” (Oprah.com)
“Sick refuses to be the kind of illness memoir many people might want, or at least expect.” (Nylon Magazine)
“In this unrelenting memoir, Khakpour examines the brutality the world delivers upon our bodies while offering glimpses of hope amid life’s uncertainties.” (Esquire)
“[Khakpour] produces a book that might one day join the shelf of, for lack of a better term, sick lit classics, including The Bell Jar, Illness As Metaphor, and Brain On Fire.” (AV Club)
“Sick unflinchingly examines the challenges of living with chronic illness yet lands us where you might least expect it: hope.” (Tin House)
“Though this is not a story of overcoming illness, Khakpour is an utterly captivating storyteller, and her sense of humor and warmth makes it very easy to understand why she is so beloved amongst her friends, peers, and fans.” (The Rumpus.com)
“Khakpour’s memoir demonstrates the power of survival in the midst of pain and uncertainty.” (The Millions)
“One of the most highly-anticipated memoirs of 2018, Sick by Porochista Khakpour is a harrowing account of the author’s physical, psychological, financial, and spiritual battle with late-stage Lyme disease.” (Bustle)
“Porochista Khakpour’s memoir, Sick, is an honest, beautifully written look into her struggles with late-stage Lyme disease, including suffering through chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery.” (Brooklyn Digest)
“Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose,and Khakpour’s frank memoir will give hope to others who are struggling with this devastating illness.” (Booklist)
About the Author
Porochista Khakpour’s debut novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, one of the Chicago Tribune’s Fall’s Best, and the 2007 California Book Award winner in the “First Fiction” category. Her second novel The Last Illusion was a 2014 "Best Book of the Year" according to NPR, Kirkus, Buzzfeed, Popmatters, Electric Literature, and many more. Among her many fellowships is a National Endowment for the Arts award. Her nonfiction has appeared in many sections of The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Elle, Slate, Salon, and Bookforum, among many others. Currently, she is guest faculty at VCFA and Stonecoast's MFA programs as well as Contributing Editor at The Evergreen Review. Born in Tehran and raised in the Los Angeles area, she lives in New York City’s Harlem.
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Her story will be familiar to anyone who knows the standard Lyme narrative: years of mysterious ailments, frequent diagnoses of mental health problems, the treatment of which only made her problems worse, the growing worry that she was either crazy or dying or both, the elation at having a diagnosis of Lyme disease, the struggle to actually find a treatment that would work, the relapses, and so on and so forth.
There are a couple of things that make "Sick" stand out from the general run of Lyme memoirs, although I'm of the opinion that one can hardly read too many Lyme memoirs, perhaps because I have a superstitious belief that if I just pore over the texts carefully and intentionally enough, I myself will be magically healed. But anyway. "Sick" stands out first of all because Khakpour was a writer before she was a Lyme patient, and she brings a writer's sensibility to the text, which is organized in a "writerly" way. For readers looking for a straightforward narrative of A then B then C, this may be a trifle disconcerting, and even for some "ordinary" literary readers the jumbled, surreal nature of sections of the book has been a bit of a shock. I guess you have to have Lyme disease or some other reality-altering condition for the perceptions that Khakpour describes to seem normal.
Second of all, Khakpour combines her Lyme experience with her experience as an Iranian immigrant to the US, as an academic and a writer, and a person with a on-again-off-again drug problem and recurring relationship issues. All of these things meld together to create an experience that is both alienating from the average American experience, and quintessentially American: what could be more American than the Lyme-disease-ridden immigrant woman who constantly fears racism while frequently passing as a member of the white majority, who spends years (and loads of money) getting ineffectual treatment for mental health and drug problems while her worst medical problems are deliberately denied, and who is a glorious melting pot of self-aware intersectional privilege and discrimination?
Khakpour also delves deeply into the world of mental illness and addiction, where she and her doctors all thought for years that she solely belonged. She describes deliberately addicting herself to cigarettes her first week at college, all the drug-laced parties and events she participated in as a student, and then, particularly disturbingly, her descent into prescription drug addiction, fueled by medical professionals who kept pushing antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleeping pills on her as the solution to her problems. She gets clean, gets diagnosed with Lyme disease...and then slides back down the rabbit hole during a relapse in which no one considers that her insomnia, panic attacks, and weird hearing and vision problems might be the result of a spirochete infection *she had already been diagnosed with*, not...whatever else they thought might be causing it.
"Sick" highlights many of the problems Lyme patients face in getting diagnosis and treatment. Aside from the lack of training at medical school and the inadequacy of the current tests, Lyme patients are often their own worst enemies, even if unintentionally. As the spirochetes attack your body and especially your brain, you can develop horrendous insomnia, anxiety, and panic attacks (after all, a fearsome predator *is* eating you alive, and your body on some level knows this), confused perceptions, a sense of alienation from your body (which has, after all, been hijacked by the above-mentioned fearsome predator), addictions to the drugs used to combat the pain and fear that's debilitating you, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, you "look fine," and most testing shows nothing alarming. So it looks to the outside world like you're crazy, and maybe addicted to drugs, and you you may sort of be so.
Khakpour also admits that she's a "bad sick girl," as she puts it. She's never embraced the strict diets many Lyme doctors endorse, and even still sneaks a smoke from time to time. So is her sickness the result of a life full of trauma and difficulty; her bohemian, artistic personality; her experimentations with drugs of all stripes; or her Lyme disease, which she's never quite sure when and where she picked up (she provides multiple possible infection moments, and maybe she *was* infected multiple times)? Or all of the above?
If it makes anything clear, "Sick" suggests that it's D, all of the above, but that a huge problem is Lyme disease and the way it's treated. The sections on Khakpour's dealings with the depression-industrial complex, as I call it, are terrifying, as the doctors she goes to for help do nothing but re-addict her to the drugs she'd already had to get clean from once, and which she actively doesn't want to take again, but does anyway because it's the only salvation that's offered and she doesn't want to be labeled any more "noncompliant" a patient than she already has been.
"Sick" ends on an only partially hopeful note, as Khakpour relapses while writing the book, something that she chronicles as part of the story. This is not so much a story of triumph as it is a story of tenacity in the face of obstacle after obstacle, some of them self-created. Still, it's a gripping story of one woman's battle with one of the most fearsome and misunderstood medical monsters of our time.