Books That Helped Me Live a Better Life

A few DSMA chats ago, it came to my attention that the DOC is a literary bunch. One of the chat prompts was “describe your ideal Friday night” and at least 70% of the responses involved a good book (also, wine). So I thought it would be fun to share four books that have, in one way or another, influenced my life with diabetes. Without further ado:

  1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

    What does John Steinbeck have to do with diabetes? Objectively, very little. I read this novel in high school between algebra equations, during lunch, and before bed (I was a really cool teenager, obviously). One quote in particular changed the way I approached daily life with diabetes:

    “But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win… It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of the deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice!”

    Ever adept at taking things out of context, the words were like a light-bulb going off for me: hey, I can choose how I react to and confront life with T1. I had a tendency, and sometimes still do, to focus on the bad and weigh myself down with worry and resentment about all the things that weren’t right about being a young person with diabetes. I’d often avoid checking my blood sugar because each “bad” result felt like a personal failure, a prediction of a future that I had no power to change. After reading East of Eden, I thought of this quote often. I tried to embrace the idea that, although I didn’t have the power to cure myself, I did have the power to choose how I confronted and lived my life.

  1. Illness: The Cry of the Flesh by Havi Carel

    Part of Routledge’s The Art of Living series, Carel’s slim volume is a meditation on living with illness told through the lens of philosophy. Carel relates her account of living with a rare, progressive lung disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis(LAM) while incorporating ancient and contemporary philosophy to explore what it really “means” to be ill, and how well-being can be found within illness. She even touches on language and the way that HCPs can deeply affect patient experience. This book is not your crusty, elbow-patch-wearing professor rattling on about a bunch of old dead guys. It is not that hipster you sat next to in Russian Lit saying I think Nietszche would agree that a woman’s significance lies in the fact that she can give birth to a superior, intellectual man. Its philosophy, a discipline that suffers a lot of ‘Does This Subject Matter?’ debate, that is alive and in dialogue with lived experience. It matters here insofar as I think anything else does: by enriching and improving the way we understand our lives.

  2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks

    I already mentioned my love for Sacks when I wrote about Spanish health insurance. This was the first book I read of his and I value it, first of all, because it’s fascinating. Sacks recounts the case histories of his neurologically atypical patients in a humble, human way that is worlds away from the cold, purely scientific modern day case history. Many of the stories speak to what Carel wrote about in Illness: finding well-being within a life that is irrevocably changed by and experienced through disease. I have always been fascinated by the ways in which humans adapt to objectively negative circumstances and find ways to accept and assimilate the “atypical” parts of life. That is, of course, always the hope: that we find ways to be at peace in our imperfect bodies.

  3. Lady Oracle by Margaret Wood

    This one has nothing to do with diabetes. Absolutely nothing. But I have a soft spot for novels about women who run away, Margaret Atwood is a dream, and laughter is the best medicine.

    So, DOC, what do you read? Diabetes related or otherwise, I want to know what’s on your bookshelves!

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2 thoughts on “Books That Helped Me Live a Better Life”

  1. “The Wisdom of John Paul II: The Pope on Life’s Most Vital Questions” helped me to accept that suffering isn’t intrinsically evil as an increasingly secular society might lead one to believe. “Free to Choose” by Milton and Rose Friedman shows that economic freedom is a basic human right. “The Virginian” was the first western, where good triumphs and virtue is rewarded. We need reminders of that these days.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Tom! They sound like great picks. It is definitely helpful to re-frame the way we understand suffering. I think that oftentimes experiences outside of the “norm” of perfect health or happiness are unduly difficult for people to process because they don’t fit with the oversold notion that, if you’re doing life right, it will be SUPER HAPPY AND WONDERFUL! all the time.

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