Abstract

Abstract:

There is a distinct tendency within the field of psychological and psychiatric literature to cite illness memoirs as exemplary sources of insight into the subjective dimension of how illness is experienced. However, the epistemological reliability of such sources remains open to question: Do such sources indeed offer meaningful insights into the authentic experiences of patients and in doing so, provide effective coping and self-management strategies, or are they merely literary and/or popular constructs, the value and meaning of which are fundamentally indeterminate? In this contribution, I analyze three such memoirs: Floyd Skloot’s (1996) The Night-side; Rik Carlson’s (2004) We’re Not in Kansas Anymore; and Julie Rehmeyer’s (2017) Through the Shadowlands—all describing individual experiences of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). As CFS remains a puzzling and contested illness, an analysis of these narratives offers the opportunity to explore the presupposed values as well as the limitations of illness life-writing. In this article, I map the academic debate on the epistemological value of illness narratives and chart the discussion on CFS since the early 1990s. Subsequently, I propose a double reading—a “medical” reading and a “literary” reading—of the memoirs considered. Finally, I suggest that the inherent indeterminacy of CFS life-writing is an important quality that contributes to a deeper understanding of living and coping with chronic, as yet medically unexplained illnesses. Reading illness memoirs, I conclude, reveals the rhetorical and cultural dimensions, as well as the ambiguities and uncertainties of such experiences.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3303
Print ISSN
1071-6076
Pages
pp. 403-418
Launched on MUSE
2020-12-04
Open Access
No
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