For five years, I have been sick and I have been trying to will myself to be better. To think harder about being better, to improve more. To become a better breather, reactor, meditator, hoping that if I just try hard enough, the symptoms will go away and I’ll feel like myself again, like a self I remember as if out of a rearview mirror except with this one, the objects are smaller than they appear. I have tried to force myself to be more clearheaded, energetic, grounded. Tried yoga, acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and long walks in the woods. And every few months, when I finally felt I’d reached a zenith of my abilities with yoga, CBT, or talk therapy, I would give it another shot: go to another doctor, a Western doctor, one with an M.D. and a white coat, and I would tell him or her my symptoms (for the gender of the doctor does not matter only, it would seem, my gender), and hope that once again, the doctor would pay attention, would take my case, would try to help me so that I didn’t have to so deeply and fervently try to help myself.
–Eva Hagberg, It’s All In Your Head
It’s All In Your Head, Eva Hagberg‘s thirty-six page Kindle Single, can be consumed in one sitting, like a tale told round a campfire, or a sad dinner with an old friend in which the conversation turns unexpectedly real. Her words have a desperate pace, a history of illness so short but so complicated that explanation of everything is necessary and almost compulsive. Because there’s so much to explain, when you’re sick and no one knows why. When you’re sick, and the doctors tell you you’re stressed. Or maybe you’re not stressed, maybe you have cancer. Or no, not cancer at all. How’s your stress?
As a young woman who has struggled with health issues myself, I think all young women who have seen doctors, or doubted their instincts to trust what their bodies are telling them, or been to see doctors who make them doubt their instincts to trust what their bodies are telling them, can identify with this book. There is such a fine line between trusting yourself and telling yourself to do better and push harder in our world. People who are sick live on this line. We make our homes there.
Eva has handled living on this tightrope masterfully, and I was so moved by her story, and her strength to share it, that I stalked her a bit. I think she’s okay with it (we can only hope). We have similar circles of friends, and after reading the book I reached out to her about how much it blew me away, how similar it was to my own although our illnesses are so wildly different. We’re now Facebook friends, and I’m thankful to have her as an inspirational ally in the often weary, sometimes triumphant world of the ill.
Simply being honest about being sick is much more challenging than it sounds, take it from me, and with director Jamison Wiggins Eva filmed seven days leading up to her heart surgery in February of 2014, a project entitled How to Heart. They also made a short film, How to Magnetically Resonate, about getting an MRI scan.
There are many solutions presented in It’s All In Your Head, but (spoiler alert) there isn’t any medical miracle revealed. This isn’t life written into a story arc, with a climax leading to a clear resolution. This is a memoir of life as it comes, in messy starts and stops, riddled with mistakes and maybes, with no promises or cures.
If you like this book, try reading:
- The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease by Thomas Larson
- The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison
- Blue Water, White Water by Robert C. Samuels