The Chronic Illness Workbook. Strategies and Solutions for Taking Back your Life.
Patricia A. Fennell, MSW, LCSW-R
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be overwhelming, confusing and it is almost always life-altering. There are many memoirs out there written by patients that can be helpful, and support groups- both online and in person- can be a source of comfort. Still, many patients do look for a step by step guide on what to do. While Patricia Fennell doesn’t tell you what to do, she has good suggestions. Patricia A. Fennell’s book is 249 pages long and divided into three parts, contraining ten chapters overall. After an introduction featuring several patients’ voices, part One, consisting of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, sets the stage. Chapter 1, “The Cultural context of Chronic Illness” details the impact of our cultural context on chronic illness. It breaks down various factors- from the for profit health system and how it is set up for actue care to society and the media celebrating the “American individualist pulling themselves up by the bootstraps.” It goes into detail about research, false dichotomies of healthy vs. sick, and our intolerance with ambiguity. Whether you’ve been recently diagnosed or a long time member of the club of the chronically ill (and, as the book details, chances are you are: 50% of Americans do suffer from some sort of chronic health problem, tendency rising), you will find yourself nodding at the attitudes and cultural influences that Fennell describes. Still, this is no reason to despair, Chapter 2 lays out her four phase model to re-claim agency, “to integrate your illness into a different, but meaningful life” (36). The phases- clearly influenced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ influential work on grieving- are: (1) Crisis, (2) Stabilization, (3) Resolution, (4) Integration. Part II goes into detail of each of these phases, dividing them further into “Strategy”, “Tactics and skills”, integrating both psychological aspects of dealing with chronic illness as well as practical advice, for example how to find the right doctor, or how to navigate the healthcare system. Each phase also has several practical exercises to work through. Part III contains four additional chapters on special topics, such as an in-depth guide on the health system, and how to navigate it, or family configurations and relationship dynamics. I found this chapter especially important, as it speaks to caregivers, their “vicarious trauma”, and how to navigate changing roles within the family.
Even though the book deals with complex issues, it does so in a straightforward and clear manner. It doesn’t lecture or go into psycho-speak, even though a lot of it is on how to cope. While I personally don’t know that models like Fenell’s can be applied universally, I do find a lot of truth in them, and understand that they are based on many years of working with chronically ill patients. All in all, it is a practical book for those with chronic illnesses struggling with how to gain a sense of agency.
The book is $24.95, and available here.