Maggie O’Farrell – I Am, I Am, I Am.

What an amazing book! Seventeen brushes with death, and at the end of it I felt how wonderful it is to be alive! Maggie O’Farrell has created an emotional narrative experience through the occasions when she contemplated death, occasions that included her own childhood encephalitis, near drowning (twice), road traffic accidents (twice), severe perinatal haemorrhage, miscarriage (several), and so on. Perhaps we all have near-misses and are unaware of them – such as walking through the site of a terrorist attack an hour (or two weeks, or two years) before it happened. But the thoughts that arise if we become … Read more...

Scott Stossel – My Age of Anxiety

What is it about these writers with anxiety? How can they make their panic attacks and phobias simultaneously heart-rending and hilariously funny? (Cf Woody Allen, Dr Johnson, Groucho Marx, Matt Haig, etc. etc. etc.)

My Age of Anxiety is at once the riveting personal story of an American writer’s life-long encounters with psychiatrists, counsellors, and psychotropic drugs of all kinds, including a fair amount of family disclosure, and at the same time an intelligent discussion of the history of anxiety disorders and their treatments, and of the nature-nurture debate about their causes. It is authoritative and scholarly, while also being … Read more...

Jeff Bauman – Stronger

People live with amputations. And amputation surgery has been possible for several centuries. They are an unfortunate but common aftermath of road accidents, or military campaigns, or explosions. But rarely do they make a publishable story. Jeff Bauman’s story is an exception. He lost his legs at the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon crowds in 2013. As he tells in his book, he also, in the minutes before the explosion, looked into the face of one of the bombers, and afterwards recognised the abandoned rucksack for what it was. In his hospital bed he worked with an artist to … Read more...

Who do we get our inspiration from?

Modelling matters. The strongest inspiration comes from your peers. So it doesn’t matter what the doctors or physios or nurses say – the person facing a mountain of rehab will never be truly convinced by them. What he or she needs is inspiration. And that often comes from meeting someone who has already travelled the route they are going – and reached a destination. For Jeff Bauman, being a bilateral above knee amputee was bad. Only when he saw soldiers with leg amputations walking into his rehab gym did he really believe that he would walk. Only when he … Read more...

Simon Fitzmaurice – It’s Not Yet Dark

Simon Fitzmaurice is an Irish film-maker. Ruth is his partner, and they have five children. He has MND. Which he calls mnd, putting it in its place. He writes in short sentences – or clauses. Pearls. Not surprising in a film-maker – paring away the extra words and staying with the image. Or is it because he writes through an eye-gaze computer? He can’t afford to do anything that is unnecessary.

It’s Not Yet Dark is full of power and strength. Ironic. It is a poem of joy to be alive. And to know Ruth. And the children. (And films.) … Read more...

Helen Rollason – Life’s Too Short

As a presenter on John Craven’s Newsround and then as a sports journalist and anchorwoman, Helen Rollason was a lively presence on TV screens in the 1990s. But the 1990s already seems a long time ago, and many of the current viewing public may never have seen her. However, her autobiography, written in 1999 as she came towards the end of a two year battle with colon and liver cancer, still has much to say about living with a terminal diagnosis.

Helen was a fighter, and she had to be, originally given only three months to live after a year … Read more...

Ouch – Disability talk

The BBC’s podcast covering all things related to ‘disability’ runs to over 200 episodes since 2007.

There are programmes covering athletes at the Paralympics and comedians with a disability, but there are also programmes on more day-to-day issues like the difficulties of finding shoes to fit, and difficulties with wheelchairs.

Particular programmes deal with specific conditions or experiences, like a cycling injury that leaves Hannah without any English language.

The page for hunting through previous episodes is here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02r6yqw/episodes/downloads

 … Read more...

You, Me, and the Big-C: Putting the Can in Cancer

This podcast series about living with Breast Cancer, is fronted by the trio of Rachael Bland, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon. Sadly, Rachael Bland, a popular and well-respected journalist and presenter on Radio 5 Live, (and mother and partner), died in September 2018.

The podcast covers, in a mix of seriousness and humour, the experience of cancer diagnosis, options for treatment and their side-effects, treatment for different kinds of pain, and other physical aspects of life with cancer. But there are also useful (and entertaining) episodes covering many spheres of life affected by cancer, from finance to family.

The podcast … Read more...

Richard Mabey – Nature Cure

Recovery from a depressive episode is a personal journey, and all such recoveries will vary in both pace and particulars. Often the recovery will require a separation from the threat that was exhausting the mind-body prior to the depression, a separation that enables recovery and recharging of batteries – Sacks’ ‘vegetative retreat’. Richard Mabey’s memoir, Nature Cure, lingers very little on what depression felt like to him, and focusses instead on his first year of living in East Anglia, and the way that engagement with the natural world helped him to recover a sense of self, and of belonging to … Read more...

Jean-Dominique Bauby – The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly

How can we even imagine what it must be like to have Locked-In Syndrome? Unable to move anything, but still completely conscious and aware. The account by Jean-Dominique Bauby challenges us to make the effort to do exactly that.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly comes in several formats and each have their strengths. There is the book which was a sensation when it was first published in 1997 and which has since been translated into many languages. The French feature film was released in 2007 with an amazing performance by Mathieu Amalric. It is clear from this film that … Read more...