Backbone: A Memoir – Karen Duffy

“Pain is intensified from trying to control the uncontrollable. Acceptance and resilience have made me stronger.”

This is a quote from Backbone: A Memoir but these two sentences alone epitomise my own experience with chronic pain.

Karen Duffy’s book is part memoir, part how-to guide for living with chronic pain, part lesson in philosophy and etymology, part ‘do you know this quote or cool fact?’, and part funny anecdote. I wound up loving the etymology and the information about philosophy in Karen’s book. I’m always on the prowl for new areas of interest to learn about and I can now add Stoicism to my list.

Having lived in chronic pain world myself for 7.5 years, I’ve read the books, become an expert at timetabling my medication regime, done the breathing techniques and the mindfulness, and honed my patience while waiting for specialists at the hospital. My social interactions mostly consist of doctor’s appointments, and all of the receptionists and pharmacists know me by name. I was the woman that upon stepping into my first pain management appointment and being told the name of the book their treatment plan was solely based on responded by listing what I’d implemented in my life as a result of my reading said book and gave a critique of what was unhelpful.

While I don’t have the same condition as Karen, haven’t lived with chronic pain for even half of the time that she has and doubt I understand the level of pain she lives with, I do know chronic pain. Because I have read the books, medical journals and news articles, Karen’s prescription for pain management wasn’t revolutionary. She covered a lot of the usual techniques – exercise, self care, medication, trips to the doctor and hospital, managing your symptoms, managing your friendships.

What Karen adds that was refreshing is an authority that I find lacking from even the most respected works on chronic pain. Because she’s lived it you can’t very well dismiss what she’s saying with a “Sure, that’s the theory but would you be asking that of me if you understood the pain I face every day?” or “How can I apply that to my life?” because she’s been there, done that, and has the practical examples of how she’s applied it right there in black and white. I don’t know about you but I find it much easier to hear someone who has lived what they’re describing. Karen also understands too well the isolation and uncertainty that come with chronic illness, something textbooks don’t deal with well, if at all.

Karen’s writing style is engaging and I felt like I was chatting with a friend, albeit one who couldn’t hear my responses. I initially found the lack of fluidity between chapters somewhat off-putting and the plethora of quotes distracting but I got used to both. While there were some things said in humour that I didn’t find funny, there was a lot that I related to and found really funny. The quirkier the story, the more I appreciated it. The descriptions of the fun medically based gifts she’s given her neurologist were priceless and I can only imagine that her doctors love having her as a patient, with her optimism and ‘will find a way around the problem’ attitude.

While I admire Karen’s resilience, optimism and penchant for making the best out of a truly awful situation, I equally respected that she is authentic in giving her readers a peek inside what bad days look like as well. What I got from this book above everything else was acceptance, hope and encouragement. One of the hardest things initially about living with chronic pain is the chronic part. While it may fluctuate in severity (even within the same day), chances are you may have it for the rest of your life, and that is an extremely difficult concept for you, your family and friends to accept.

What Karen gave me while reading is encouragement to do the best I can each day. Her attitude of focusing on what she has instead of what she hasn’t and her gratitude is a gentle nudge in the direction I’m trying to keep steering towards. Above all, the “me, too” moments reminded me that although I don’t see many people because I spend most of my time inside the house, I’m not alone and the comfort of that knowledge is everything when you’re surrounded by people who, as a specialist (not mine) told me last week, run rings around you.

I expect this book will be helpful to different people at different stages of their life with chronic pain. Some will read this book soon after their diagnosis and learn vital tools to help them manage their new normal. Had I read this book early on its overall positivity would’ve made me want to hurl it across the room. However, 7.5 years later I read it with appreciation for Karen’s experience and how well she deals with it.

I found I was able to reflect on how I used to deal with my pain (hint: not well at all) and realise that I’ve come further than I realised. I fought against chronic pain for years, pushing myself so hard to try to maintain the life I had before that eventually it all came crashing down around me and I wound up in the worst shape I’ve ever been in in my life. Once I finally learned to accept it for what it is, the pain didn’t magically fade away, but it became so much easier to coexist with.

I’ve been living with the ‘do your best at any given moment’ motto for a few years now but I was encouraged to continue doing that and to look for ways I can help others and to be a better advocate for my health. I am inspired by all of the ways that Karen finds opportunities to be a giver in life.

I adored the idea of your primary doctor being your ‘team captain’. My whole medical team are unbelievably caring, compassionate and resourceful, and go above and beyond all the time for me. I don’t know what I’d do without any of them. It took 1.5 years to find the right team captain for me but they are absolutely incredible and because that’s just who they are, I don’t even know if they realise how extraordinary they are. I had already been mentally writing letters of thanks to my superhero medical support team but Karen’s example has given me the courage to decide to finally put pen to paper.

My favourite sentence in this book is

“My Kindle is my electronic opiate.”

My second favourite sentence in this book is

“Researchers at the University of Liverpool have noted that reading has similar effects to the brain as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”

I could’ve told them that if only they’d asked me but knowing the benefits of reading in relation to chronic pain is being studied makes my book nerd heart sing. I look forward to adding reading to my list of pain management techniques I rattle off to doctors when asked and citing this study if queried.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Over one-third of the United States population – nearly one hundred million Americans – is currently living with chronic pain, while another 133 million Americans live with some form of chronic illness. Half of the United States population suffers from these invisible illnesses where their symptoms are not always obvious to the casual observer. Among them is Karen Duffy, New York Times bestselling author, former MTV DJ, Revlon model, and actress: she suffers from sarcoidosis, a disorder that causes the growth of inflammatory cells on different organs of the body. In her case, her sarcoidosis is located in her brain, causing her unimaginable pain. For two decades, Duffy has managed to live a full life, despite living in a state of constant pain. In Backbone, a powerful, inspirational, funny, and important manual for surviving pain, Duffy draws on her experience as a patient advocate, trained recreational therapist, and hospice chaplain to illuminate gratifying methods people can use to cope with chronic pain. Backbone is for the massive population of sufferers who are eager to be understood and helped and sends the message that despite the pain, there is a way to seek a good life.

The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World – Jenn Granneman

Not to brag or anything but my platinum Introvert membership card was recently upgraded to diamond status by scoring 100% on Jenn Granneman’s signs I may be an introvert. You’re more than welcome to join our club. We meet in a quiet coffee shop that’s closed to the general public during our meeting once every blue moon when all three of the people of our offshoot of the organisation hasn’t already had too many meetings or been peopled out that week. Actually, you’re more likely to find us at home reading or Netflix and chilling (although chances are we are really binge watching and relaxing) and texting you.

Famous introverts are listed in this book and include J.K. Rowling, Felicia Day, Audrey Hepburn, Dr Seuss, Ernest Hemingway and Steve Wozniak, so if you’ve ever had introvert shame, throw it off and know you’re in excellent company. If you’re not sure if you are an introvert, some of the following may be signs that you are:

“You do your best thinking when you’re alone”

“You often feel lonelier in a crowd than when you’re alone”

“You’re better at writing your thoughts than speaking them”

“You avoid small talk whenever possible”.

If you’re not an introvert yourself then I’m sure you know one. We’re the blur you see escaping social events after our social meter maxes out. We’re the ones who will be incredibly passionate and talk with you at length if you’ve managed to navigate your way through the labyrinth, cross the disintegrating rope bridge suspended above the lava lake and scale the mountain past the dragons to reach our inner core of trust. If you’ll failed to make your way into our inner friendship sanctum then we will most likely struggle to provide a coherent one word answer to your questions. Or maybe that’s just me??

Jenn’s message to the world is that it’s okay to be an introvert. I’ve personally celebrated my introvertism introvertness superstar introvert powers for many years, despite the extrovert evangelists surrounding me telling me I wasn’t good enough, chatty enough, smiley enough, basically any kind of enough. Seriously, they were actual evangelists, pastors even, who loved to tell me in great detail how much I sucked because I didn’t fit their mould. Needless to say, they’re happily hanging out in their mould and I broke away from their abuse abuse (yep, claiming it for what it was) and I’ve never been more at peace with myself than I am now. I definitely don’t see horns on every extrovert’s head. This is just an example of what doesn’t work if you’re an extrovert trying not so subtly to convert an introvert.

In The Secret Lives of Introverts Jenn Granneman takes us on a journey into the minds of introverts everywhere and shines a light on what makes us tick; in our mind, in the workplace, as lovers and friends. We learn that we are even different to extroverts on a neurochemical level. Common misconceptions are myth busted, our strengths are celebrated, and we’re taught how to turn our weaknesses into attributes that work for, not against, us. Yet this book isn’t just aimed at introverts. There are specific sections throughout the book that explain to extroverts why we behave in ways that often baffle them and how they can champion and understand us.

I’m one of those people who practically hiss when labels are thrown about but in this book the introvert/extrovert labels are used to explain, not condemn, and it’s made clear that we all sit along a spectrum. No one is completely one or the other. Carl Jung is quoted in the book as saying,

“Such a person would be in a lunatic asylum.”

My main complaint with this book was that I got sick of hearing about Introvert, Dear, the author’s blog/online publishing platform. I would have much preferred for there to be a disclaimer at the beginning of the book saying that all quotes, mentions of articles and surveys were from this source unless otherwise stated.

Instead it sometimes felt like I was going to read somewhere on each page, “in an Introvert, Dear article” and it started to bug me so much that it got to a point where I wondered whether it would have been more useful for me to visit there to pick and choose articles and areas of interest rather than read the book. I got over my annoyance and decided to make it a game instead, like Where’s Wally? except it was Where’s Introvert, Dear? Perhaps I should have made a rule that allowed me to have a piece of chocolate each time I found the magic words … 🍫🍫🍫

I found there were some chapters that didn’t relate to me or no longer do and it seemed sometimes that the book was aimed at people who are working or in a serious relationship for the first time. However, even the chapters that didn’t personally apply to me still held my interest. I’m a sucker for books referenced in other books so I loved that and now have a list of follow up reads to explore.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Skyhorse Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An introvert guide and manifesto for all the quiet ones – and the people who love them.

Is there a hidden part of you that no one else sees? Do you have a vivid inner world of thoughts and emotions that your peers and loved ones can’t seem to access? Have you ever been told you’re too “quiet,” “shy,” “boring,” or “awkward”? Are your habits and comfort zones questioned by a society that doesn’t seem to get the real you? If so, you might be an introvert.

On behalf of those who have long been misunderstood, rejected, or ignored, fellow introvert Jenn Granneman writes a compassionate vindication – exploring, discovering, and celebrating the secret inner world of introverts that, only until recently, has begun to peek out and emerge into the larger social narrative. Drawing from scientific research, in-depth interviews with experts and other introverts, and her personal story, Granneman reveals the clockwork behind the introvert’s mind – and why so many people get it wrong initially.

Whether you are a bona fide introvert, an extrovert anxious to learn how we tick, or a curious ambivert, these revelations will answer the questions you’ve always had:

• What’s going on when introverts go quiet?
• What do introvert lovers need to flourish in a relationship?
• How can introverts find their own brand of fulfillment in the workplace?
• Do introverts really have a lot to say – and how do we draw it out?
• How can introverts mine their rich inner worlds of creativity and insight?
• Why might introverts party on a Friday night but stay home alone all Saturday?
• How can introverts speak out to defend their needs?

With other myths debunked and truths revealed, The Secret Lives of Introverts is an empowering manifesto that guides you toward owning your introversion by working with your nature, rather than against it, in a world where you deserve to be heard.