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We don’t often think of health as a privilege. For most of us, it’s a right, a comfort to fall back into at the end of a prolonged bad spell or an awful sprain. In our self-imposed ignorance, we forget that for so many others, a concept of health structured around productivity is harmfully unrealistic.
In Super Sick: Making Peace with Chronic Illness, Allison Alexander slashes through the preconceptions of a society where manifold human experiences are often underrepresented in favor of pushing universal concepts of health, beauty, and success.
Using examples from pop culture, the author shares her life experience with chronic illness, alongside candid insights of other spoonies or people who live closely with chronic illness through their family.
Above all, Super Sick is a story strength, resilience, and what it means to be human, bringing a myriad of powerful voices together in an account of the road to acceptance.
From IT Crowd to My Hero Academia, Allison draws on our love for pop-culture and her relatable humor to write a gripping story that is equal parts artful and incisive. No reality of living with an incurable illness is glossed over, making this book an emotional read, that, I believe, could not have been written any other way. In its core, it’s a friendly hand to anyone living with chronic illness, a testimony on how you’re not alone.
I absolutely loved this very clever book.
Ps. Thank you, Allison and Mythos & Ink for the e-copy of the book!
It was impossible to read Super Sick: Making Peace with Chronic Illness, without coming out of the other side with a completely remodeled awareness of health and spoonie life. The book brings forth many issues in not only society as a whole, but our individual interactions with both family and strangers.
The impact of choice in everyday life — The Spoon Theory
Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory is a metaphorical experiment on what it means to make choices as someone chronically ill. For healthy people, everyday tasks such as preparing meals or even getting out of bed are not exactly carefully considered choices. You have to eat, so you do. You have to brush your teeth, so you do. For people with chronic illness though, those choices can equate to having limited assortment of spoons to use, in that every action takes its toll, and your spoons are limited. Actions healthy people take for granted, like walking your dog, can expend a great number of spoons for those for whom doing something can come at the expense of forgoing something else. The littlest unimportance to some is the greatest effort to many.
The importance of redefining success
Allison touches on this subject in her book, talking about how success can affect spoonie everyday life. In our society, success is defined as productivity, how many tasks you’ve completed in a day, how many words you have written,… Yet picking up on Christine’s Spoon Theory, sometimes success can be defined as simply managing your spoons. We need to accept success as the personal concept it is meant to be, and not the economic-fuel necessity it has grown to become.
Health is not the universal foundation of life
Small things like asking someone “Are you feeling better?” may seem harmless, but hearing this when you’re a spoonie can create a source of anxiety. How do you answer when you know you’re not going to get better? When pain is a constant reality? Just because someone doesn’t look sick (a physical prejudice that is passed on through romanticized Hollywood movies, where sickness doesn’t mean you can’t have great hair) doesn’t mean they are not suffering. Take other people’s pain seriously, don’t assume on appearances, and try asking “How are you now/today?”
Superheroes are sick
There is strength in overcoming pain, but reading Super Sick makes you realize how much raw strength and fortitude there is in living with pain. Treating pain as an obstacle to be overcome is the mainstream in superhero stories, yet Super Sick proves that there is a huge gap in pop culture that could be filled with spoonie superhero stories, where acceptance or management of pain is the necessity. I’m here for it!!
Incurable doesn’t mean worthless
The idea that worth can be measured by health is a harmful and ridiculous notion. Health is not the by all be all paramount of what you can bring into the world. In Super Sick, Allison shares her notion of worth, one I found myself in complete agreement with. It’s a notion based on love, your capacity to give and receive it, to share it, to generate it. You are so much more than your illness, and you have much to offer beyond it.
Emily McDowells make a great gift
When you have an illness that’s never going to go away, “get well soon!” cards (no matter how well-meaning) are nothing but a commodity to the giver. Illustrator Emily McDowell counters universal health sentiment with her witty creations, celebration cards that are hilarious, inclusive, and honestly amazing. You can even order your search “by sentiment”!
In the end, Super Sick: Making Peace with Chronic Illness is a read I reccomend everyone, but especially other spoonies. Allison’s sincere words will help you realize you are not alone.
Stick around to read my interview with Allison!
Allison Alexander is an earthbending Ravenclaw from Hoth who’s more comfortable curling up at home with a video game than venturing out into the wild. As an author, editor, and blogger, Allison aims to make spaces for minority characters in science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture. Also, her favourite character class in Dungeons & Dragons is a bard, so that should tell you everything you need to know about her.
From her home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada—which she shares with her husband, Jordan—Allison writes books, edits novels, and mentors aspiring authors.
Q&A with Allison on her book, chronic illness in society and pop culture media, and future prospects
Hi, Allison. Welcome to the lair, it’s a pleasure to have you here! Can you introduce yourself and your book?
Thank you! I’m so happy to be here! I am a chronically ill, earthbending Ravenclaw from Hoth (a.k.a. Canada). I’m a writer and editor, and I love pie. Yes, we had pie instead of cake at my wedding.
Each chapter of Super Sick is dedicated to a fictional character, and I relate their story to my own experience with chronic illness. I structured the book this way because a) I’m a SFF nerd and fiction plays a big part in my life, and b) representation in fiction matters. I also interview other people with chronic conditions in the book because not everyone’s experience with sickness is the same.
You talk about how pain is shunned in society, an emotion to be vanquished. Most stories focus on overcoming weakness, instead of accepting it. Is that erasure of weakness an idealism that, in trying to be uplifting to a specific group, propagates prejudice?
Most healthy people don’t understand chronic pain, and it is really difficult to comprehend if you haven’t experienced it yourself. They are used to temporary pain—a break, a sprain, a flu, an infection—no matter how bad it feels, there’s still that knowledge that it will heal. But there’s no horizon of healthiness to look forward to for people with chronic illnesses.
Pain is horrible, so it makes sense that we are all about vanquishing it. There should be more stories about learning to live with it, however, because that is reality for many of us. Instead, in fiction, we have many plots revolving around finding a cure, discovering a magical solution, or developing tech that erases a disability. So yes, there is prejudice, and that prejudice most often comes from ignorance. Writers just don’t think about the fact that the person watching the show might be living with a prosthetic leg and not have access to that bionic limb that causes no pain and allows the hero to move and fight just as before. Living with an illness or disability isn’t exactly a “happy” ending, it doesn’t feel like closure—people want their heroes, their friends, their family to be happy and pain-free—which is why many behave in ableist ways without even realizing it.
Reading Super Sick, I further realized how most chronically ill characters in pop culture are never allowed an identity or a journey outside their illness. What is the danger of reducing someone who is chronically ill to their illness, and likewise, to reduce chronically ill people to one storyline?
While my illness is a part of me and sometimes it does engulf my life, it is not my entire identity. I am not just my illness, and to be relegated to one aspect of my identity (an aspect that I have no control over, no less) is dehumanizing. Reducing chronically ill characters to plot devices (i.e. they’re only there to inspire the protagonist or as a problem to be solved), sends a devastating message to the people who suffer from chronic conditions—that we’re not “real” people unless we’re healed.
As someone who second guesses herself constantly as a consequence of mental illness, I think about success a lot. You spoke about success being a mutable notion. How does a person’s chronic illness affect the way they view success and why is it so important that we, as a society, redefine success as a personal viewpoint?
I struggle with this one a lot. I often define success by what a person does. When introducing myself to someone, I usually start with my career: “I’m an author. I’m an editor.” But what about when I don’t have the energy to write or edit. Who am I then? I’m still me, right? Is surviving through the trauma of illness not a success in itself? Our society puts a lot of value on our ability to work and forgets that people are inherently valuable simply by being human. In the book, I argue that it is our ability to love and be loved that gives us value, and those things are not inhibited by illness or disability.
You talked about America, and society’s in general, obsession with health, youth, and beauty. One thing that SFF works focus on is the critique of that very obsession. Do you think the lack of chronically ill characters in these genres is contradictory to that inclination for social commentary? Shouldn’t these be the perfect genres to discuss the existence of chronic illness and explore the reality beyond health?
SFF is very good at social commentary, though there is still an obsession with health, youth, and beauty in movies and TV, particularly. I’m not sure that will ever change, because we like looking at pretty people. (I’m no exception. I’m looking at you, Thor.) I do find British TV incredibly refreshing, however, because they seem less concerned with the appearance of their actors and more interested in their acting ability.
SFF is slowly finding its footing in regard to chronic illness and disability. I’m hopeful due to the various examples I’ve included in my book. There are still tired tropes happening, but as awareness increases, I want to see better representation increasing as well!
Aside from those mentioned in your book, what are some of your favorites in pop culture?
There are a few characters with chronic illnesses, whom I love, that didn’t make it into the book. But several of them made it into my blog tour! Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica is one of my fictional heroes because she wrestles with cancer while fighting for the survival of the human race. I appreciate Raoden, from Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris, because he brings hope to a community of people suffering from chronic pain. I love Izumi Curtis from Fullmetal Alchemist because she’s badass and sick. And, of course, I’m always looking for more characters to add to this list!
Super Sick was a very insightful and sincere read, and I loved how you weaved your humor into it. Any thoughts of fiction projects in the future?
Thank you so much. I love writing fiction and am currently working on a fantasy novel, in which the protagonist receives a chronic illness along with a magical gift and is considered cursed. Here is the summary I wrote for it:
Cursed thief Tove Panyantha wants nothing more than to quietly survive in a world full of dangerous magic, but when her estranged father goes missing and shadows start chasing her, she’s forced to search for answers. Her hunt leads her to a lost temple at the center of a maelstrom, where she has to decide whether her own life is valuable in a world that tells her otherwise.
I’m looking forward to putting more time into fiction writing this year.
I can’t wait to read it 🙂 Thank you for your time and for chatting with me about your story!
Thank you for having me, Arina! You and your blog are wonderful.
Super Sick: Making Peace with Chronic Illness is available at