Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir by Meredith O'Brien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
About losing one’s life as it was once imagined, and the ultimate, uneasy peace that’s achieved with the permanent uncertainty which accompanies living with a chronic illness.
It begins with numbness on her left leg. Then it spreads. Even though an MRI finds a “mass” on her brainstem, it takes two more years for Meredith O’Brien to learn what is causing that numbness. Months after her 65-year-old mother dies from a fast-moving cancer, weeks after her father is hospitalized and she experiences an unexpected job change, she learns she has multiple sclerosis.
Suddenly, Meredith, a married mother of three teens, has to figure out how to move forward into a life she no longer recognizes.
Reimagining her life as a writer and an educator, as a mother and a spouse, she has to adjust to the restrictions MS imposes on her.
It is a life, altered.
Wow, this memoir--it's just... wow.
I've had my eye on Uncomfortably Numb for quite a while. Back when I was researching medical memoirs (sometime around October 2019), this one was recommended to me. And I was just so excited to read it.
Fast forward to March 2020, and what with the Covid-19 outbreak, I decided to set up #BookPartyChat on Twitter, to celebrate the releases of books where events had been cancelled. And when Meredith O'Brien, author of Uncomfortably Numb, got in touch, I was so happy. Talking to her for an hour about this memoir was a dream come true!
A couple of days before our interview, I started this memoir. And I just couldn't read it fast enough.
It tells Meredith's story as she develops alarming symptoms and is later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
I'll admit, I didn't know much about MS before reading this memoir. Everything I did know was either on a super basic level or based on media portrayal, which isn't always that great (and is something I've written on before). Uncomfortably Numb taught me so much about what MS is--or at least what it is for Meredith. Of course, like many chronic illnesses, it's so individual and dependent on the person.
At times, this book was quite a tough read. It was harrowing in places. And I saw myself--as a chronic illness sufferer--in these pages so much. Especially when Meredith talks about how doctors didn't believe her, wrote her symptoms off as anxiety, and refused to take her seriously at times. Meredith also examines how females often aren't taken seriously by medical professionals--another thing I've encountered myself. Thus, while I do not have MS, this memoir has so many relatable moments.
It's also not just about MS. We get a glimpse into Meredith's wider life and other events going on during this time (after all, illness isn't an isolated incident--it affects everything). This book covers her mother's death, her teaching at university, her experiences as a grad student, and the publication of a book. We get to know her husband and children, her friends and colleagues. And everything just feels so real.
The writing craft itself in this book is really good too. Stylistically, Meredith's writing flows and just demands to be read. I've read quite a few medical memoirs, but I have to say, I think this is one of the best, and I'll be recommending it for years to come.
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