I have read and reviewed two previous books by the talented author (and my friend) Toni Bernhard: How To Be Sick and How To Wake Up. The first was about applying the principles of Buddhism to a life of chronic illness, and the second was a more general book – for anyone, not just those chronically ill – about applying Buddhism principles for a happier, more peaceful life. In her third book, How To Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide, Toni once again focuses on those living with chronic illness and pain, with a more general guide, based on her own life and experiences and the wonderful columns, “Turning Straw Into Gold,” that she has written for Psychology Today.
I hardly know where to start because Toni covers so much ground in this incredible book, and there is so much useful information packed into it. Her short, easy-to-read chapters cover every aspect of life with chronic illness or pain, from the benefits of patience to the problems with complaining, from mindfulness techniques to dealing with doctors, and from appreciating what you have to guidelines for your friends and family. Toni’s warm, kind tone runs through it all, interweaving her own experiences with advice for others.
I don’t normally do this in a review, but I really want to give you an idea of the broad scope of this book, so here are the major section titles (each section contains short, useful chapters):
I. Skills to Help with Each Day
II. Mindfulness: Potent Medicine for Easing the Symptoms of Chronic Illness
III. Responding Wisely to Troubling Thoughts and Emotions
IV. Special Challenges
V. Isolation and Loneliness
VI. Enjoy the Life You Have
VII. For Family, Friends, Caregivers, and Anyone Concerned About Chronic Illness
VIII. Last But Not Least
As with her previous two books, my copy was filled with dogged-eared corners by the time I finished reading it! I loved the quotes from others that she includes at the start of each chapter, like this one:
Wisdom is learning what to overlook.
- William James
I could relate to many of her own experiences (which, in itself, always helps – to know you are not alone), and as always, I found her advice to be compassionate, straightforward, and very helpful. Sometimes, I encountered certain topics just when I needed them most, like When You and Those You Love Are in Conflict, and wanted to highlight every line in the section! Here is one example passage:
Understanding a conflict from the other person’s point of view helps you see that a seemingly callous or indifferent reaction to the difficulties in your relationship does not automatically mean that your loved one doesn’t care about you. Instead, it may reflect his or her worries and fears about your medical condition – a reaction that stems from love and concern for you. Understanding this makes it easier not to take your loved one’s behavior personally.
As you can see just from that brief quote, Toni’s approach is always calm and compassionate. As she herself states, “I’ve worked hard to find a measure of peace in the midst of feeling misunderstood,” and she takes that hard-won experience (in this and every other topic) and helps boil it down to basic, simple steps that we can all take to improve our lives and cope better with chronic illness.The wording and look of the cover tell you what you need to know: the emphasis here is on Living Well.
With this mix of personal experience and common-sense advice that you can easily put into practice, Toni’s latest book is my favorite of the three (though the other two are well worth reading, too!). I know I will turn to this book again and again when I go through a rough spot, as I have already, and I’m sure it will be even more helpful for those who are newer to chronic illness. Toni’s advice is always so spot-on, so calm and reassuring and sensible, that my husband recently started joking with me about it. When I get upset over something related to my illness, he looks at me with a smile and says, “What would Toni do?”
331 pages, Wisdom Publications
NOTE: If you, like my son and I, live with chronic illness, check out my chronic illness blog. It covers some topics specific to our illnesses (an immune disorder called ME/CFS and Lyme and other tick infections) but also many topics about emotional coping, joy, and daily life that are relevant for any chronic illness. Like Toni, I take a positive approach to living with chronic illness, with an emphasis on LIVE.