Sick: A Memoir
By Porochista Khakpour
Harper Perennial, paperback, 256 pages, $15.99, available June 5th
Porochista Khakpour’s memoir, Sick, is an honest, beautifully written look into her struggles with late-stage Lyme disease, including suffering through chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery.
For as long as Porochista can remember, she has been sick, and sadly, most of the time, she didn’t know why. All of her visits to the emergency room and the daily anguish, pain, and lethargy only resulted in one question: how could any one person be so sick?
After enduring several drug addictions, three major hospitalizations, and medical bills of over $100,000 later, she had her diagnosis: late-stage Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in North America and Europe and one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the United States, so much so that now the CDC recognizes more than 300,000 new infections in this country each year.
Celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Yolanda, and Bella Hadid, Richard Gere, and Avril Lavigne have begun to come out about their own struggles with Lyme.
“It is unclear when I got the disease,” Khakpour writes in the introduction to Sick. “Doctors have mostly pinpointed somewhere in the 2006-2009 range, but I’ve had doctors who think I’ve had it since childhood. Although the disease and its complications – including addictions – have defined my life, it is unlikely I will ever know when I contracted it, just as it is unlikely I will ever be rid of it entirely.”
Through many diagnoses and misdiagnoses, overmedication of pharmaceutical drugs and an addiction to benzodiazepines, Porochista reveals the difficulty and complex nature of dealing with the broken American healthcare system.
“To pinpoint this disease, to define it, is something of a labor,” she writes.
Porochista chronicles how difficult it has been living with Lyme disease and its post-traumatic effects, from love affairs to breakups, writing workshops and teaching opportunities.
Porochista’s debut novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, one of the Chicago Tribune‘s Fall’s Best, and the 2007 California Book Award winner in the “First Fiction” category. Her second novel, The Last Illusion, was named a 2014 “Best Book of the Year” by NPR, Kirkus, Buzzfeed, Popmatters, and Electric Literature.
Among her many fellowships is a National Endowment for the Arts award.
Porochista was born in Tehran in 1978, an “infant of the Islamic Revolution and toddler of the Iran-Iraq war.” She is seismically sensitive to global catastrophes, such as the September 11th attacks and Paris terrorist attacks. With a feeling of constantly being out of place, not really sure of where she belongs, her experiences of otherness, marginalism, isolation from her own kin, anti-Middle East prejudice and social class inequities challenge the elusive American dream and form the core of this impressive, timely, and important memoir.
With her evocative reflections of growing up with her financially strapped family on the east side of town from the wealthy Iranian enclaves of Los Angeles, she injects a tenderness into a landscape of trauma.
Porochista’s humprous, self-aware observations about her quirks, relatives, boyfriends, professional colleagues, fellow young writers, and pet dogs add depth and perspective to this deeply personal story.
Sick is a very honest work with an unflitered intimacy she gives to the reader as she confesses how this disease defines and haunts her daily. The result is a naked portrait of a self in its continuous making: deeply confessional, sexy, bold, and exciting to read.
Porochista’s writing pulls you in close and it really connects you to her, proving the universality of the singular.
With Sick, she told her intensely dramatic tale in a candid, illuminating narrative of hope and uncertainty, survival, and transformation, a certain must-read.