How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide
by Toni Bernhard

Wisdom Pr, 2015. ISBN 978-1-614-29263-0.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 10/12/2015

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Body Language

Contrary to what one might assume from the title, How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness is not just for those who live with lingering illness. This crisp, well written book was written from Bernhard's personal point of view—written on a laptop while in her bed. Bernhard does make the assumption that her audience is able to function to some extent. She points out that "we live in culture that repeatedly suggests that, with proper diet and lifestyle changes, no one need be sick and no one need be in pain." Among her numerous examples and suggestion on coping is using the internet to learn as much as possible about the illness, and, then following up by educating caregivers and friends. She emphasizes being honest about how one feels, not only with caregivers and friends, but with oneself. Bernhard found that she pushed herself too far often in the beginning of her illness. She reminds the reader to be conscious about the emotional pain and problems a family caregiver might experience.

A sampling of section headings gives an indication of the broad range of situation covered.

  • Skills to help with each day
  • Mindfulness; potent medicine for easing the symptoms of chronic illness
  • Responding wisely to troubling thoughts and emotions
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Enjoy the life you have
  • For family, friends, caregivers and anyone concerned about chronic illness

There is no doubt, Bernhard says, that there will be times when one feels blue and when one longs for the past life free of pain. She gives us suggestions on how to use mindfulness and other techniques to bring oneself back to being fully present. "Although, I couldn't force my body to get better, I could heal my mind."

Bernhard has raised my consciousness about a possible future for myself, but even more importantly, about friends. A chapter which was very helpful to me is titled, "Oh, No! What the chronically ill hope others won't say." I'm guilty of the following: "You look great." I now know that when speaking to a friend with an on-going illness, it should be followed by, "And, how do you feel?" Physical appearances can be deceiving. For me, a lesson learned.

Bernhard addresses an important issue which occurs not only as we age, but sometimes with young people as well. Because she writes so well and clearly, anyone can learn from How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness.

The author has also written How To Be Sick. Before her illness, she was a law professor. She is a practicing Buddhist and lives in California with her husband. Visit her website.

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