Although chronic pain is common, affecting about 100 million people in the U.S, the experience can be incredibly isolating. Patients may not know other people who are living with the same issues and daily life troubles. Reading about the experiences of another person in a memoir or fictional chronic pain books is like visiting with a friend who understands you. The best chronic pain books can possibly even provide insight into the concerns you’re dealing with. We’ve gathered a number of chronic pain books and memoirs, as well as fictional books that deal with the chronic lifestyle. These characters may not live with chronic pain, but they understand what effects chronic illnesses can have on a life.
10 chronic pain memoirs
One of the most challenging things for people with a chronic illness of any kind is the sense of isolation. The feeling that there is no one else who is having the same experience. One way that this can be counteracted is through media. Books, movies, and television that depict characters or tell the true story of people faced with the same challenges can help.
If you’re looking to lose yourself in a riveting tale about how a real-life person found purpose and triumphed over a similar condition to the one you’re living with, you’re in the right place. Here are a few of our favorite memoirs about chronic pain.
1. In The Blink Of An Eye by Mary Jane Gonzales
This memoir penned by Houston, Texas resident Mary Jane Gonzales catalogues her experiences living with chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS).
The condition took her by surprise, rendering the previously fully functional woman completely dependent. RSDS is a disorder that affects the sympathetic nervous system. Primary symptoms include severe chronic pain that may feel like a burning sensation in the arm, finger, or palm of the hand.
The disorder came on suddenly, and making matters worse, neither Gonzales nor her doctors understood the reason why her body was reacting in this painful way.
In The Blink Of An Eye catalogues Gonzales’ journey as she learns to cope with the debilitating disease and the changes it brought.
2. The Body Broken: A Memoir by Lynne Greenberg
This book catalogues author Lynne Greenberg’s journey after she survived a near-deadly car crash at the age of 19. Greenberg’s broken neck healed, leading doctors to claim her a medical miracle. Thinking she had fully healed, Greenberg went on over the next 22 years to build the seemingly perfect life with a satisfying marriage, happy children, lovely home, and dream job as a poetry professor.
Then one morning, horrific pain erupted in Greenberg’s neck, shattering without warning the peaceful life she’d built. This memoir follows Greenberg’s physical and spiritual journey of living with chronic pain.
It catalogues her efforts to navigate a health care system that she says is not well equipped to help chronic pain patients. It also reveals what it’s like to lose a full, satisfying life to the clutches of disease.
Descending into the horrors of drugs and depression, readers follow Greenberg as she faces her demons head on to find a pathway toward healing.
Greenberg shares her soul searching, how she learns to rely on the kindness and strength of her family, and how the beauty of poetry helps her reclaim some sense of a normal life. The memoir tells it all, from shifts in Greenberg’s family and marriage dynamics to work and friendships. It also helps other chronic pain patients know they are not alone in the complex ways they must navigate the world.
3. No, It Is Not In My Head: The Journey Of A Chronic Pain Survivor From Wheelchair To Marathon by Nicole Hemmenway
In this inspiring tale, Nicole Hemmenway traces her journey from near incapacitation from CRPS to a marathon runner. Hemmenway was just a high school senior when she received the diagnosis of CRPS. This is a condition that develops typically after an injury but is related to damage from the central and peripheral nervous system.
Hemmenway pulled two tendons in her right hand after a freak accident, and the injury kicked off an arduous journey over the next nine years to find treatment despite doctors’ messages of doom and gloom. Healthcare providers told Hemmenway the condition was incurable, but the fiery woman refused to believe that she would feel this way for the rest of her life.
CRPS left her with little use of her right arm and no use of her hand. Meanwhile, the pain was so bad that Hemmenway resorted to narcotics just to navigate through the day. Her severe pain often left her bed-ridden or in a wheelchair.
This story traces Hemmenway’s journey as she bucks the medical establishment’s dire predictions and finds treatments that work for her unique body and lifestyle.
4. How I Got My Wiggle Back: A Memoir Of Healing by Anthony Field
In this memoir, author Anthony Field, founder of the Australian children’s musical group The Wiggles, reveals the personal struggle behind the worldly success of The Wiggles’ empire, which sells millions of CDs and DVDs to a preschool audience.
All while business was booming, Field struggled from joint pain and chronic headaches, horrible allergies, and clinical depression. The combination of conditions was perplexing, and Fields attributes the ultimate success of his healing journey to two doctors who discovered their root cause.
The book includes background information about how The Wiggles, which started as a live music entertainment group, gained fame, and then how health problems threatened to derail all of Field’s career success.
The book also contains a health program complete with exercise and nutritional advice for other chronic pain patients looking to feel better.
5. Battle For Grace: A Memoir Of Pain, Redemption, And Impossible Love by Cynthia Toussaint
This inspiring tale takes you inside the life of Cynthia Toussaint, a young woman who was an upcoming ballerina before an injury caused undiagnosed pain that lasted for 13 years. For ten of those years, Toussaint could not leave her bed, and for five she could not speak.
Frustratingly, her HMO believed that she was imagining the debilitating pain, which she later realized was CRPS and fibromyalgia. The story catalogues the resilience of her marriage and the man who stuck by her despite 30 years of turmoil, many of those years spent in unimaginable suffering.
Battle For Grace details how Toussaint overcame the pain and transformed it into something beautiful—she not only challenged HMOs and pharmaceutical companies to prioritize patient care over profit, but she has also become a national chronic pain advocate.
Toussaint has appeared in The New York Times and Newsweek, and on The Discovery Channel, among many other publications and media channels. She lobbied for health care reform in California and founded the non-profit organization For Grace to raise awareness about CRPS.
In Battle For Grace, get to know the story behind his remarkable woman and how she turned her greatest tragedy into her life’s purpose.
Other chronic pain memoirs
Other highly-recommended chronic pain memoirs include:
- Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn’t Go Away by Jennette Fulda
- All in My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable, and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache by Paula Kamen
- A Brain Wider Than the Sky: A Migraine Diary by Andrew Levy
- The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso
- Backbone: Living with Chronic Pain without Turning into One by Karen Duffy
16 fiction books about the chronic life
Books with fictional writing about characters with chronic illness can be a tricky thing. Done well, these books can be difficult to read, as the pain or struggle with disability seems so real as to be almost be unbearable. This list contains classic young adult literature, contemporary “new classics”, and a few titles for adult readers. Many of these title address chronic illnesses like depression and fibromyalgia that many people with chronic pain suffer from.
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (wheelchair