Can a person live a flourishing, purpose-filled life in spite of chronic illness and near constant pain? According to author Suzy Szasz, the answer is a resounding, “yes”. Szasz’s book, Lupus. Living With It: Why You Don’t Have To Be Healthy to Be Happy, is written with an enthusiasm for life. Despite her constant battle with the exhausting chronic illness, Lupus, Szasz retains her meaning in life by refusing to become a victim of her disease.
I was initially interested in reading Suzy Szasz’s book because of my fascination with her father, Thomas Szasz. Her father was famous for being a psychiatrist who opposed coercive psychiatric practices and called mental illness a myth. He saw “mental illness” as a metaphor for “problems of living”.
From reading Suzy’s book, I found that she accepts the existentialist challenge of creating meaning for herself, rather than endlessly searching for meaning. She maintains her dignity by refusing to play the victim role. Although she rightly could have accepted such a role given her situation.
Instead of blindly accepting the advice of her physicians, she does research for herself, reading journal articles that she can only halfway understand. At one point, she and her father visit a world-renowned physician who specializes in Lupus. The physician fails to address Suzy as a person (making her out to be a mere object) and tells her to dramatically increase her steroid medication. When her father asks about harmful side effects of the drug, “but doctor, won’t that destroy her bones?”, the specialist glibly responds that her bones are not her concern right now. Rather than accepting the advice, Suzy does her own research and eventually finds a way to keep her disease from flaring up by getting a splenectomy.
The key insight I took away from this stimulating book was to refuse to see yourself as a victim, no matter how tempting it is to do so. Suzy was able to give her life meaning through constantly striving in academics, work, writing, and the refusal to be victimized by a relentless illness. For those of us who still have our health, we should all the more so refuse to be victims of our own making.