Struggling toward Truth: Porochista Khakpour’s Sick

To be in that cyclical, suspicious, exhausted space. Khakpour presents no angels, no penance, no transcendence. Khakpour dispenses with that. These experiences can’t be untangled from her race and gender. To be sick is to slide between dualities that separate body and mind, health and illness, fact and fiction. From that beginning, fleeing Tehran as a child with her parents, she is on the move. Money changes what it means to be sick in America. “It was the first time that it occurred to me,” she writes, “that wealthy people had such options, how with money you could actually take a stab at life, no matter how bad the odds.” At the writing of this review, she is again forced to crowdfund for the treatments that save her life. “My childhood with ever-fighting parents had been an unhappy one,” she writes, “and I’d lock myself up to write on the weekends, not out of a joy for writing but out of a desperate need to escape.”
Yet as a memoirist, Khakpour is unflinching, not escapist: nakedly honest upon the page, neither hiding nor justifying her choices. In these meditative sections time collapses, and we could be at any point in her life: back before the chapter we just finished, or years ahead. More from this author → Khakpour spends years in and out of hospitals, misdiagnosed, treated for varying ailments that are symptoms of Lyme rather than Lyme itself, routed to psychologists, prescribed drugs that lead her into addiction. The writer’s truth asserts the truth of personal experience, of life, over the truth of simple facts. Aleksandra Burshteyn is a writer and photographer raised in Ukraine, St. And sick people, sick women, especially women of color, are doubted. She is other, both in this country and in her body, as a woman of color in the United States, as a writer. Khakpour’s writing also shreds the flat stereotypes of illness. She is a 2016 Thomas J. Though the book is divided into sequences based on location—from Los Angeles, to New York, to Chicago, to Leipzig, to Santa Fe—it isn’t tethered to them. Studies show that patients of color experience a lower quality of services than their white counterparts; that women’s experiences of pain are minimized and dismissed. She combs through her life for answers, clues, breadcrumbs: Is this when I got sick? Khakpour writes of doctors dismissing her, ignoring her; nurses laughing at her; of being shunted from uncaring specialist to uncaring specialist. She is less concerned with the body’s appearance than with being in the body. Reading this book plunges readers into the embodied, visceral truth of sickness. Is this? “The experience of going for years undiagnosed and then misdiagnosed… can cause considerable trauma,” writes Khakpour, after pulling the reader through the living of that experience. Struggling toward Truth: Porochista Khakpour’s Sick

Reviewed By Aleksandra Burshteyn
June 13th, 2018

Porochista Khakpour’s Sick: A Memoir insists on sickness as an experience that collapses boundaries. Like the bacteria at the root of Lyme disease, this memoir spirals through time, rather than moving in a straight line. Against the projections of doctors, family, and lovers, Khakpour sets down what it is to exist within the space of that encounter, struggling toward the truth of her experience. Her first memories, after all, are of flight; later, writing becomes an escape as well. Watson Fellow and co-leader of a Ukrainian reporting project funded by National Geographic. To be an ill person. She insists on context, as each of her intersecting identities impacts what it means to be ill. Appearance is treated as a window to interiority. “I am a foreigner,” Khakpour writes, “but in ways that go much deeper than I thought, under the epidermis and into the blood cells. “What mainly separates me from healing,” she writes early on, “are financial considerations.” Many years later, after years of doubt, misdiagnoses, expensive medications and hospital stays, finally receiving an answer—Lyme—Khakpour crowdfunds her treatment in 2012. The kaleidoscopic range of Khakpour’s life with illness—how she has grappled with it, and how it has grappled with her—is this memoir’s offering. Suggesting an experience of time less linear than recursive, archipelagic, and textured, the memoir draws readers along the spiral of Khakpour’s experiences. The ill body is not a home: it is pain, a trap. Find her on Twitter: @sashabursh. With what it feels like to be ill. Writing about her drug use, she tells us, “I always wanted that escape, and before I could even escape the body, I realized there were easier ways to escape the mind.” This propensity for drugs begins in college; her desire to escape begins much earlier, as a child. Reading her life in the present, we already know the whodunit of this mystery, but as Khakpour lived it, she did not. Yet the experience of illness lends itself to fiction, to the surreal: it distorts your perception of reality, your trust in your own body. It begins in the narrative present, then leaps back into the past, to the beginning of Khakpour’s life. So often literature about the body—especially women’s bodies—is concerned with how a body looks. In between the places she’s lived, Khakpour sprinkles in “interludes” on appearances, on support, on love, etc. In one of the book’s epigraphs, Virginia Woolf writes, “to look these things squarely in the face would need the courage of a lion tamer.” Khakpour gathers that courage, again and again, as she reaches into the most painful parts of her life, excavates them, and holds them up to the light. Memoir is, among other things, an assertion of truth. Petersburg, and New York. Unlike autobiography, a memoir doesn’t owe its reader totality; it owes it a unifying theme. I have started to consider that I will never be at home, perhaps not even in death.” As Khakpour moves through her life—from college in New York, to graduate school in Maryland and Illinois, to Pennsylvania for work, to Santa Fe for help, and on, and on—with a sense of dislocation inherited from her parents, she always finds herself on the outside of the place she’s in. To write about life, you place yourself, for a while, outside of it: you observe, you document, you set down. The sick are often shown as angelic in their illness; repentant, like somehow, they deserve it; transcendent, like their pain elevates them to a different plane; near-corpses stripped of contact with reality. It fogs clarity and engenders doubt.