I’m of the mindset that if you’re a woman and you’re talking about a health condition you’re facing, it’s legit. See, I’m not saying men don’t get sick. I’m just saying that women, cis and trans, have a ton more stuff to deal with when it comes to our bodies than (cis) men. We’ve had to deal with monthly visitors or constant scrutiny about the correct way/s to be in our bodies our whole lives. So, when a woman talks about health stuff, I listen. If the health concerns have gotten to the point where a woman is talking about them, I believe. I also believe it’s probably even worse than she says it is. Which is where this book recommendation comes in.
Lessons in Taxidermy by Bee Lavender is an autobiographical account of all the disabling health issues (cancer, mysterious illnesses, car accidents) Lavender faced throughout her life – but it’s no woe-is-me story, which is why it’s so great. It’s a matter-of-fact recounting of what her body has done to itself and to her, without romanticizing. It’s the pus and blood that I miss when I read memoirs about illness. There are no fainting couches in this true-life tale. (But sometimes I felt like I needed one – that, or a Xanax.)
What’s even better about this book is that Lavender herself is aware of the trope of the noble sick woman and refuses to tell her story that way. She doesn’t have the privilege of being cared for by others who are working hard and still struggling to cover the costs of her medical care, so she takes care of herself. She shows her ugly parts, too, and the ugly parts of where she grew up. It’s empowering to hear the dyed hair, thrift-store version that doesn’t descend into all the stereotypes those things connote. There are no manic pixie dream girls in this book. Just family, chosen and otherwise, and how everything can come together even when you fall apart.
Don’t be mistaken: Lessons in Taxidermy is not for the faint of heart. I had to take breaks and go stare at myself in my bathroom mirror while thinking, “I am okay, I am okay, I am okay.” My already palpable daily anxiety increased with every new affliction outlined in the book. I hugged my family. Hard. Which is absolutely, definitely the whole point of the book: live the way you can with what you have. There is nothing else that matters.
Excuse me while I sob the tears of joy and empathy at being well, right now. Well enough to write this. Well enough to know what it’s like not to be.
Jenny Rose Ryan is a writer, editor, marathoner, mother, gardener, baker, do-er, who waits for the first day she can hang the sheets on the line. Her work has appeared in BUST, Bitch, XOJane, and some other places she can’t remember right now. She’s trying to get back into writing poetry and has abandoned all public social media.