This book touched me on a deeply personal level, and I had to process it for a little while before writing about it. Anna Lyndsey’s amazing memoir is about her experience of a rare and unexplained physical condition that leaves her unable to be in the presence of light—not just sunlight, but soft lamps, LED screens, everything. She can’t even go to a doctor’s office. At first, I couldn’t imagine what this would be like, but her memoir describes her feelings and practical limitations with incredible detail. I was blown away by both the writing and Lyndsey’s keen insights into chronic illness and depression. This receives 5/5 stars from me!
One of the main reasons to recommend this memoir is Lyndsey’s ability to speak about her completely life-altering struggle with such eloquence, such candor, and such vulnerability. As someone who lives with chronic illness, I had many moments of, “Yes—that’s exactly what that feels like!” while reading this book. However, this is not to say that this book is all inspirational “a-ha” moments. There’s plenty of emotional turmoil here, too, and she doesn’t shy away from sharing those thoughts. Her struggle is real every step of the way—and real again after every setback.
“I am the prisoner only of my skin. Would I could claw that traitorous membrane from my bones.”
When Lyndsey’s skin comes into contact with light at the height of her illness, it literally blisters, and she is in excruciating pain for days. But thankfully she is not alone in her isolation. She has a boyfriend/eventual husband who loves her deeply and walks with her through everything. It is very touching and heartening to witness through words. For most of the time frame covered in this book, Lyndsey spends her days in a completely darkened room with cloth stuffed into the crevices of every window and door. Yet her and her husband still manage to have a meaningful relationship, despite the obstacles and depression her situation entails. This is pretty phenomenal in and of itself.
I found this memoir inspiring even though it contains so much darkness because of the magnitude of Anna’s condition and the way she handles it with strength and grace, particularly as a non-Christian. How does one endure such pain—such isolation—without the belief in the promise of eternal life or in the God who loves you just as you are? At one point, Lyndsey contemplates suicide and decides against it. I cannot imagine living life—particularly her difficult life—without the hope of the Lord, but I really admire Lyndsey for her endurance, her humor, and her choice to live the best life possible day by day.
Upon experiencing a period of remission, Lyndsey writes, “My heart is filled with gratitude and relief. Gratitude that I have been granted another chance. Relief that my worst fear, the fear of permanence, has yet again been proved unfounded.” This is the quintessential fear for so many with chronic illness—the inability to think beyond this moment, the belief that things will not get better. I love that she addressed this outright. It is such a silent, hushed thing—but it is a very real and important thing to talk about, too. I think she expressed it beautifully.
From her sense of self-loss due to periods of isolation to her humorous recitation of the ABCs of chronic illness, I strongly identify with Anna Lyndsey and various aspects of her experience. We are, as another famous Anne once said, “kindred spirits,” I think. Like me, Lyndsey is a booklover. She spends a great deal of her time listening to audiobooks. She speaks very positively about literature, saying, “I can, in my darkness, live so many different lives.” These brief forays into her literary life and the playful “Games to Play in the Dark” sections are the lightest parts of the book. Most of the games have something to do with words. These brief, engaging sections successfully break up the narrative; it was an excellent choice made by Lyndsey.
I was saddened to learn that Lyndsey’s illness continues in its intensity as of the writing of this book. But that is, alas, the nature of chronic ailments. I’ll leave you with the same hopeful words she closes her memoir with:
“Joy lurks in every mundane thing—just waiting to be found. Love is impervious to reason, and words are wonderful.”