Chronic Conditions by Karen Engle

We all take our health for granted every single day of our existence. Tying our shoes, walking to the mailbox, and shopping for groceries are all simple tasks that we complete regularly, and we think nothing of them. Most actions are so automatic that we fail to see their significance. The second we get an ache or a pain, however, we start to notice that even the simplest of tasks can become difficult if not impossible. Imagine that ache persists for more than a few days, then a few weeks and then the next thing you know six months to a year has gone by, your ache has become something much worse, and you find yourself questioning what on earth is wrong with your body.

In Chronic Conditions, Karen Engle takes us on a journey through her experiences living with chronic illness and how it has shaped her world, her way of thinking and the language she uses to describe it.

“She decided to really take a good look at the language which is used to describe pain and illness since every doctor wanted her to describe what she was experiencing.”

Karen Engle has lived in chronic pain her entire life but in 2019, her chronic illness took on a new form. What started as a simple virus ended up transforming into vertigo which held her horizontally bound for months. It was during this time she decided to really take a good look at the language which is used to describe pain and illness since every doctor wanted her to describe what she was experiencing. Since many patients have difficulty describing their physical and mental pain to practitioners, Engle felt that it was time to find words to describe that pain and she sought out what other writers had transcribed on the subject. In this incredibly educational yet moving memoir, Engle explores the definition of the words “pain” and “chronic” and analyses pieces of visual art and literature in this incredibly descriptive reflection on life with chronic illness.

Even though Chronic Conditions is just over one hundred pages in length, the amount of information packed into those pages is immense. Engle did not waste any time getting to the point and once she had an idea, she delved so deep into it that you felt as if you had fallen down a rabbit hole. Her love of art and literature is obvious, and her research skills and interpretations are impeccable.

Chronic Conditions is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to think each paragraph through and revisit sections so that you can fully understand and appreciate this work of art.

In Chronic Conditions, Karen Engle has attempted to explain, express, and normalize what it means to live with chronic pain and illness, and I believe she has done an incredible job at doing so. While parts of this novel may be difficult to understand, I encourage you to take the time needed to completely immerse yourself in each and every word. This story takes you on a journey of discovery, one which will help you better understand and respect those around you who are living with chronic illness.

Karen Engle is a professor of visual culture at the University of Windsor, author of Seeing Ghosts: 9/11 and the Visual Imagination, and co-editor of Feelings of Structure: Explorations in Affect.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McGill-Queen’s University Press (April 15 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0228016746
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0228016748