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Sick

A Memoir

In the tradition of Brain on Fire and Darkness Visible, an honest, beautifully rendered memoir of chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery that details author Porochista Khakpour’s struggles with late-stage Lyme disease.

For as long as writer Porochista Khakpour can remember, she has been sick. For most of that time, she didn’t know why. All of her trips to the ER and her daily anguish, pain, and lethargy only ever resulted in one question: How could any one person be this sick? Several drug addictions, three major hospitalizations, and over $100,000 later, she finally had a diagnosis: late-stage Lyme disease.

Sick is Khakpour’s arduous, emotional journey—as a woman, a writer, and a lifelong sufferer of undiagnosed health problems—through the chronic illness that perpetually left her a victim of anxiety, living a life stymied by an unknown condition.

Divided by settings, Khakpour guides the reader through her illness by way of the locations that changed her course—New York, LA, New Mexico, and Germany—as she meditates on both the physical and psychological impacts of uncertainty, and the eventual challenge of accepting the diagnosis she had searched for over the course of her adult life. With candor and grace, she examines her subsequent struggles with mental illness, her addiction to the benzodiazepines prescribed by her psychiatrists, and her ever-deteriorating physical health.

A story about survival, pain, and transformation, Sick is a candid, illuminating narrative of hope and uncertainty, boldly examining the deep impact of illness on one woman’s life.

 

PRAISE FOR Sick

“Porochista Khakpour’s powerful memoir, Sick, reads like a mystery and a reckoning with a love song at its core. Humane, searching, and unapologetic, Sick is about the thin lines and vast distances between illness and wellness, healing and suffering, the body and the self. Khakpour takes us all the way in on her struggle toward health with an intelligence and intimacy that moved, informed, and astonished me.”
— Cheryl Strayed, New York Times bestselling author of Wild

 

“Sickness, in the world and in the body, is an attempt to flatten the individual, to make it conform to an inflexible name. Porochista Khakpour resists this on every page. Her writing is first of all vibrant, humming, strong, tall, striding. It powers through paper frailties. Survival, she reminds us at the end of Sick, can be an act of the imagination: it is the courage to insist on seeing yourself decades in the future, climbing a mountain, squinting into the sun, sitting down at the desk to write what happened.”
— Patricia Lockwood, author of Priestdaddy, named one of the 10 best books of 2017 by the New York Times

 

Sick is a riveting plunge into the most profound mysteries of mind and body—the haunted labyrinths of addiction; a chronic illness that mightily resists answers; and, ultimately, a diagnosis that proves just as confounding: late-stage Lyme disease. As Porochista Khakpour works to uncover the roots of the maladies upending her physical and mental health, she raises vital questions that challenge the common perceptions around illness and treatment and recovery. Miraculously, Sick emerges as a force of life.”
— Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel

 

“This is a story of towering frustrations written so beautifully that through the weird alchemy of art it ends up lifting the reader’s spirits. You read these elegant sentences and get the elusive click that you get in the presence of the real thing. To the list of brilliant fiction writers penning timeless memoirs—Nabokov, McBride, Wright, Styron, Ward, Gay, both Wolffs, to name a few—we now indelibly add the name Khakpour. Khakpour battles a disease that attacks the quality of one’s life in every way, but perhaps the most poignant element here is the world’s lack of faith in her affliction, so that she faces the double indignity of fighting a fearsome foe on the one hand and arguing for its potency on the other. This is a gripping, moving, thoughtful meditation written at the highest levels of narrative engagement.”
— Matthew Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves

 

“This is a book that throws me into the time of my own being. I experience Porochista Khakpour’s Sick as an act of radical friendship because nobody should know this much about anybody else unless they love each other and this book, so quotable and well-phrased at absolutely the worst of moments, and there is a lot of ‘worst’ here — because this is a book of physical suffering, is  stalwartly framed by love — of family and friends  and sex and all kinds of partnership as the activist bedrock of health, and finally love of the city too. Born in Tehran, Iranian American author Porochista Khakpour habitually picks New York City as her sanity and her chosen rite of return. Thrumming, diaristic, unabashedly wild and homeless-feeling, Sick is something gut-wrenching and new, a  globally intimate book.”
— Eileen Myles, author of Afterglow

 

“This memoir is not your traditional illness narrative. Porochista Khakpour threads together a startling tapestry of stories about a young woman seeking place — in the America she flees to as a refugee of Iran, in a medical system that offers her no answers, in the empty promises of pill bottles and dangerous lovers, and ultimately, in the body. Electric, daring and staggeringly honest, Khakpour’s writing takes us to the very edges of what it means to be alive.”
— Suleika Jaouad, author of the New York Times “Life, Interrupted” column and video series

 

Sick stages on the page what is at stake for a body under endless siege from addiction, illness, trauma, dislocation and dispossession. The questions emerging from this body story challenge ideas about identity and the too-easy logic of sickness and health, as well as the bi-cultural boundaries of being. What does it mean to be alive inside a raging body? By sharing her body story, Porochista Khakpour gives the reader a profoundly generous gift: an unflinching narrative of the deep desire to live. Sick is a triumph of the imagination as she holds her heart out to you.”
— Lidia Yuknavitch, National Bestselling author of The Book of Joan

 

“Readers, writers, and sick people all crave origin stories, and Khakpour tries to serve one up: the first bad decision, the first bad boyfriend, the first childhood trauma? A tick bite in California? Pennsylvania? New York? Which came first, addiction or infection? Then she shows us the oceanic mess that is chronic illness, a story without a clear origin or a neat arc, and we see how it becomes an ongoing presence — not a narrative at all. We are forced to consider what it must be like to live like this, to leave aside all our illusions of fairness, logic, and control. What a gift.”
— Sarah Manguso, author of 300 Arguments