Good, though trigger warnings for some ME patients
In brief: good, but some important caveats and potential trigger warnings for some ME patients.
Through the Shadowlands is a fascinating memoir, with a compelling story, nuggets of wisdom, and a thorough survey of the scientific research around ME and mould- based illnesses. It is a science-writer’s personal story of contracting ME – (myalgic encephalomyelitis, labelled as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the US), and how she made a good, though not full, recovery via extreme mould avoidance and psychological ‘brain retraining’. It also covers her troubled upbringing and how her chronic illness impacts on her relationships. (It’s written intelligently but informally, which makes for plenty of swearing, for those who find swearing difficult.)
Rehmeyer approaches her chronic illness with enviable resilience. As a scientist she resolved to view her disease with ‘curiosity’, rather than fear; as a highly-intuitive person, she also approaches her limitations with a non-religious loosely-theistic spirituality. For the first ten chapters, where she describes her descent into ever-worsening ME, and simultaneously tells of the highly politicised history of the illness, I wanted to give her a standing ovation.
Is it a good book for long-term ME patients like me, who have tried All The Things, and have been wearied by so much disbelief of our illness and people pushing miracle cures? My answer is yes, but with some caveats. If someone reads it carelessly, looking either for a miracle cure, or a reason to think ME is a psychosomatic illness caused by childhood trauma, they might find ammunition here: some of the mould avoidance and consulting-with-a-psychic episodes initially sound, as Rehmeyer herself admits, ‘whacko’. There was one part I found triggering, and almost wanted to stop reading – and for those still feeling raw from the trauma of having their neurological illness shunted into the psychiatric sphere, this may be too hard to read right now.
But I’m glad I read to the end, because if you absorb her thoughtful commentary throughout, she explains clearly that her story should not be seen as the single narrative of the ME experience. Although mould avoidance and psychiatric techniques have been significant for her, she puts both theories in scientific context, openly acknowledging the weaknesses as well as the strengths in any theory, and making clear that there are plenty of other ME patients who have open-mindedly tried these therapies without success. (Her epilogue is important for this.)
*I received a copy from the author, with an invitation for an honest review, which this is.*