Read an exclusive extract from Poor Little Sick Girls by Ione Gamble

Written by Ione Gamble

This week’s book of the week is Poor Little Sick Girls by Ione Gamble, which explores the reality of being diagnosed with an incurable illness in the time of the productivity-obsessed ‘girl boss’. Read an extract from the first chapter below. 

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the void. Defined by Oxford languages as: noun: a completely empty space, ‘the black void of space’.

A vast emptiness, a concept to describe the incomprehensible. The void has become a catch-all among my generation for the general lack of purpose or feeling of belonging many experience when moving through the universe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I’ve never considered my place in the world, who I am and why I was put on the planet. I’ve read about existentialism; not from philosophers, but from women my age on the internet. I’ve scrolled through relatable viral tweet after relatable viral tweet about the vast emptiness of existence. I’ve even double-tapped a few. But on the whole, as someone who was diagnosed with a chronic illness in their late teens, the void itself has never been something I’ve fully understood or felt.

Growing up in the early age of social media, I was surrounded by my peers, wondering where they fitted in. First through the lens of teen angst and coming-of-age girl rage, filtered through confessional Tumblr posts and autobiographical artwork dealing with the trials and tribulations of growing up. I gazed at my laptop screen as accounts I followed banded together to take on the world’s wrongs, to make sense of the mess that is femininity, and to push against the still restrictive stereotypes projected onto girls both on and off the internet. I admired those around me filling their voids with a sense of community, belonging and purpose. I gorged on the work published by people much more confident than me, unable to fully comprehend their confusion about our reality, but awe- struck by their ability to post their thoughts without fear of judgement.

My generation’s struggle to get a grasp on what our place is doesn’t subside as we enter adulthood. We’re the least likely to own our own house, to marry, or to put down any tangible roots. We’ve had to grow up under right-wing governments who stripped away one by one the benefits experienced by our parents. However, while those around me bathe in uncertainty, I’ve always felt annoyingly sure of who I was meant to be. 

As a child, I would create mental checklists of what my adulthood would look like. I’d carve myself out full careers, choose which university course to study years before I could apply, and work quietly but tirelessly to make sure my future would be the one I expected. Daydreaming about my future self was a far more effective form of escapism than any book, film or other outlet would allow me. I’d plan years of my life well in advance: where I would live, the type of work I would undertake. I spent my teen years convinced that my life would really start if I could just plan my future well enough to make it past growing up.

Ione Gamble is the author of Poor Little Sick Girls

What I didn’t account for in an infancy spent preparing for adulthood was being diagnosed with an incurable illness before I’d even turned twenty. Four months into my first year at university, I was rushed into the acute medical ward of Epsom Hospital following over six months of internal bleeding, weight loss, and a strange habit of fainting at any given moment. After spending the first twenty-four hours in a haze of sedation and confusion, I came to hooked up to a drip of steroids and being spoken to by doctors who provided few answers.

Even when faced with a world-altering medical condition, I remained irritatingly insistent that a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease wouldn’t screw up my plans. During my first hospital stay, I ignored the advice of doctors who urged me to rest, and instead made the astute decision to temporarily discharge myself to attend a seminar at university – despite medical professionals advising me I could very easily die if I did so.

I might have chosen to ignore both my clinicians and my body in favour of attempting to further my education, but in the days that followed, I learned that my health – or lack thereof – would have more of an impact on my life than a 2:1 from a middling university. Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. Little is known about it, but many classify the illness as an autoimmune condition. In short, my digestive system views itself as a foreign object it should attack. Severity of the condition varies, but my symptoms include abdominal pain, low energy, and a general feeling of having no idea what is going on with my bowels. It’s unknown why people contract Crohn’s. It’s not easily pinpointed to one specific trigger; anything from unlucky genes to stress, a food group, lack of sleep or an internal bodily reaction can set the disease in motion.

During the first couple of years of my life as a chronically ill woman, I refused to believe my condition would be any more prominent in my life than a minor inconvenience. Despite hospital stays, medication changes and multiple specialist appointments, despite having to inject myself with immunosuppressants, suffering extreme joint pain and debilitating fatigue, I set about my predetermined plans as if nothing had happened. When approaching life with such extreme denial and tunnel vision, the void seemed further away than ever before.

Poor Little Sick Girls by Ione Gamble (Dialogue Books, £14.95) is published 26 May. 

Images: publisher

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