In The Wounded Storyteller, Arthur W. Frank writes about the Quest Narrative. He says, “Quest stories tell of a searching for alternative ways of being ill.” He writes about this narrative as looking at illness as a journey, not one in which we get better, but one in which we see illness in a different light.
I’m beginning to realize that in my memoir, my journey has been to see the darkness within myself. The darkness of illness, of diabetes. My journey has been about learning to be both good and bad, sick and well, light and dark. I think for so long, I thought I had to keep my disease a secret in order to live a complete life. I never wanted my disease to define me, and wanted so desperately to be like everyone else, that I did my best to pretend it didn’t exist. But in rejecting or hiding or denying my disease, I’ve been denying a part of myself. I’ve been incomplete, less than whole, for a long time. And after 25 years, I’m learning to turn my skin inside out, to bring the dark side out into the light, and it feels pretty good.
Alex Lemon writes about illness and darkness in his memoir, Happy. In an interview with Poets & Writes, Lemon says, “The act of writing Happy, in particular, was also an act of healing.” Lemon knows that “the world is full of positive possibilities, yet the world is also full of unfathomable darkness and ugliness, and (he) sees those things, too, even when they’re inside.”
These ideas get me excited about my memoir because I realize it’s all part of a bigger theme, and I think about classics like Frankenstein and fairy tales like The Beauty and The Beast and Greek Mythology too. I think of Odysseus stuffing his ears with wax so he can’t hear the Sirens, but their voices are too strong. We can’t ignore the things that scare us, because they are the things that make us who we are.
Mine is not a happily ever after illness memoir because I will never get better, I will always have diabetes and there is no cure. But my journey is one of discovery, of accepting what is ugly and scary and different in order to become whole.