Sarah Ramey

Julius Schlosburg

The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness

Published by Doubleday

From The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness:

I returned to college under a heavy and invisible blanket of illness. I carried my portable IV antibiotics with me in a cooler, and my roommates sat with me in rocking chairs while I shot liquid antibiotics into my arm.

I rolled between classes and bed and back to classes like a wet log, waking with a start to find I had been dead asleep, face first on my desk in a class called The Amazing Brain.

Now my health was a trickster, a shape-shifter, a shroud, a mist.

Now my symptoms were vague and diffuse, tapping me on the shoulder only to dematerialize every time I turned around.

I’m not anti-therapy or anti‑antidepressant – I have adored certain therapists and know many people who have been helped by antidepressants.  And I’m not saying I wasn’t emotional or at times very sad. Of course I was. I had a hideous disease. But the notion that antidepressants should be the only course of medical treatment available to me – the idea that my sadness would drive me to misperceive or make up something so... elaborate (not to mention humiliating) (not to mention rectal) as a cry for help – well, this was quite a shock.

Mostly, it just didn’t stand to reason.  Even if no one believed me about the aching and the itching and the pelvic pain, which, I get it, you can’t see on a scan or under the microscope, there was still hard evidence of something wrong.  The fevers. The soccer-ball stomach. The labia. The furry tongue.

It didn’t matter.

In the end, I caved and even my parents – both doctors --  got on board.  With my consent, my father was the one to write me my first prescription for Paxil. 

A memoir with a mission: to help the millions of (mostly) women who suffer from unnamed or misunderstood conditions, including autoimmune illnesses, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, chronic Lyme disease, and more.

Sarah Ramey is a writer and musician (known as Wolf Larsen) living in Washington, DC.  She graduated from Bowdoin College in 2003, received an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia in 2007, and worked on President Obama's 2008 campaign.

The grant jury: Unabashedly a book with a purpose, The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness debunks corrosive myths of female hypochondria—but what makes this project crackle is its dexterity of imagination and distinctive voice, its punchy, rhythmic, robust prose. It is impossible to pigeonhole such work: this is a capacious, ludic memoir and also an acutely mordant commentary on society’s inability to see illness in plain sight. Ramey has done her homework, some of it unwillingly; drawing on her own vast medical files and navigating their obliquities is a crucial part of her project. Once finished, her book will be pressed into service among communities of readers who’ve seen their physical suffering chalked up to mental states—with a prescription for the latter swiftly following. It will spark a literary discussion about the role wit, play, and irreverence can have in narratives of sickness and recovery.