Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Strong at the Broken Places: On Living, Bravely, with Chronic Illness

Strong at the Broken Places.jpgI love this man. Richard Cohen. I love him. His mantra is mine. His hope I cling to. He inspires me.


He tells the story of coping with his multiple sclerosis and colon cancer in his New York Times bestseller, “Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness.” Awhile back, he came out with a fascinating book, “Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, a Chorus of Hope,” profiling five brave persons battling illness. Writes Richard, “These are the faces of illness in America. Do not look away. The characters may surprise you, even shatter a stereotype or two. They are people, not cases, survivors, not victims. Quite simply, they are us. they carry shared resolve, a determination to survive. To flourish.”


I read parts of the book two years ago. I was especially intrigued and awed by Larry Frick’s story. Diagnosed in 1984 with bipolar disorder, he spent much of the mid 80s in and out of mental hospitals. Now he’s a mental health professional (that’s an understatement … he spoke at a White House conference where the first surgeon general’s report on mental health was released). I will have the honor of meeting Larry in person in a few weeks, which is why I pulled out the book again. Upon reading it, I knew that I had to share it with you all. Below I excerpt from Richard’s preface.


We, the injured, are everywhere. We are fast becoming a nation of the sick. The numbers do not lie. Chronic illness has become the silent flood, flowing slowly, steadily under our doors. We tumble in slow-motion from safe ground, twisting and struggling to survive in a cold sea of all that we once were and can be no more.

Chronic conditions attack body and spirit, assaulting the quality of our lives. Some are life-threatening. All are life-altering. Ever so slowly, moment by moment, function and sensation cease. Muscles and nerves malfunction. The body’s processes grow difficult. Our view of ourselves as normal human beings making our way in a neutral world is challenged as, in the eyes of others, we become our illnesses.


Chronic conditions do not resolve themselves. Unlike terminal illnesses, there is no high drama with these diseases. They are not sexy, and are little noticed or understood by an unknowing public that would prefer not to think about them. Those who are hit hard know the frustration of being marginalized, reduced, and pushed to the side by these chilly attitudes. We are handed a cocktail of condescension and a basket of doubts about our limitations. The crisis of confidence that follows can be contagious and soon affects every part of our being.

With chronic illness, every facet of a once-robust life is overtaken and redefined. From the ability to find and hold jobs to the capacity to build and sustain personal relationships, the facts of a sick person’s world change dramatically. The slow slide down carries us, and we lose control.


Still, we go on. We double the effort, for what is the option? Too often, we remain silent. We are a hidden population, invisible except to ourselves and those who love us. When I wrote Blindsided, I felt alienated and isolated. I now know I am not alone. Many travel the same road, and common ground lies beneath our feet.

We have so much at stake and so much to say, but it can take years of battle with our own demons to recognize the power of what we have to offer each other. Nobody will speak for us with the authority we bring to our own stories. Where so many among us find the resolve and the inner strength to rise up and keep going is a mystery to me. That we do serves as pure inspiration…

Hemingway had it right. If the world is not the enemy, neither is it our friend. In the end, no matter who surrounds us, we travel alone. Our friends and loved ones are there, providing an infrastructure of love and support. But courage must be drawn from within. Let the world see us as we see ourselves and have the faith to permit us do it our way.


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  • DellaTerra66

    Thanks so much for this. I’ll buy his book.

  • Diane

    This sounds like a book I need to read. I have a daughter living with
    lupus and its quite a struggle for a young female. I admire her courage and her strength and can only image what she feels inside.

  • carol

    the 2 books by richard cohen seem to be books i want to read. i had a stroke 3 years ago and have to battle everyday living. trying to live on my own is another battl. i do not want to go to a nursing home – too young.but with god’s help, i am getting thru each day.

  • Larry Parker

    One of the best books I have read in a long time. The story of Sarah, battling severe Crohn’s disease bravely, struck a chord (along with that of Larry Frick) long after I read the book.
    Perhaps one day people will realize, thanks to works like Cohen’s, that the heartbreaking day-to-day and life decisions people need to make are almost identical with chronic illness, whether physical or mental.
    (And chronic illness, almost by definition, is ultimately both.)

  • Guadia

    This was an awesome. The author did a wonderful job with the different people that he chose to write about. You want to know these people, even the not so nice ones. I laughed, marveled, cried and felt a little less pittiful after reading this.

  • justaman

    From my own experience, I can say this man speaks from truth.
    It takes a fierce self-determination to maintain and survive such a situation.
    You grab on to any thing in which you find strength.
    First, for me, it was my being in deeply in love. Then, I realized that I’d always
    drawn strength from music. My own self-expression through the arts. Poetry,
    photography, any tool I could find to manifest my artistic side. Following that, I
    realized how powerful was ‘having a purpose.
    Just as you need someone to be there for you; just as much, you need to be
    there for someone else. Above all, no matter how dependent you might be on
    someone or something else, you need to develop as much self-control as you
    can in taking your life into your own hands. You can listen to the advice of the
    people who offer it to you; but in the end, you must make your own decisions
    after making your own determinations.
    Then, there’s faith. If you haven’t faith in some things, beginning with your
    own possibilities, you are liable to weaken and succumb to the things that
    would overwhelm you.
    Your mantra becomes, ‘somehow, I will get through this. For every negative
    thrown your way; you look to find a way to turn it into a positive before you
    pass it along. Or send it back the way it came.
    Cancer, for example, overwhelms so many people when it’s given as their
    diagnosis, that many just lose hope and allow it to overtake them. If, instead,
    one responds with the resolve, ‘I cancervive, I can survive’, before taking it
    head-on as the fight for their lives; for that’s just what it is, that’s when the
    odds for survival begin to improve.
    You must reach the realization that the ‘mind’ is the most powerful muscle
    we have within our reach. Then, start exercising it.

  • Peggy Hopgood

    My sweet husband is a retired Air Force fighter pilot of 22 years. He has always been very active and is extremely intelligent. He is now living with Alzheimer’s Disease. I see him struggle everyday trying to formulate his thoughts into words. I see him pounding his forehead because he cannot remember what he wants to say. I wish I knew what to do to help him. Mental illness affects caregivers too. I want to help — I just don’t know what to do.

  • beka

    have you ever thought about getting a musical therapist to work with your husband? musical therapy has been proven to reduce and slow the affects of alzheimer’s disease. you might want to look into musical therapy for your husband – it may help. good luck and God bless.

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