Not really. The reason so many doctors had shrugged me off was that this illness was only then being recognized. In their defense, there wasn't anything in the diagnostic manual. But because they didn't want to believe that they didn't know everything, they wanted to find a reason why it was my fault.
The following year the Centers for Disease Control recognized CFS and NIH began researching it in earnest. Today, there's enough research on CFS to be able to give it a definitive diagnosis.
Are there prescriptive protocols for people with CFS?
There are some things they tell you to do. A lot of it is very simple. You can't stress yourself. You can't push too far because if you do, your whole body will collapse and you can wind up for six months or eight months back in bed again.
You learn that right away because you make mistakes. I made a really big one. I was starting to get better when, in 1991, I tried to take a car trip to Saratoga Springs, New York, with my boyfriend. It was a really stupid, enormous mistake: I collapsed in a little town in New Jersey and went into shock.
I got much sicker than I'd ever been before. I spent the next two or three years completed bed-bound. The vertigo started with great ferocity and it was hell on earth. I've never come back from that and that was ten years ago.
Writing the book took physical vitality out of you. But do you feel that the book fed you emotionally, psychologically, spiritually?
I identified in a very deep way with the individuals I was writing about because the theme that runs through this story is of extraordinary hardship and the will to overcome it. That is the fundamental struggle of my life, trying to get over this extremely devastating physical condition. There are times when I think, "I can't stand this any more." But you find a way to do it.
At the end of chapter five you wrote: "The racehorse, by virtue of his awesome physical gift, freed the jockey from himself." And: "For the jockey, the saddle was a place of unparalleled exhilaration and of transcendence." I was wondering whether the relationship of the jockey to the horse might have been similar to you and the process of writing.
That's exactly it because, for the jockey, there are tremendous risks involved in getting on a racehorse. They punish their bodies to get themselves down to weight and then they have to go out and take the kind of risks that almost nobody has the courage to take. It's a ridiculously dangerous job.
But they get this prize at the end of it. They get to enjoy something that none of us enjoy who stay on the ground which is the exhilaration of being on the most remarkable creature God ever created, of being able to take part in that speed and power. That's very similar to the risk I was taking and the joy I got from writing it.
How did you choose to tell the Seabiscuit story?
I've known about the horse since I was a little kid. I read a book called "Come On, Seabiscuit," which somebody bought me for twenty cents at some book fair or something. I read the covers right off of it. I mean, the thing is falling apart. I still have it, all bound up in rubber bands.
So I knew the horse's story. Then in 1996, I was going through some old racing documents and came across some facts about the owner, the trainer, and the jockey that I had never known. I thought, "That looks really interesting." I kept looking and the story just kept getting better and better and I knew I had a book. You wait your whole career for a story like this.
It was many stories. Each of the main characters had their own story. The horse had a story and --
And other people. I got to interview more than 100 very elderly people who had actually lived this story. They gave it so much color.
I guess none of the principals were still alive.
They weren't, no. The last one, Marcella Howard [wife of Seabiscuit's owner], died in 1987. Red [Pollard] died in 1981. George [Woolf] [a jockey who rode Seabiscuit when Pollard was recuperating from an accident] had been dead a very long time. But a lot of people who were very closely associated with them were around. Alfred Vanderbilt, who arranged [Seabiscuit's] match race with War Admiral, was a huge help. George Woolf's best friend; Red's sister and children; a lot of Seabiscuit's exercise riders, grooms, stable agents. I was very fortunate. I'm right at the end of living memory with this one.