“Take me home from the Oscars” – A book review and analysis


In the memoir “Take me home from the Oscars: Arthritis, television, fashion and me” Christine Schwab wrote about the trials and tribulations that she endured with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the 1990’s. She was working in television as a fashion and beauty reporter (and as far as I know, she continues to work in this capacity). She believed that in her field it would have been professional suicide to let anyone know that she had RA, so she hid it, even though she was often in unbearable or near unbearable pain. Schwab wrote about many of the details of her professional world and how difficult it was for her to manage her pain and her job simulataneously. Like many other chronic illness patients, she suffered emotionally from living with a debilitating disease. Schwab was lucky in several respects, however, she had a doctor who she trusted and a husband who was a major source of support for her. Eventually she found a treatment that helped her to attain long-term remission. Ultimately, after years of hiding her RA, Schwab switched gears and decided to help bring awareness to what it is like to live with RA.

A deeper analysis:

Schwab recounts in great detail the emotional struggles that she went through in the years before she found an effective treatment. In so doing, she tells the reader how she coped with living with RA. As a veteran patient of an autoimmune disease¬†(inflammatory bowel disease) that is thought to be a “cousin” to RA, I could identify with many of the treatments and coping techniques that Schwab wrote about. But I’m not only an IBD patient, I’ve also done research on coping, and I think that we can learn from Schwab’s experiences.

Coping strengths:

* Perseverance – Schwab exemplified perseverance when she refused to drop out of a research study that lasted 9 months. She was not allowed to take any other medicines and she was given only a placebo (though she did not know that at the time). She endured a terrible flare during the last 3 months of the study, but she was determined to stick it out because she knew that if she did, she would be eligible to receive the real medicine after the study. It was that medicine that eventually helped her to achieve remission.


Befriending anxiety

Before I had a chronic illness the situations in my life that triggered the most anxiety were going on dates, difficulties in relationships, and taking academic exams. Back in those days, one of my closest friends in college used to call me “the Big Easy” (and no, I was not promiscuous!). I was really easygoing and it took a lot to unnerve me.¬† Starting at the age of 24, chronic illness and pain altered my nervous system in a way that made me much more susceptible to chronic anxiety.

The first time chronic anxiety hit me hard was in 1999, about a year after I had first been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I re-washed dishes after they had been through the dishwasher because I was scared that there might be some bacteria left on the dishes that would trigger another flare. I knew that my fears were irrational and yet it was so difficult to stop my behaviors. So I sought help from a counselor.

The counselor helped me see that I was trying desperately to control my circumstances. The flares of IBD that I had experienced scared me and I wanted to prevent them in any way possible. But my mind had made the error of thinking that doing things like rewashing dishes would somehow protect me from future flares of IBD. The corticosteroids that I took during that time did not help as they exacerbated every emotion I felt and made me jumpy.

In 2000, I visited Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery and meditation practice center in the south of France. You can read about my experience here. It was there that I experienced a deep sense of inner peace and learned some wonderful techniques for coping with my anxiety. The practice of mindfulness meditation helped me to see my fears more clearly. I saw how much I feared losing control, and one day I wrote the following in my journal:


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