I am a fiction writer and educator living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I teach at the Loft Literary Center, a nonprofit organization offering writing classes. I first became interested in the topic of healing when I heard an interview with Siddhartha Mukherjee.
He commented on the relationship between narrative and illness. In his book The Emperor of All Maladies, he writes, “A patient, long before he becomes the subject of medical scrutiny, is, at first, simply a storyteller, a narrator of suffering—a traveler who has visited the kingdom of the ill.”
Dealing with health conditions is often compared to a journey, and all travelers return with stories. But these stories become more than tales told to amuse listeners: stories of illness have the capacity to empower and inspire. They can even become stories that heal.
As Audre Lorde wrote in The Cancer Journals, they can transform “silence into language and action.”
3 Types of Stories
According to sociologist Arthur Frank in his book The Wounded Storyteller, there are three main types of stories—the restitution narrative, the chaos narrative and the quest narrative, and some may include qualities of these three narrative types.
1. A restitution narrative is the story of a person who becomes ill and then becomes well—a story about “health.”
2. The chaos narrative, says Frank, is “the opposite of restitution: its plot never imagines life getting better.” Chaos stories are anxiety-riddled tales without resolution.
3. Quest narratives, says Lorde in The Cancer Journals, “meet suffering head on; they accept illness and seek to use it.” The protagonists of these stories are messengers who, through their own experiences with illness or other health conditions, seek to help others.
Restitution. Chaos. Quest.
What types of health-related stories have you encountered? What stories have been especially helpful in dealing with your own health conditions or those of a loved one? Would you like to start a CaringBridge website?
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