science fiction and fantasy author

On chronic illness as a Beast

Beauty and the Beast by TGB-illustrations on DeviantArt

I want to link to a couple of great blog posts about chronic illness: Michelle Goldsmith talks about writing and chronic illness and Terri Windling talks about “Books, the Beast and me“.

I love that there is conversation about chronic illness happening.  I hate that anyone has to struggle with any kind of illness, of course, and if I had a magic wand, the first thing I would wish would be health for everyone.

I am really taken by Windling’s description of her illness as a “Beast”.  It’s apt – it’s a haunting, the monster that lurks beneath the bed or in the shadows behind the door, just waiting to pounce.  The Beast is unpredictable, the Beast cannot ever truly be tamed, though it can sometimes be lulled to quiescence if you use just the right song.

The Beast is a creature who has haunted me for almost thirteen years, and will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.  It has been lurking somewhat more than usual these past few months, and I am grateful, like Terri Windling, for the fact that, even when things are bad, I can usually escape by reading.  The early days of my dance with the Beast were much harder – I had stretches of time when I found it extremely hard to focus on words.  Which, when you’re someone who has grown up surrounded by books and the worlds in books, is akin to having some part of you ripped away.

Thankfully, I mostly know the ways to keep the Beast semi-tame, thanks to proper diagnosis, a good medical team, medication and an extremely supportive family.  And the days where I cannot read are very rare now.

Thank you, Michelle, and thank you, Terri, for your honesty and the reminder that even in living with a Beast, there can be Beauty.


AWW15: Signing up again


AWW15: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner


  1. Loved this, and I loved both of the posts you linked. This is something I have been thinking on for a while and it is nice to see others exploring not just the negatives of illness, but the strange blessings, too.

  2. Hi Stephanie!

    I know I’m a bit late to this (I was having some surgery related to the beast actually). But I’m going to join in anyway!

    Thanks for sharing my post and for sharing Terri’s too (I had missed it and it was a great).

    I’m glad people are talking about this as it is so easy for people to suffer in silence and grow more and more isolated if nobody does.

    I like the beast analogy. It works well.

    Sometimes (mostly as a joke as it seems to amuse my doctors) I also anthropomorphise the problematic malfunctioning organs (or ‘jerk organs’) as though they are some kind of internal malevolent parasites with their own motivations (mostly to make my life difficult).

    However, I recently noticed that even when I’m not joking, I frequently refer to my own body as if it is separate from ‘me’.

    I’d be interested to see if this is common.

    I even recently realised that this distinction between ‘self’ and ‘body’ has even flowed into a fair bit of my writing. Once critique partners thought I was making a symbolic choice by writing a character who referred to their body as though it were separate. I hadn’t done so consciously.

    • Stephanie Gunn

      I feel like the “body as other” is a coping mechanism. I do it too, referring to the body frequently as the “stupid human suit”. I don’t know if it’s a healthy coping mechanism, mind, but it is what it is.

  3. Really feel great after reading such uplifting articles, of victory of optimism over pessimism. I am happy that you are much better now and the reason is the correct diagnosis of the “beast” and your never say die attitude. Getting the right diagnosis is the root cause behind most of the chronic disease sufferers and it is important to get hold of the right expert, which is not an easier task.

  4. Very inspiring post! Very nice analogy, beast for the chronic illness. This definitely helps put you in a better state of mind to overcome a challenge rather than living with something undesirable and constantly frustrating you.

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