"IS THIS RECOVERY?" Chronicity and Closure in Graphic Illness Memoir.

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Author: Nancy K. Miller
Date: Spring-Summer 2021
From: Biography(Vol. 44, Issue 2-3)
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,445 words
Lexile Measure: 1310L

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Mental disorders are often recurrent, and treatment only partially effective. What does real recovery--if that's the right word--actually look like, and how can it be assessed? --BENEDICT CAREY, "Mental-Health Researchers Ask: What is 'Recovery'?" New York Times, February 25, 2020 Healthy individuals should be able to fully recover. And we think that will be a statement we can make with great surety now that we've gotten familiar with this problem. They should be able to recover. --DONALD J. TRUMP, Press statement about the coronavirus pandemic, February 29, 2020 "Recovery" is the word of the moment; it connotes a return to a previous state of well-being. For many patients with chronic conditions, though, treatment aims not to restore a baseline of precarious health but to reach a higher baseline. Some of medicine's frailties are new; some are of long standing. But what the pandemic has exposed--call the experience a stress test, a biopsy, or a full-body CT scan--is painfully clear. Medicine needs to do more than recover; it needs to get better. --SIDDARTHAMUKHERJEE, "What the Coronavirus Crisis Reveals About American Medicine," New Yorker, May 4, 2020*

The essay that follows, "Is this recovery?," was conceived in another era: BCP--before the coronavirus pandemic, though composed under its reign. Under the regime of COVID-19, the idea of recovery as a story and a reality on the ground requires a gravity of which comics may be capable, but not a mere critic. Witnessing from a mediated distance the death of thousands, if not millions of citizens across the globe, makes the project of casting doubt on a form of storytelling that celebrates a cure, a return to health, an unseemly gesture. Writing in dread of falling ill and dying as part of a collective condition is, of course, always a fact of human experience, but not one we tend to keep present in our minds, especially when well. What will it mean to write from a post-recovery time which has not yet arrived?

But what if there is no recovery? If we mean by recovery a state safely relegated to a past tense. In the United States, circa 2020, recovery is not only a matter of public health but of the global economy. For both regimes, now intertwined, the concept of a hard stop has been undermined from within: even with the touted virtues of testing and the creation of a vaccine, experts are saying the virus will remain with us.

So, if both health and economic life are becoming more distinctly temporary rather than permanent conditions, we might say now, that given our current understanding of the disease, post-pandemic recovery will continue to be unstable, subject to a reprise of viral activity. This might also be to say recovery will be characterized by a pattern of repetition, recurrence, like living with a chronic illness.

It further suggests that in deploying, as we irresistibly do, Susan Sontag's famous metaphor about illness, we would do well to focus on the concept of passport as a...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A707075969