Book Review: Kicking Sick by Amy Kurtz

Like any Communications major, I’m a sucker for a well-stocked library shelf. So, when I stumbled upon the collection of books on chronic illness and IBS at my local library, I pretty much had a field day.

The late fees on my library card — and the wisdom acquired from the book Kicking Sick by Amy Kurtz, of course — are all that remain from my checkout spree that day. Still, Amy’s book had such a powerful effect on me that I felt compelled to give you my full review.

When you have a chronic health condition, you feel compelled to pick up as many books as possible on your illness — to educate yourself to the fullest extent of your abilities. But even the most determined Communications major can’t read every book on her local library shelf. And, without my fairy godmother to guide me through the world of chronic conditions, I often struggle with knowing which books on chronic illness are worth my time — and which are complete and utter BS.

In short, I did the work of reading this one for you. Enter my review of Kicking Sick by Amy Kurtz. By the end of this post, you’ll know whether this book offers what you seek on your journey through chronic illness. Remember that your story is unique, and not every book that serves you will serve the person next to you — but also that there’s something to be taken from every page turned.

Even when you disagree with the words you’re reading, each chapter takes you one step closer to learning more about yourself, and how you wish to go about life as a person living with a chronic condition. I hope you’ll take the time to weigh my words carefully, whether right or wrong, and decide whether Kicking Sick offers the right approach to managing chronic illness for YOU.

Facts About Chronic Illness

Before we get into the details of Amy’s book, let’s get some facts straight — and explain why, exactly, talking about chronic conditions matters, especially when the vast majority of people we know are probably perfectly well.

  • 2/3 of adults live with chronic illness — either their own or a loved one’s (Pew)
  • In 2016, the total cost of chronic disease in the U.S. was estimated at $3.7 trillion (Milken Institute)
  • 2 out of 5 people will experience a chronic motility disorder over the course of their lifetime (Amy Kurtz)
  • 30-40% of patients with chronic pain will also experience symptoms of depression (Lifeline Australia)
  • In the United States, the top 10 health conditions affecting adults (as of October 2018) are:
  1. Hypertension
  2. Major depression
  3. High cholesterol
  4. Coronary artery disease
  5. Type II diabetes
  6. Substance use disorder
  7. Alcohol use disorder
  8. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  9. Psychotic disorder
  10. Crohn’s disease & ulcerative colitis

(USA Today – note: article sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield, a health insurance company)

Amy’s Story & Advice

When Amy Kurtz turned 14, she bent over to grab a book on the floor of her bedroom and experienced a searing pain in her back, unlike anything she’d ever felt before. Like any reasonable 14-year-old, she told her parents — which led her down the path toward expensive specialists, heavy-duty pain medications and a colon one doctor claimed would never work again.

Finally, after assembling the right medical team and getting her sh*t together, Amy was diagnosed with celiac disease, a parasitic infection and several other conditions that had created the perfect storm of symptoms in her body. To this day, she still experiences the symptoms of her chronic illness — but she does not “suffer” from them, at least not in the traditional sense.

That’s because Amy identifies as a Glow Warrior rather than a Sick Chick. Amy’s argument is that by kicking the “sick” label and reclaiming control over our health, we can learn to thrive in the face of chronic conditions — becoming what she calls “Glow Warriors” versus what she calls “Sick Chicks.” Some of my favorite recommendations are highlighted below:

  • Keep a journal. Document your medical journey, any feelings you have about it and your food and physical activity to keep track of how they affect your condition.
  • Try tapping. Amy’s book shares a phenomenal tapping technique for stress relief from one of the many experts she calls upon in Kicking Sick. (Click here to learn a similar tapping technique from Jessica Ortner.)
  • Combine functional and traditional medicine. As Amy writes, traditional medicine is not the be-all, end-all — nor should you shun it completely. Amy suggests, instead, finding a combination of the two approaches that works best for you and your condition.
  • Embrace movement. Amy doesn’t suggest rigorous exercise routines, but does encourage you to move, in whatever small way you can. Some days, you won’t be able to walk more than a couple steps — and that’s okay. But even just taking those few steps can make all the difference.
  • Ditch what doesn’t serve you. From doctors to friends to healing techniques, Amy suggests (rightly so) ruthlessly cutting out anyone and anything that inhibits your recovery. Adios, emotional vampires!

My Thoughts

Let’s start with my criticisms before we get into my compliments — I promise, they’ll be quick!

Firstly, Amy’s chapter on diet really struck a negative chord. As someone who’s recovered from an eating disorder, I felt concerned by her recommendation to cut out sweeping categories of food groups, ranging from alcohol to nightshades to dairy. Don’t get me wrong, diet is important to your overall well-being — and eating mostly whole foods does promote health — but extreme restriction can lead to even more detrimental health consequences down the road. We shouldn’t neglect our mental health, not even in favor of our physical health.

Secondly, I call BS on Amy’s recommendation of colon hydrotherapy. The risks of colon hydrotherapy include dangerous changes in electrolyte balance and even perforation, which can lead to sepsis and death. Amy’s particular history of chronic constipation (she didn’t poop for a month!) probably explains her positive results. However, if you suffer from digestive health conditions in particular, I would consult your doctor — and find a reputable professional with a valid medical license — before subscribing to the benefits of a colonic.

Still, for most people, even those of us with chronic disease, colon hydrotherapy simply isn’t necessary. Our amazing bodies detoxify themselves every single day that we’re alive and breathing — you don’t need a holistic health technician squirting water up your ass to do it for you!

Now, for the positives: where do I even begin? Amy’s book made me feel heard in a way I’d never been before. Speaking from her own less-than-perfect life experiences, Amy offered advice that only a patient could. However, most importantly, Amy encouraged me to believe in my gut above any doctor or lifestyle guru. For that reason, I feel like she’d approve of my approach to her book: taking away what serves me, and leaving behind the rest.

Amy emphasizes self-care, while still endorsing independence. She pokes a big, fat hole in the “Sick Chick” role so many of us with chronic illness play. At the end of the day, we may have IBS, celiac disease or fibromyalgia — but we aren’t IBS, celiac or fibromyalgia. So, why do we allow ourselves to label ourselves as sick, to inhibit the role of the helpless invalid, when we have a sickness?

At the same time, Amy validates the fatigue and pain that often accompany chronic illness. Her approach asks merely that we try our best to treat our bodies with compassion and respect. Food and movement are part of that equation — but so is rest and relaxation.

Whether you prefer traditional science or alternative medicine, there’s one aspect of Amy’s book we can all agree on: stress helps nobody! That’s why self-care is such a vital aspect of Amy’s approach to kicking sick. Taking ownership of your chronic health condition means taking ownership of your self-care.

At the end of the day, not all aspects of our health are under our control. But, if you’re fueling your body with nothing but potato chips and bingeing Netflix for 48 hours at a time, you’re not going to heal. Nor will you heal if you harbor negative beliefs about your health — including the belief that you are “sick.”

We may not be able to cure our chronic health conditions, but we can do the best we can, to live the best life we can, with the resources we currently have. And that’s what Amy’s book teaches us members of the Chronic Condition Club to do: to live again.

So, will you join me and Amy in kicking sick together? Click here to get Amy’s book today.

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