In Some of Us Just Fall, award-winning writer, essayist and poet Polly Atkin weaves memoir and nature writing into a stunning book about chronic illness that will stay with you long after you finish reading.
Atkin’s lyrical prose takes you from her first fracture as a toddler to her eventual diagnosis of two chronic conditions in her mid-thirties (Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and Genetic Haemochromatosis) via decades of medical gaslighting and misogyny that will leave you fizzing with anger.
Atkin’s encounters with doctors over the years would be deemed too farfetched for most television dramas, with one doctor telling her that she had lost her voice, ‘Because I was doing things god hadn’t meant a man and a woman to do together.’ So much of Atkin’s pain is dismissed because she’s a woman, therefore, ‘overly sensitive.’
When diagnosis does come, it’s after years of physical damage caused by her conditions, invasive tests and incorrect medications. But just as devastating is the emotional harm from being told that doctors can find nothing wrong with you when all you needed was for the proper tests to be ordered, the right questions asked and some belief instead of mistrust. It’s a book that you’ll want to press into the hands of medical students to show them how not to treat patients.
As well as being a personal history and broader narrative of chronic illness, Some of Us Just Fall also features spectacularly immersive nature writing that transports you to the splendour of her adopted home in the Lake District. While Atkin has settled in a place of stunning natural beauty, she also examines the lie of the ‘nature cure’ because the landscape and wildlife can be a distraction and coping mechanism when you are chronically ill; it won’t heal you.
What is most striking about this book is that it’s not the usual triumph-over-tragedy story we’ve heard repeatedly. So often, we will read an inspirational story of someone overcoming a horrific illness, of ‘beating’ cancer or ‘battling’ back from ill health. So few stories of chronic illness are told that you almost expect a miraculous recovery in the third act.
But Some of Us Just Fall isn’t a book about getting better. It’s a book about survival, of learning to live with illness. It’s a book that will leave you breathless with its beauty and fill you with rage at the causal mistreatment of the chronically ill. It’s a rallying cry for society to stand up and advocate for those too bloody exhausted from struggling to be believed by the medical establishment.
Some of Us Just Fall is a book that needs to be read, and I hope we hear more stories of living with illness in the future rather than astonishing recovery. Because for the chronically ill, ‘recovery’ is often not possible.