Writing Prompts

Word Prompt: Answer | Story Prompt: from the book “The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture” by Gabor Mate

Write It Out: Instruction Video

‘Threatened and insecure over an extended period of time is precisely how the obstetrician-gynecologist Lissa Rankin felt since childhood, an emotional state her medical training only exacerbated. Her book The Anatomy of a Calling begins with a nightmarish recounting of how she, as a medical resident, had to rush all night from one delivery room to another, dealing with one difficult delivery in the wake of another, supporting parents after the death of four babies, and all the while being berated by her superiors to suppress her own grief, even in the privacy of the women’s changing room. . .

When she was twenty-seven, Dr. Rankin was admitted to the coronary care unit at her hospital for an episode of distressingly rapid heartbeat that did not respond to the usual noninvasive measures. After receiving electrical shock treatment to restore her normal heart rate, she was sent directly back to work. By age thirty-three, she was taking multiple medications for a number of conditions, including three drugs for high blood pressure and palpitations, antihistamines, and a steroid — which, again, is a stress hormone — and weekly injections for allergies, which, she was told, she’d have to stay on for the rest of her life. She was also treated for a cervical abnormality, a precancerous state that reappeared soon after the procedure. All the while — and this will sound familiar — no physician asked her what stresses might be weighing on her, promoting immune problems, and potentiating malignancy.

Today Dr. Rankin is fully healthy and taking no drugs at all. In her case, healing owed nothing to conventional medical treatment and everything to the personal transformation she was guided to undertake — a journey she began when, at age thirty-five, she was nearly suicidal. “Within six months of quitting my job I was off all my medications,” she reports.

As Lissa Rankin realized, much good can come from an open-minded engagement with the process that disease represents. It may not be the guest we ever desire to see, but a modicum of hospitality — welcoming the unwelcome, so to speak — costs us nothing. It may even lead to an opportunity to find out why this particular visitor has come to call, and what it might tell us about our lives.’


I’m really enjoying this book, although I’ve been reading it for quite a while now. It’s not the kind I read cover-to-cover in multiple consecutive days; instead I like to savor it, a chapter or section at a time. Put it down for awhile before picking it up again. Some sections I read more than once, to better understand what the message is, or perhaps to consider something I’d never thought of before.

The innumerable real-life experiences that Dr. Mate draws from adds so much to his writing – they are what draw me in so deeply. Personal stories, so generously shared, offer such valuable opportunities for connection and for making sense of our own lives. Yes, we are each unique, but the range of human experience does allow for overlap. Finding those stories which overlap with our own can be so affirming.

I suppose the other thing that I love about this particular excerpt is the suggestion of disease as “guest” and how we should be curious and accepting of it – like in the poem The Guest House, by the 13th century poet, Rumi:

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark though, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

from The Essential Rumi, Translations by Coleman Barks, originally published in 1995.

Thoughts? Feel free to share them here.

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