Imagine being in your twenties and working in the extremely competitive world of Hollywood. This is the age when you and your friends are working at getting careers established and dating and finding that special person. Now imagine going through all of this and finding out that you have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This is the position that Cory Martin found herself in and which she explores in her wonderful book Love Sick: A Memoir a very honest look at negotiating the dating minefield whilst also coming to terms with her diagnosis.
Cory is an author and screenwriter who has written for series including The OC and is now a Yoga teacher and author, living in California. Jo at CLC was lucky enough to be able to interview Cory and discuss Love Sick. Cory’s book is very important as it speaks not only to those with MS but also to others with long term health conditions, and indeed, anyone negotiating the tricky world of dating and trying to find true love.
Jo ( CLC): Thank you for agreeing to do this interview for CLC, Love Sick is a very important book and one that I think many people will relate to here in the UK, as there does seem to be a need for honest books about relationships and health especially for those in their twenties and thirties. A fun question to begin, as we are a cultural website what would your favourite books and films of all time be?
Cory (CM): My favourite book of all time is The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I read it in college and it has stayed with me ever since. The books I keep returning to have to be books on writing. Erica Jong’s Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life and Stephen King’s On Writing are two that I’ve read over and over. As for films, my hands down, absolute favourite is Dirty Dancing. As a kid I used to dream that I’d meet my version of Johnny (Patrick Swayze) on vacation and he’d swoop me up and take me away from my boring life in Indiana.
CLC: In Love Sick, I admire how you describe your illness as a journey, something that I also relate to and wholly agree with. How far do you think that having a long term illness such as MS makes you appreciate more in life and a need to be more mindful everyday?
CM: That’s a great question, because it definitely is a journey and it certainly has changed the way I view life and act on a daily basis, however I sometimes wonder if we put too much pressure on ourselves? We feel as though because we have this illness now we’re supposed to go out and do something grand. This book actually got rejected early on, because they didn’t believe that anyone would want to read the story. Like, if I had got diagnosed and decided to take a year off from work and see the seven wonders of the world before the devastating effects of MS took hold, then that was something amazing to read. But the truth is, that’s rare and one day I may go out and do something bold, but for now it’s the daily changes. It’s the journey. It’s the saying yes to taking a trapeze lesson or attempting to surf again, or it’s simply me being able to acknowledge that MS is part of my life. Did MS change me? Absolutely. And I think it does on a daily basis. But I think it’s something that’s going to change and evolve as I get older and the symptoms lessen or worsen.
CLC: When people discover that they have a long term health condition, something I have found in my professional experience is that people tend to travel through the Grief Curve (The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Model). In this model the two key aspects that appear to affect people most are the Acceptance and Denial states as it seems that people seem to swing between these two states with the aim of reaching a state of complete Acceptance. How far do you agree with this theory? If so, what, in your experience, would help someone achieve a state of complete Acceptance?
CM: Oh my gosh, I absolutely agree with this theory and you are so spot on in recognizing that anyone dealing with a long term illness will vacillate between the Acceptance and Denial states. It has been almost nine years since my diagnosis and I still jump between these. I think I’ve spent a good chunk of time in denial, but now that Love Sick is out in the world and my life is in print, it’s kind of hard to keep denying it, so I’m beginning to become more comfortable with Acceptance. However, I have a feeling that it’s still going to be a long road.
CLC: Many long term health conditions appear to share common issues. These include fatigue, financial, social and emotional difficulties. The good thing about this is that there are many common lifestyle adjustments that seem to benefit many of us such as diet modification, relaxation and trying to reduce stress. Have you met others in your yoga practice who suffer from other long term health conditions?
CM: I have. You know, I think one of the reasons yoga is so appealing to so many is that there are a variety of ways to practice yoga. In Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, the actual poses, or asana, are just one of the eight parts of yoga, so even if you can’t physically do everything you can still receive all the benefits of the practice.
CLC: Would you agree that common lifestyle management techniques can benefit all long term health conditions? And why?
CM: Yes, because I believe that common lifestyle management techniques are a form of self-care and I truly feel that self-care is important to everyone. When you’re paying attention to your body, when you’re listening to your true needs, you start to take better care of yourself. And when you take better care of yourself, physically and mentally, your overall health benefits.
CLC: The internet and advanced technology seems to be both a blessing and a curse for those with long term health conditions. On the one hand we can use the internet for accessing health information and for ordering groceries and medical prescriptions etc. Conversely we can find ourselves comparing our lives with others on social media (the ubiquitous FOMO). We can also worry ourselves by Googling too much medical information and thinking the worst. Do you agree that technology can be both a blessing and a curse and if so why?
CM: Do you know how many times I stayed up late at night Googling myself into a place of fear and panic? Too many! I was addicted to it in the way that I was when I broke up with someone. I wanted to know what they were up to. Were they dating someone else? Was she prettier than me? It was so self-destructive, but it’s what happened. So about a year into my diagnosis I weaned myself off of the scary parts of the internet and vowed to avoid it when it came to MS. But what’s interesting is recently, because of Love Sick, I’ve started to go back on the internet and seek out the MS forums and now, I actually find myself rejoicing in it. I have connected with so many people on Instagram and Facebook who are sharing so much positivity and really rallying around each other for good when it comes to living with chronic illness that I can now see the good of technology in a way I never could before.
CLC: In Love Sick, you refer to being unable to relate to MS-related books as they were aimed at older people, and also to not getting on with the MS forums which you felt were negative. Has the US information for MS improved in recent years? Do they seem to include more for younger sufferers now? If not, what would you like to see happen?
CM: I think it’s getting better. There’s a group here in LA meant for people in their 20s and 30s and I think the all around awareness of the disease is getting better. However, the thing with MS is that it affects everyone differently so for me, one of the problems I had with those MS-related books and the forums wasn’t just that they were aimed at older people but that they were aimed at people whose disease had progressed further than mine and it kind of made me feel like I wasn’t included because I didn’t have it as bad as someone else, and so who was I to complain?
I always compare MS to being told you’re going to get hit by a car. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, or how much it will affect you, all you know is that you’re going to get hit.
So imagine now if we brought that group of people who got hit by a car together. They have that same shared experience of getting hit by a car and the emotional stress of it all may be the same, but if you look at their outward appearance they’ll all be different. One guy might have a scratch on his thigh and the other may have a broken femur, or worse, his whole leg is amputated. If the experience is the same, but the outcome is not how do you make everyone feel included and comforted at the same time? I think that’s the struggle we need to all work to overcome.
CLC: In my experience the people that I have met with long term heath conditions all shared the same trajectory in that just before they got ill they were living life at a hundred miles an hour (I include myself in this category). How far do you feel that having a very active life in terms of stress and lack of down time can sometimes accelerate long term health conditions?
CM: This definitely happened to me as well. And now, when I am over-stressed I can feel that my symptoms worsen.
CLC: Despite the serious message that the book conveys, I loved the comic moments that you added. Do you think that moments of humour and laughter help to cope with the seriousness of living with a long term health condition?
CM: Absolutely. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through any of this if I weren’t allowed to laugh through it all. I know it’s totally cliché but laughter is the best medicine.
CLC: I have to apologise for the weird English guy you met in LA, he is definitely not representative of Englishmen in general! I thought that he sounded strange from the beginning as Englishmen don’t usually go around kissing hands! This moment made me think though of something that I have heard before, do you think it is harder to find genuine guys in LA?
CM: Haha! That is good to know. And, yes, I do think it is harder to find genuine guys in LA, but I also think that might be true in any big city where people are operating at such a high speed to get ahead in their careers or their financial lives that maybe they aren’t really looking for someone to connect to and so perhaps they act disingenuous. There’s also this phenomena in LA that I like to call the “next best thing.” This is a city full of super smart talented and beautiful people and they can always find someone smarter or prettier and so I think many people feel like, why settle down when there’s something better around the corner. There’s always the next best thing waiting for them.
CLC: There are many moments in your book when you are quite tentative about taking the lead in relationships. Is this something that changed as you got older and became more confident with your diagnosis? How do you feel about taking the initiative in your relationships now?
CM: That has definitely changed. I think the diagnosis set me back a few years in terms of my developmental stage as it relates to relationships, but I’m catching up and doing my best to take initiative now.
CLC: At one point, you state that “I am a loner. I like to do things on my own terms.” Did you find that this had to change when you entered a long term relationship in the terms of compromise? Do you feel that you were able to allow yourself to be helped by someone else? If so, did this new aspect help you to feel closer to your partner?
Yes, and it’s something I still struggle with, but I’m learning. And the more I allow myself to be helped or comforted by someone else the more I realize how truly lonely I was being alone.
CLC: You talk a lot about Yoga in Love Sick and how it has helped you and led to a new career. Indeed, you now also have a new book out Yoga for Beginners: Simple Yoga Poses to Calm Your Mind and Strengthen Your Body What is it about yoga in particular that you think has helped you, is it the relaxation element or the physical benefit or both?
CM: It’s both. For a long time it was simply the physical benefits. Being able to balance on my hands or twist my body into some crazy pose, used to give me this sense of power and control over the MS. That despite the fact that I was living with a potentially disabling disease I could still do all these things. However, as my practice progressed, and this is quite normal if you talk to other yogis, I started to care less and less about what my body could do and started to really benefit from the ability to quiet my mind and truly live in the moment.
CLC: Nearly the last question, but a very important one! What would you hope that readers would learn from Love Sick? And what benefits would you wish your book to give to someone with MS or another long term health condition?
CM: Life is complicated and hard and it’s going to twist and turn and there are going to be those moments where you’re pounding on the floor thinking you can’t keep going, but you can, and you will. Human beings are resilient like that. We get through it. We always do. And if we can find love, and learn to love ourselves, which we all can, then it’ll be that much sweeter.
To anyone living with MS or another long term condition I want you to know that you are not alone. That every fear and worry and ounce of panic you have is normal.
If you surround yourself with good people, doctors you trust, therapists who truly want to help and you can laugh through your situation then you can get through it. We all can. Together.
CLC: (SPOILER IF YOU’VE NOT READ THE BOOK!) A question I have to ask as myself and others will wonder, are you still with the man you said you had settled with at the end of the book?
CM: I am, in fact I’m waiting for him to get home from work right now so I can give him a big hug ☺
Thank you Cory! Love Sick is an inspiration for those of us with long term health conditions, or anyone facing life’s challenges. It shows that even though we go through trials and tribulations it is important to see the light in every day, to be mindful and to respect ourselves and others. If you haven’t yet read Love Sick then I would wholeheartedly recommend it.