Book Review: It's Just Nerves (Kelly Davio)
Reviewed by Maya Northen
For those with disabilities, writing their story can often be a tricky line to tow – wanting to accurately depict how the disability affects their, without coming across as either looking for pity or trying to be an nspiration. Kelly Davio's It's Just Nerves does this beautifully by being, quite frankly, not beautiful. Davio depicts pieces of her life, from her hospital stays to her adolescence to her time abroad, not only from the standpoint of living with a disability, but from that of an incredibly real person. There is no silver lining tidying up the end of every chapter. And yet it also isn't strewn with bitterness or wallowing.
In quick, easy to read chapters, Davio discusses the pain, the frustration and the limitations that Myasthenia Gravis imposes, while using both humor and pragmatism – as evidenced by the title, a play on words referring to the nerve and muscle communication that the illness causes. She discusses her disability in relatable scenarios that allow the reader to see the impact on everyday life. Davio describes, for example, the decline in her ability to move around the house on her own, how she would look at the distance between two locations in her house and have to break it down by stopping points along the way. She makes light of how often she doesn't make it from one object to the next smoothly, even mentioning that she and her husband joke about how frequently she trips. She writes:
I've had a lot of time to work on my form. Sometimes, my tumbles were such a part of my daily life that my husband and I came up with an Olympic-style system for rating my falls. He'd hear a thump and I'd hit the floor in some far corner of our home, then come in to help me up, but only after giving me a mostly arbitrary score of seven or eight-point-five. We found it funny; the sicker I got, the more we both needed a good laugh.
These descriptions allow the reader to consider, as best as they can, what it would be like to not be able to move from one side of their room to the other without falling. It makes the effects of a disability such as hers feel more tangible to those who have not had to deal with it.
Davio also delves into the topic of ableism, and the assumptions that people make every day, often without even noticing. She discusses, for instance, her need for an e-reader, which allows her to magnify text to accommodate for her vision difficulties, and the belittling she receives at the hands of others, often complete strangers.
To openly talk about other bookish folks about my love of ebooks is practically wearing a sign saying, 'I would like to hear a public referendum on why my choices are terrible and damaging to the publishing industry.' Even when I explain in clear terms that I can't always see print in hard copy, people have told me that I'm just not reading ‘real' books, and that I'm part of some sort of global problem with low attention spans and so-called ‘addictions' to tech.
Davio educates the reader, not simply on Myasthenia Gravis itself and the biases she experiences but about the external impacts as well, such as battling with the healthcare systems both in the U.S. and in the U.K. She describes her initial happiness in moving to England, hearing such great things about their healthcare – how she like many others had glorified other countries' systems as far greater than those here in the US. She goes on to describe the troubles she had in the UK, and the challenges that the system there had brought her. While she doesn't claim one is sufficiently better than the other, she opens the reader's eyes to the fact that the healthcare struggle for those with chronic illness and disabilities reaches well beyond geographical boundaries.These days especially, the challenge of adequate healthcare is a frustration that many can empathize with – perhaps not to the extent that Davio has experienced – but one that readers can connect to in a personal way.
And yet Davio does not solely focus on her disability. She explains, for example, the feeling of finding out that, after years of marriage, her parents were splitting. This is a traumatic event for her that, disability or no, so many can understand. It reminds the reader, if they happen to need reminding, that she is not simply "a person with a disability." She is a person. Who has a disability. Along with many other aspects of her life. She has stresses and life troubles the same as everyone else. While the disability is absolutely a part of her life, it is not the only aspect.
In all, It's Just Nerves, is an easy read that takes a topic some may find difficult to discuss or understand, and makes it, for lack of a better phrase, more personal. It takes away the fluff of medical terminology and scientific explanation, and makes it feel more real. While those living with disabilities will find themselves nodding in agreement, often empathizing with the situations which Davio describes, I believe that those who have not had to live with, or been close to someone living with a disability such as Davio's will benefit the most. It can help them better understand the everyday effects of living with a disability such as Myasthenia Gravis, and perhaps to see the ways in which so much of everyday life is based on the assumption of people having an "able body", to use Davios term, and the biases people so often have, many times without even realizing it, about those with a "disabled body".
Title: It's Just Nerves