Book Review: What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness – Lessons from a Body in Revolt by Tessa Miller #BookReview #ChronicDisease #Autoimmune #ChohnsDisease

What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness – Lessons from a Body in Revolt

by Tessa Miller


The riveting account of a young journalist’s awakening to chronic illness, weaving together personal story and reporting to shed light on living with an ailment forever.

Tessa Miller was an ambitious twentysomething writer in New York City when, on a random fall day, her stomach began to seize up. At first, she toughed it out through searing pain, taking sick days from work, unable to leave the bathroom or her bed. But when it became undeniable that something was seriously wrong, Miller gave in to family pressure and went to the hospital—beginning a yearslong nightmare of procedures, misdiagnoses, and life-threatening infections. Once she was finally correctly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, Miller faced another battle: accepting that she will never get better.

Today, an astonishing three in five adults in the United States suffer from a chronic disease—a percentage expected to rise post-Covid. Whether the illness is arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s, diabetes, endometriosis, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, or any other incurable illness, and whether the sufferer is a colleague, a loved one, or you, these diseases have an impact on just about every one of us. Yet there remains an air of shame and isolation about the topic of chronic sickness. Millions must endure these disorders not only physically but also emotionally, balancing the stress of relationships and work amid the ever-present threat of health complications.

Miller segues seamlessly from her dramatic personal experiences into a frank look at the cultural realities (medical, occupational, social) inherent in receiving a lifetime diagnosis. She offers hard-earned wisdom, solidarity, and an ultimately surprising promise of joy for those trying to make sense of it all.

My thoughts:

Tessa Miller has written the perfect memoir on chronic disease—one that not only covers her personal story, but one that’s chock-full of research regarding problems with the American medical system, how to find good healthcare, the hurdles often faced with work and relationships, mental health struggles, and many helpful quotes for anyone who deals with chronic health problems—specifically autoimmune disease. This book is written well, and I found her advice helpful. 

Having a chronic autoimmune disease, this book led me to constantly reflect throughout—from beginning to end—with chapter five hitting me the hardest. It’s raw and brought me to tears a few times. Here’s a chronic disease sufferer who’s had multiple traumas, has had problems with control…someone who’s had to face anxiety head on and deal with acceptance of a disease with an unknown prognosis. She’s experienced medical PTSD which isn’t something most doctors even recognize. I became fully aware that I was in a familiar zone here and not alone. I devoured every word. I’m not sure I’ve ever connected with a memoir as much as this one.

The biggest takeaway I’m usually left with after reading many memoirs is this: it’s just one person’s story. It doesn’t make your situation better; in fact, it’s heartbreaking, but I believe it helps one understand the importance of gratitude, hope, and knowing you have what it takes to overcome. It’s hard not to complain when you’re constantly sick, and it’s especially hard when you don’t have anyone to talk to about it, or just a good support system in general. I think it’s stories like Tessa Miller’s that reiterate an important truth often out of sight: none of us are alone. We can also seek the help we need and should never be ashamed of it.

There was a section in the book that I found thought-provoking where the author mentions taking advice from others and how it’s processed. I do agree that it’s hard to take advice from others and can be quite irritating when your ill and just downright sick of it all, but it’s something that I always welcome. Had I not been informed about my holistic doctor, I’m not sure where I’d be today as far as my health. Everything I’ve learned has been from others, whether it be books, YouTube, online, or word of mouth. I’ll be more mindful in the future about the advice that I offer to others though, because it isn’t always welcomed, and I think people get overstimulated with it all. This is just one section of the book that really got my brain churning.

Overall, I found this book to be inspiring, insightful, and hopeful. This is a good book for all chronic disease sufferers, especially those dealing with Crohn’s Disease and other autoimmune diseases. 


Find this book on Goodreads and Amazon:

  • Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (February 2, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1250751454
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1250751454

Thanks for reading my review. Have you read any good health-related books or memoirs lately? Feel free to leave your comments below in the comments section.

❤️ Mischenko

24 thoughts on “Book Review: What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness – Lessons from a Body in Revolt by Tessa Miller #BookReview #ChronicDisease #Autoimmune #ChohnsDisease

  1. Hi Mischenko – thanks for sharing this memoir and your own experiences. I’m glad you found it helpful. I think your comments about giving and receiving advice from others is especially interesting. Take care. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that. I also know someone who went through the same ordeal and don’t truly understand why it takes them so long to diagnose this particular disease, especially because of the severity of it. It makes me wonder if there isn’t a specific antibody. I hope your daughter is doing okay now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. ❤️


  2. I have a good friend who was diagnosed with UC after the birth of her second child. After numerous years and rounds of different meds, she’s currently in remission. Her sister was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s, and nothing seems to be working. This sounds like a book they’d both want to read. Thanks for sharing this, Jenn!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I’m glad your friend is in remission, Teri. How sad about her sister though. Hopefully they can find a treatment for her. What a horrible disease. I do believe this book will help. It’s fairly specific to Crohns, but a wealth of information about other topics too. Not much information as far as healing, but more of her story and what has helped her. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is crazy, isn’t it? What’s even crazier is the statement about the numbers getting worse post-Covid. Nobody’s really talking about that. The book offers hope, and it’s well worth reading. Thank you for your thoughts. Hope you’ve been doing well!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. starjustin

    Great review! Awesome and imaginative cover! Good medical care has to be sought out, that’s for sure. Far and few between are the doctors who keep learning and stay up to date.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful review — thank you so much for sharing! My daughter has Crohn’s, and has been living with it for many years, but her initial stage of diagnosis was awful and so hard on her (11 years old at the time). I’ll have to mention this book to her. She’s very particular about where and how she takes in information about Crohn’s! Even if she’s not interested, I think I should read this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry your daughter had to go through that and at such a young age! That had to be so hard. The book definitely doesn’t offer advice like a typical self-help book would. This is more of her story with her relationships and the course of her disease, so it’s definitely more of a health memoir. It really opened my eyes though. I hope she gives it a try, and yes, it would be good for anyone who has someone with chronic disease in their life. Take care, and thank you! ❤️


  5. This sounds like a very moving, difficult and thought provoking memoir. I have no doubt that it would hit you hard, with everything you have gone through with your health and search for the best solutions for you, Jen. Thanks for sharing this book and your thoughts and reflections on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Late March/April Wrap-Up #Books #BookReviews #Music #ReadingChallenge – ReadRantRock&Roll

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