Patricia Lightfoot is Associate Director, Online Physician Learning, at the new CMA subsidiary “8872147 Canada Inc.”
I read Girl in the Dark a few months after escaping from a darkened room, where I had lain blind-folded and ear-plugged, the prisoner of an implacable captor, with whom no negotiation was possible. My time spent in darkness was the consequence of a concussion, sustained following a severe fall when cycling down a hill on my regular Saturday ride. A full recovery eluded me for months, in spite of my intense desire to be well and active. Once I had served my sentence or, to put it a less dramatic way, had recovered, I had the pleasure of reading Anna Lyndsey’s elegant and entertaining memoir of her retreat into a darkened room, which in her case was caused by an extreme form of photosensitivity.
The author had been a civil servant, living and working in London, UK, until sitting in front of her computer screen made her face burn “like the worst kind of sunburn. Burns like someone is holding a flame-thrower to my head.” Her condition progressed until she needed to live entirely in the dark for months at a time. This required considerable resourcefulness, like that required by the members of the SAS (Special Air Service) in the audiobooks she listens to, although, instead of living in the bush for days, she spends her time in a darkened house in Hampshire, feeling for her clothes, making rapid foraging expeditions to the kitchen, entertaining herself with word games, talking on the phone with “other people in the strange club of the chronically ill” and spending time with those visitors who can still “see the girl through the darkness.”
The author recounts the loss of a once-healthy and productive life, the imposition of a new, restricted life with its unwritten rules and the attempted bargaining, whereby “if I do things this way, then things won’t get worse,” until they do. This, and the inability to imagine a future where she is well will be familiar to anyone who has had an illness that has no defined course, no ‘ETA for recovery’.
The author describes with grace and humour, and some fascinating practical details, her adaptation to an often-intolerable situation. The rage and despair of relapse is recounted, but there is also the joy of formerly mundane activities during periods of remission, such as a walk in her garden at dusk, cooking dinner and watching television, though from a distance with the aid of a mirror, and there is the sustaining love of Pete, the man with whom she shares a darkened house and, more importantly, a life.
Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey was published by Doubleday in 2015.