Local News

Davisite’s new book speaks to chronically ill people around the world

By From page A4 | October 09, 2013

ToniBernhard 2013W

Toni Bernhard. Courtesy photo


What: Toni Bernhard presents her new book, “How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow”

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Avid Reader, 617 Second St.

Info: 530-758-4040

Davis resident Toni Bernhard has followed up her first book, “How to Be Sick,” with a new tome, “How to Wake Up.” She’ll be at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St. in downtown Davis, at 2 p.m. Saturday to discuss her book and sign copies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 50 percent of adults suffer from chronic illness, says Bernhard, now 68, who caught a virus in 2001 from which she has never recovered. Historically, many of these people were isolated and alone, but that has altered dramatically with the advent of the Internet and social media.

“Because of ‘How to Be Sick,’ I find myself in the middle of this sea of change,” Bernhard says. “It began when people started writing to me from all over the world, saying how the book had changed their lives. I’ve received thousands of emails and private Facebook messages.

“To quote from two of them: ‘I became a totally different person while reading your book. I feel happy again’ and ‘This book literally saved my life. I’ve been sick since 2009. As I stood on the edge of suicide, this book found its way into my hands and gone were the suicidal thoughts.’ ”

The book led to the formation of a community of more than 20,000 people on several different social media sites and at Psychology Today, which hosts Bernhard’s blog.

“Many of these people were desperately lonely before they discovered each other through ‘How to Be Sick.’ Now they find solace and support from others who understand what they’re going through,” she added.

“I spend several hours a day managing and contributing to these various forums where people depend on me to be a guide and a friend.”

Bernhard continues to battle permanent flu-like symptoms. Although the exact diagnosis of her illness continues to be a mystery, the doctors, for now, have concluded it is chronic fatigue syndrome caused by an acute viral infection.

Bernhard said she didn’t plan to write another book. But in those emails and Facebook messages, people were asking her about all of life’s difficulties — stress in relationships, tension on the job, sadness over losses — and sometimes just the challenge of getting through the day.

“These notes became the inspiration for ‘How to Wake Up,” Bernhard says. “Like ‘How to Be Sick,’ the book is practical, not religious. In it, I write about the mixture of joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments that everyone will face in life, and how we can find a peace and well-being that aren’t dependent on whether a particular experience is pleasant or unpleasant.”

Bernhard said because many chronic illnesses and pain conditions are invisible, people often are misunderstood and even disregarded by family, friends and sometimes even the medical community.

“In the ‘How to Be Sick’ community, people feel supported and validated,” she said. “Many of them tell me that through my book and my writings, they’ve learned to stop blaming themselves for their medical problems and have begun to treat themselves with kindness and compassion for the first time.”

Enterprise staff

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