“…EVERY SICKNESS HAS an alien quality…No one says, “I am cancer” or even ‘I am cancerous’…One has cancer. Neurological and psychiatric illnesses are different, however, because they often attack the very source of what one imagines is one’s self…The illness and the self are fully identified in these sentences. The shaking woman felt like me and not like me at the same time. From the chin up, I was my familiar self. From the neck down, I was a shuddering stranger…” (Hustvedt 6).
What Hustvedt touches upon here is the entire basis of the journey of self against disorder. She maintains that disorder “attacks” the self. Society places the disease before the person. In Damasio’s terms it places the object as the organism. For Hustvedt, disorder attacked at a time much later in her lifetime. She was already an established adult going through the death of her own father when her disorder first began. Her first quake occurred years after her father’s death. It had hit her suddenly while talking about her father at his funeral. She was able to deliver a flawless memento to her father at his funeral while being ravished internally by the sways of her personal quakes. While delivering another memento to the memory of her father at a campus where he formerly worked, Hustvedt had another episode which prefaced her desire to seek a diagnosis.
This was the initial experience of a conscious change. Damasio would say this point was the point of relationship between the organism and object. From this point on things for Hustvedt change not for the worse but for knowledge as to what was going on within herself. She goes to doctors and several specialists, making an attempt to understand what is occurring in her own body. She succumbs to the painstaking wait for answers that seem to never get clearer only raise more questions. Although given certain theories to explain her affliction not one idea seemed to diagnose her.
It’s almost as if her own physiology is betraying her. Driven by desire for understanding of her body as well as inspiration for new material to write Hustvedt begins her journey. Many theories as to what she may have had were given. Few to name include epilepsy, a hex requiring an exorcism, and even conversion disorder. Along the way she is studying becoming knowledgeable of each step taken to diagnosis which adds to her overall knowledge of the brain and consciousness. Hustvedt argues that the task of diagnosis is to “abstract illness from person”.
“…Because of my history, I knew that a careful neurologist would do an EEG, an electroencephalogram. I’d have to sit with gooey electrodes clamped onto my scalp for quite a while, and my guess is that the doctor would find nothing…” (Hustvedt 8).All the while Hustvedt is building herself up. Writing her autobiographical self based on the knowledge she is acquiring on the way stemming from her disorder. With it she uses this knowledge as a starting point for generating her creative works as well as to diagnose herself.
Becoming the Shaking Woman
“…In May of 2006, I stood outside under a cloudless blue sky and started to speak about my father, who had been dead for over two years. As soon as I opened my mouth, I began to shake violently. I shook that day and then I shook again on other days. I am the shaking woman…” (Hustvedt 200).
Hustvedt takes hold of her disorder and makes it her own. She becomes the Shaking Woman, something she dons on herself and uses it creatively in generating a new idea of self.