Lori Gottlieb on Her Illness: Untangling the Soul

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" by Lori Gottlieb. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What was Lori Gottlieb’s illness? Does Lori ever get a diagnosis of her symptoms?

Lori Gottlieb’s mysterious illness opens up a whole pandora’s box of her deeper psychological concerns. In discussing her symptoms with Wendell, she realizes that what she is really afraid of is uncertainty. Since she doesn’t know her diagnosis, she doesn’t know how it will impact her life going forward.

Read about Lori Gottlieb’s illness.

Lori Gottlieb and the Mysterious Illness

In one of her sessions with her therapist Wendell, Lori Gottlieb opens up about her mysterious illness. She was suffering from painful rashes, fatigue, muscle tremors, and weakness. She’s visited numerous doctors, but none have been able to piece her symptoms together into a diagnosis.

One specialist believed that Lori Gottlieb’s illness was the result of anxiety, a condition called conversion disorder: so-called because the patient’s anxiety is “converted” into physical symptoms. Conversion disorder is the modern name for hysteria, or any number of other absurd diagnoses given to women throughout history (such as “wandering uterus”). 

Furthermore, many of her lab tests and scans came back with results that were not consistent with conversion disorder. Effectively, Lori Gottlieb’s illness was diagnosed as hysteria, and she was rightfully offended by it.

The Four Fundamental Concerns

In discussing her symptoms with Wendell, Lori realizes that what she is really afraid of is uncertainty. This uncertainty doesn’t just apply to her illness, but also to her fears that she won’t find a new partner, her anxiety about her writing career, and her advancing age. Wendell believes that Lori has been trying to cope with that uncertainty by sabotaging herself. 

In addition to uncertainty, Lori is also dealing with several fundamental human concerns. The four fundamental concerns all people share are mortality, loneliness, freedom, and futility.

Lori is concerned about death due to her illness and what she perceives as her advancing age. She also explains that she is concerned about her freedom. While she’s free in every practical sense, she misses the emotional freedom she had when she was younger. Lori says that her therapy—and the entire crisis she’s going through—may be about recapturing that emotional freedom, and opening up instead of shutting down.

She also has to grapple with another fundamental concern: futility. Sometime after this appointment, Lori finds her old grad school coursework, including her studies about the psychologist Viktor Frankl, whose work was all about how people’s primary drive was to find meaning in their lives.

The part that Lori finds especially relevant is Frankl’s discussion about how the only thing a person will always be able to choose is how to respond to his or her circumstances. Lori hasn’t thought about this concept in years, but she sees now how it applies to her and every one of her patients. The trick is finding and using that in-between time to respond, instead of just react—to act deliberately instead of reflexively.

Lori Gottlieb on Her Illness: Untangling the Soul

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Lori Gottlieb's "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Maybe You Should Talk to Someone summary:

  • How a psychotherapist found herself in need of therapy
  • How the therapist sees her own fears and feelings reflect in her patients
  • Why you have to be ready to accept uncertainty if want to enjoy life

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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