How To Be Sick
A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to For the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers
Book Reviews

Learning How to be Sick
by Dr. Sharon Ufberg
Huffington Post
(Read entire review)

How one particular book ends up on the top of the nightstand stack is anyone's guess. But this soon-to-be released book, How to Be Sick, a Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers, by Toni Bernhard, was even more of a long shot. I am not sick; in fact, I pride myself on being healthier than I have been in years. My daily meditation and yoga practice is deeply rooted in a routine that is shockingly consistent and satisfying. My life work is all about "how to be well" so you may wonder, why have I become completely enamored with Toni Bernhard's new book?

It was clear from the moment I read her bio that Toni's unpredictable turn of events could have just as easily happened to me. Here was the classic smart, successful career woman with a busy and fulfilling life. A lawyer, professor, wife and mother who took a short trip to Europe and got sick. This has happened to many the well-heeled traveler on occasion. The difference is that Toni never recovered. Her story is authentic and speaks right to the heart. Her journey and subsequent insight is thoughtful and uplifting. (read more)

How to be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired
Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers

Review in Publisher's Weekly

How does one face a chronic illness? In 2001 law professor Bernhard became sick from a virus that no doctor has been able to treat. Faced with ongoing disabling symptoms, forced to give up her profession, and unable to take part in most of the activities she loves, Bernhard has dug into the roots of the Buddhism she once studied intensively, looking for resources to cope with such devastating loss. She clearly explains how such Buddhist principles as the four noble truths, impermanence, no-self, and dependent origination help her cope with limited energy and frequent enforced solitude. No longer able to meditate formally, Bernhard describes a set of easy mental practices, drawn from her own daily experiences as well as vipassana (insight meditation), Zen koans, Tibetan Buddhist compassion exercises, and the “inquiry” technique of author Byron Katie, a practice for working with thoughts. Bernhard’s applications of Buddhism are sound and her insights gentle and honest; others may take heart from her determination to use the Buddha’s timeless wisdom to ease the mental suffering brought about by unrelieved physical illness. (Sept.)


Life Enriching, Life Sustaining
by Janet H. Landis
An customer review

I became acquainted with the author of How To Be Sick through an online Buddhist community, and then discovered she had written this book. How To Be Sick is life changing and as a person with a chronic illness who is married to a paraplegic; is the mother of a child with a fatal neurodegenerative condition and has another child with a chronic medical condition (ulcerative colitis), it borders on the miraculous that such a thing is still possible. Toni Bernhard, with gentle, tender strength, does not sugar-coat the experience of chronic illness, nor fill the pages with platitudes about how faith and/or a good attitude can cure you. Toni writes with courage, clarity, and (at times) painful honesty about her own life. She does not shy away from sharing the ignoble emotions she has struggled with, the times of despair, envy, and loneliness. She also takes you with her through the consequences of trying to get a few precious moments of her old life back, albeit with adaptations carefully planned to give her the best chance for success, like sharing a holiday meal with family that had been a tradition for her before her illness. Reading about the aftermath of these decisions is painful, but she shares the lessons learned with such grace and compassion, you feel as if a dear friend has wrapped her arms around you and given you the strength to forgive yourself for the times you have done the same thing.

Toni, by describing the whole spectrum of emotions she has gone through, creates a sense of enduring kinship with her reader. It is this sense of kinship, felt deeply in the bones, the heart, and the mind, that creates trust. Trust is not easy for those of us who have been demoralized by doctors, let down by treatments or regimens that promised to give us our old lives back, and who have spent ourselves as close to poverty as we can comfortably go, in pursuit of just a taste of who we once were. Toni makes no promises, but rather offers her experiences, regardless of the outcome, and thus gives authenticity to the practices in the book she shares that have helped her to cope with an illness she never anticipated, and certainly never wanted. I highly recommend How To Be Sick for everyone, whether they have a chronic illness, are a caregiver to someone with a chronic illness, or know someone who is going through either or both experiences. Even if none of that is a part of your life, you should buy this book so you can start the practices in it now. They will make your life better, and if you ever develop a chronic illness or become a caregiver to someone with one, they may just save your life. At the very least, Toni's hard-won wisdom will enrich your life in ways you never could have imagined.
Review: How To Be Sick
by Emma Corcoran
Chronic Meditator Blog
(Read entire review)
Over the years I've collected a small library of books on relating to illness from a spiritual perspective.  There are some gems out there. My favorites are Steven Levine's poetic and profound accounts of his conversations with people living with terminal illness in Meetings At the Edge and from a more secular perspective,  Jon Kabat-Zinn's book The Mindful Way through Depression.

Now I have a new book to add to my favorites.  Toni Bernhard, a former law professor, fell sick in 2001 with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) after a trip to Paris and has never recovered. Despite being mostly bed-bound, she's just published a book with the wonderful title How to Be Sick - a Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers. (read more)

Nonfiction Review: How To Be Sick
by Sue Jackson
Book by Book Blog
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Don’t be misled by the title of Toni Bernhard’s new book, How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers. It’s really about how to be well, mentally and emotionally, when your body is sick, but even that seems like too narrow a description for this wonderfully inspirational book.

Toni has the same chronic illness that I do, a serious immune system disorder with the silly name of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Like me (and about 75% of the people with CFS), she was struck ill very suddenly, in the middle of an active and productive life. She begins her book by telling her story, but the majority of the slim volume focuses on explaining how some basic principles of Buddhism can be applied to the various challenges faced by someone who is chronically ill.

I found, however, that much of what Toni describes in her book could easily be applied to any person in any difficult circumstance. In fact, the very first thing she covers is the Buddhist concept of dukkha, which basically states that there are challenges to face in every life, that suffering is a normal part of life for everyone, and that acceptance of this fact can help to ease your suffering – not that the fact of your suffering will simply disappear (right now, there is no cure for CFS), but that you can do some things to ease the mental suffering that we all experience when things go wrong in our lives. (read more)


Toni Bernhard Offers a Practice for Life
by Eva YaaAsantewaa
Hummingwitch Blog
(Read entire review)

I've had the great fortune to be introduced to Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, scheduled for publication in September (Wisdom Publications). In this lovely, informative volume, Bernhard tells of how she suddenly fell ill in the spring of 2001 while vacationing in Paris with her husband. What at first felt like a tenacious, energy-sapping flu was, in fact, a far more serious viral infection that would make it impossible for her to resume life as she'd known it. The university law professor with a treasured marriage and family soon found herself unable to work, shop, travel, meditate or even enjoy the visits of loved ones without a flare-up of debilitating symptoms.

Bernhard remains ill today, usually confined to her bed. Her book describes how she came to apply her longstanding Buddhist practice to this new reality and to the feelings of frustration, grief and envy of other people's freedom that often arose. Would it surprise you, though, to learn that her difficulties have inspired a lively, enjoyable book? With endearing candor and lucidity, this fine writer and teacher explores principles and practices that should help anyone who suffers, whether physically sick or well, and whether or not that person identifies as a Buddhist. (read more)


Touched By Lyme: (book review) "How to be Sick"
by Dorothy Kupcha Leland
California Lyme Disease Association

This book is not about how to get sick or how to stay sick. It's about how to "be" when you are sick. How to have a worthwhile existence, finding meaning, purpose and joy, even when chronic illness seems to have stolen your life away.

How do you respond to the book title How to be Sick? I’m guessing many folks with chronic Lyme disease would think something like this: “Geez, I’ve already got the ‘being sick’ part figured out. How about something on getting well?”

However, Toni Bernhard’s book entitled How to be Sick: A Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers (Wisdom Publications, 2010) is not about how to get sick, or how to stay sick. It’s about how to “be” when you are sick. How to have a worthwhile existence, finding meaning, purpose and joy, even when chronic illness seems to have stolen your life away. 

It’s a tall order. And one that many chronically ill people (and their caregivers) may feel too overwhelmed even to contemplate. Yet, Bernhard found that certain ways of being helped her through the dark tunnel. In effect, dealing with chronic illness became her spiritual practice, and she has valuable insights to offer others in the same condition.

Some background: A long-time student of Buddhist meditation, Bernhard had a happy home life and a satisfying career as a UC Davis law school professor. Then, in 2001, she and her husband flew to Paris for what was supposed to be a romantic vacation. She fell ill on the trip with mysterious, debilitating symptoms from which she has never recovered. To this day, she spends many of her hours house-bound, often bed-bound, with what has been diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

As her job, her friends, and her place in the community all fell away, Bernhard felt increasingly bereft and isolated on top of being sick, and turned to her Buddhist practices to help her deal with it all. By appreciating the gifts of the present moment, developing compassion for herself and her new limitations, and aiming for the Buddhist ideal of “the Middle Way,” she found she could achieve equanimity.

She writes: “The key to wise action for the chronically ill, then, is to avoid extremes. If we veer too far to the one side and act as if we have the stamina and physical abilities we used to have, we risk overexertion that could land us in bed for days. But if we veer too far to the other side of the road (for example, lie in bed in a fetal position, as I did for several months early on in my illness), we risk falling into despair.”

Not falling into despair is an important theme in Bernhard’s story and she walks readers through her own process for accomplishing that. Some chapter titles include: “With our thoughts we make our world,” “Getting off the wheel of suffering,” and “The struggle to find community in isolation.” (Hint: the internet helps a lot with that last one.)

How to be Sick is a touching memoir of Bernhard’s personal spiritual journey through her illness and how she ultimately found solace and coping skills through her Buddhist practices. It’s kind of a love story, as well, painting a tender portrait of the ways her husband (also named Tony Bernhard) has steadfastly supported her through this ordeal. She dedicates the book to him.