Helen Fleet is at university and on her year away in France when she starts to feel very ill. She returns home to Scotland early, and, after some disbelief on the part of her GP and a number of tests she is diagnosed with Coxsackie B (a type of stomach virus) and eventually m.e.. The book follows the next thirteen years of her life, as she tries to find a way to live with her condition.
I was in two minds whether to read this book. I have m.e.. I’ve improved massively in the two and half years I’ve been ill, but I’m still very restricted – I spend most of my day resting on my own, so that I can do an hour’s work each day, a little physio, and sometimes go for a coffee/cinema/food. I live the very best, most independent life that I can, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck sometimes, which is why I wasn’t sure I wanted to read about someone else’s life sucking in the same way. But, the book was free on ebook for a short while so I decided I may as well download it to my phone and give it a go (I used iBooks to bypass Kindle/Amazon.)
My problem, in the end, was that I just didn’t gel with Helen until very near the end of the book. She’s very emotional (particularly when it comes to her on/off boyfriend, Ivan, so much as existing near another girl), which made her feel very young and annoying-teenagery to me. I know that a lot of it was about watching her friends and Ivan continue with life in a way she couldn’t, and ‘regressing’ a little when moving back in with her parents and becoming dependant on them again. But, as a lot of the book is Helen’s thoughts about her relationships, it sometimes felt a little Bella from Twilight, which isn’t my favourite.
Because I didn’t like Helen much, I found it difficult to enjoy The State of Me for a good chunk of the book. But there were lots of parts I really liked reading, in a ‘yep, that’s totally it’ kind of way – like the conversation she has with the stranger near the beginning, where she tries to explain she can only work a few hours a week (I really hate that conversation – small talk with new people is my dread). Also this, on how the illness is usually invisible:
“On a good day, I can walk a mile, but my legs will be burning afterwards – I need a few days to recover… I’m always measuring out my energy behind the scenes, but people don’t see it. They see you at a party and think you’re fine, they don’t see you resting all day to be able to go, and being wrecked all next day because you went. They don’t see you leaning on walls at bus stops because you can’t stand for more than five minutes. They don’t see how tired your arm gets after beating an egg. They don’t know you almost always have poison in your calves when you wake up. They don’t see you weeping because you’re so tired of it all.”
Jafry packs in a lot of information about m.e. using conversations between Helen and strangers and an FAQ chapter. It was an interesting way of trying to get a lot of factual stuff about the condition into a fiction book, and my guess is part of the reason this book was written was to spread awareness. Sometimes these sections worked well, and others I found a bit too much. But I already know that stuff, though, so I’d be interested to find out what people who didn’t know much about m.e. thought.
I’m not sure if I’d recommend the book to others. I think I might for someone with m.e. who was feeling alone and misunderstood, but I would add the caveats that every person’s illness is slightly different and that, although she can be quite funny, Helen does go a bit Bella sometimes.