The front cover of Katherine Cuthbert's book is wonderfully symbolic. A delightful picture of a disabled woman cycling across a narrow bridge looking hopeful and determined. The book is a personal account of the onset and management of MS and tracks through early childhood experiences, adulthood, and then to dealing with the diagnosis and beyond. The uncertainty, mobility problems and subsequent coping strategies are outlined. A clear and well written appraisal of the transformation and adaptation from able-bodied to disabled is provided. The psychological expertise of the author provides the perspective and over-arching framework of the book, but the writing is targeted at the general reader.
The strength of 'Keeping Balance' is the gentleness with which the writer invites the reader into her world. There is no self pity or blame, nor is the book a self-help manual. Instead it is a personal narrative for the reader to explore both the physical and mental challenges of MS, aptly described as the 'roller-coaster of hope'. Important topics of friendship, mood, depression and disclosure and social interaction are discussed from a psychological perspective. The cognitive dimension is never underestimated. The insights offered are not necessarily specific to MS and could apply to many chronic and disabling conditions.
The chapter 'Distraction: Our Grand Design' chronicles the life of a typical young couple with the trials and tribulations experienced by many. The difference with Kath and Pete is their immense fortitude and positive attitude. The 'green' lifestyle accommodating disability, but not dominated by its presence. The chapter 'Leaving Paid Employment' discusses employment and its importance in providing a person with a view of their role in the world. The requirement to give up employment and the impact of that on one's self view is explored along with the coping strategies adopted. The chapter 'Cycling Differently' provides a wide ranging and informative review of available bicycles for the disabled, with detailed references. Kath's love of the outdoors and her determination to keep on cycling is a recurrent theme. The chapter 'Me and Others' explores the experience of being a disabled person in an able-bodied world. Never mind the lack of handrails or lowered curbs, the more important issue is how one manages the interaction with one's partner, friends and strangers. Is 'How are you?' really a question to answer?
The writing style flows easily throughout the book. The family photos help to colour the description of pre MS life, while the house build photos add depth to the Grand Design story. Several photographs of cycling holidays emphasise the pleasures of exercise and well-being. The friendship and support of husband Pete is the gossamer thread that weaves into every page of this excellent and highly recommended read.
© 2014 Angela Lyons