Unseen by Jacinta Parsons

About 9.5 million Australians live with a chronic illness. Many of these conditions are not outwardly visible, so symptoms and side effects are often experienced by sufferers in solitude.

Unseen is a powerful memoir about chronic illness by ABC broadcaster and 3RRR alumna Jacinta Parsons. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in her twenties, Parsons details her journey from diagnosis, to treatment, and, eventually, to acceptance.

Parsons’ memoir is an honest and engaging account of how a chronic illness impacts our ability to navigate the workforce, maintain personal relationships, and develop a sense of self. It’s grounded by extensive research, expert opinion, and first-hand accounts from other people personally affected by chronic illness. By situating key moments in her journey in a broader context, Parsons transforms the personal to political. Supported by comprehensive evidence, she acknowledges some of the complex intersections of chronic illness with race, gender, and socio-economic factors.

Unseen shares some similarities with Gabrielle Jackson’s Pain and Prejudice: a personal memoir about endometriosis and an incisive exploration of how women’s bodies are often misunderstood and mistreated in the medical discourse. There are two very recent Australian releases that may also be of interest to Parsons’ readers: Show Me Where It Hurts by Kylie Maslen and Hysteria by Katerina Bryant.

As someone with a physical disability that is relatively unseen owing to decades of surgery and physiotherapy, I felt a deep resonance with Parsons’ experience of isolation and disconnection. While there is, of course, immense privilege in seeming well and ‘healthy’, it can also mean that your experience is minimised or erased entirely.

Unseen is a compelling antidote to damaging misinformation and limiting stereotypes about chronic illness. With chronic disease as the leading cause of ill health, disability, and death in Australia, this is essential reading for all of us.

Flick Ford works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.