John Miers - Drawing from the biographies of John Hicklenton and Lindsay Cooper in order to conceptualise chronic disease
Drawing from the biographies of John Hicklenton and Lindsay Cooper in order to conceptualise chronic disease
Cartoonist John Hicklenton (1967-2010) and musician Lindsay Cooper (1951-2013) both suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS). A metaphorical understanding of illness as warfare underpins Hicklenton’s commentary in the 2008 documentary Here’s Johnny. Cooper, by contrast, attempts to find constructive meaning in her experience of illness. Little treatment was available during their lifetimes, and they each sought alternative means of negotiating their conditions. Hicklenton adopted guerrilla tactics, going against doctors’ advice in taking veterinary myelin supplements. Cooper’s diaries detail extensive engagement with psychoanalytic therapy, meditation and yoga.
This paper draws out the ethical challenges posed by commenting on their approaches to disease management in my most recent autobiographical comic strip, which forms part of an ongoing series dealing with my experience of MS.
My initial response to their coping strategies was critical: I regarded Hicklenton’s approach to self-medication as ill-informed and self-destructive, and balked at Cooper’s apparent lack of anger at what had happened to her. But what right do I, who received disease-modifying treatments within months of diagnosis, have to criticise individuals who had no hope of access to same, and to do so, in the case of Cooper’s diaries, in response to material that was never intended for public scrutiny?