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WebMD Checkup: Joan Didion

Novelist, journalist, screenwriter, and National Book Award-winning memoirist Joan Didion answers questions about love and loss.

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How are you taking care of yourself?
By sheer will, making lists and doing what I need to do and remembering that I will be useless if I get sick myself.

What kind of support system do you have?
I've been blessed by great close friends and family, people who have stepped forward without their or my asking. What is fairly useless in this kind of situation is the friend who says (and I used to be guilty of this myself), "Let me know if there's anything I can do." In fact, you won't let him or her know, ever.

You and John walked Central Park every morning. Do you still walk, and has your route changed?
I still walk in the park, yes. And yes, my route has changed, which sometimes makes me feel a little loose in the world.

What is the best health advice anyone has ever given you?
Once, a long time ago, before MRIs, when I was having some neurological symptoms and had received an exclusionary diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a friend --- a doctor, someone who had received a similar exclusionary diagnosis --- advised me to keep regular appointments with a neurologist even in the absence of symptoms. That way, he said, "You can forget about it." This worked. The symptoms subsided. I saw a neurologist regularly and never gave it a thought in between.

What is your best health habit? Your worst?
"Best" and "worst" when it comes to health habits depend on who's doing the ranking (some might say I had all bad habits), but I would say my most useful habit is to consult doctors early and fast and, as above, not fret about it in between.

Are there positive attributes to aging?
My own experience with aging was that I became a little more forgiving, both of others and myself. Once life forces you to accept that there are some things (death, illness, aging) you can't control, you tend to relax a little.

Of the five senses, which one do you value most: sight, smell, hearing, taste or touch?
I suspect that I would find loss of touch more isolating than that of any other single sense.

Is writing key to your overall health?
Writing is the only way I process experience. So yes, it's key. But I think most people would find "working" --- whatever their work is --- just as key.

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