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Health & Balance

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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.


You are one of America's preeminent literary voices. Are there words to describe your recent loss of Quintana?
Quintana died on August 26, 2005. Since Christmas 2003 she had been through (and survived) several life-threatening crises, most of which could be seen as sequelae of the initial septic shock. There are still no words for me to describe her loss.

What insight can you offer to someone newly grieving now?
The only advice there is for someone undergoing grief is to let it happen, to not be afraid of experiencing it. It's normal; it's part of life. We get through it, even though it doesn't seem possible.

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.

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