How does a child deal with acute pain?

Trish Harris
Trish Harris

Wellington-based author Trish Harris answers this question and others in her memoir about pain and loss, identity and living creatively in a memoir titled The Walking Stick Tree. The book features essays, illustrations and her personal story of living with arthritis.

This memoir, published by Escalator Press, tells the story of a six-year-old girl developing acute arthritis and navigating her way through childhood into adulthood.

Ms Harris forms a relationship with pain and treads a fine line with loss. As an adult she reaches for a “normal” life by developing her own “adapted” version.

Threaded through the core story of growing up and living with acute arthritis is Ms Harris’s Catholic upbringing and the need in her adult years to find a spirituality that helped her connect with her body in a life-giving way. She doesn’t water down the experience of acute childhood arthritis, or how this plays out as an adult. Instead she delves deeper, using it as a lens to explore four vital areas of her life. This culminates in an essay entitled “Body and soul” that not only contains her own insights around disability and spirituality, but those of writers who have sustained and challenged her.

9-the-walking-stick-treeMs Harris is an active member of the New Zealand Disability, Spirituality and Faith Network. As well as being a writer, in recent years Ms Harris trained as a spiritual director.

Renowned children’s author, Joy Cowley, commented on The Walking Stick Tree: “It is often said that the body is the house in which the true self dwells. Trish Harris’s ‘house’ has arthritis written all over it, but her true self has expanded beyond its walls to embrace the universe. In The Walking Stick Tree Trish has given us a beautifully written memoir that will bring hope to those living with disability, and encouragement to everyone.”

The four essays on “Exploring loss, sadness and grief”, “The dance of identity”, “Body and soul” and “The nature of pain” show the vision of someone writing from the inside of the experience, rather than a person writing as an outsider looking in.

The Walking Stick Tree also discusses other important aspects of Trish’s life, including the effects that spirituality and literature had on her.

“Finding a quality New Zealand book on the experience of disability is like finding water in a desert: eagerly consumed and leaving me wanting more,” said Robyn Hunt, leading disability expert in New Zealand.

Publicity for the book recommends it for those who have a disability, who live with or care for a disabled person, and those who want to live life fully regardless of the circumstances.

With illustrations from Sarah Laing this memoir allows readers to visualise as well as imagine the life that Ms Harris has led.

Ms Harris said of her experience when writing the book, “I wrote the personal story first in 1997. I knew I needed a long break from it, however, I didn’t realise it would be 16 years! When I returned to the manuscript in 2013 I added the essays. The essays link my story to other people and this widening of the experience is so important to me.”