Writing Disability in Australia: Transmedial Potentials for Illness/Recovery Narratives


In this paper I argue that extending the illness/recovery narrative through the transmedial mode allows for more diverse representation from patients and survivors, leading to greater understanding of varied stories and an enhanced version of Narrative Medicine. Using two transmedial case studies – Dakoda Barker’s threesixfive (2015) and my own interactive memoir How to Knit a Human – I frame my discussion through the lenses of Disability Studies, Mad Studies and Narrative Medicine. Threesixfive evokes Barker’s experience of living with a chronic health condition and the daily struggles and choices one must make throughout each hour. How to Knit a Human utilises choice-based digital storytelling to represent inconsistencies in memory and alternative pathways caused by memory-loss from psychosis and electroconvulsive therapy. I explore these transmedial potentials and encourage survivors to take power and agency in their own valuable lived experiences in order to transform the Narrative Medicine field, which usually only draws on traditional forms of storytelling. I assert that transmedial modes grant greater diversity and flexibility when wielded by survivors. Moreover, once these stories are experienced by others, stigma surrounding disability and/or madness will reduce not only in wider society, but in medicine, education and institutions.

In 2011 my outcome looked dire – I was an involuntary patient in a public psychiatric hospital, could barely manage colouring activities and my hospital file noted I had word finding difficulties as a result of numerous electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments. Most debilitating was my short-term memory loss, which lasted for the following six months, and I had complete memory loss of the events that had led to my psychosis, including amnesia of my six-and-a-half-week hospital stay. A psychiatrist who was part of the Early Psychosis Team demonstrated deep empathy and understanding and I was shown how Narrative Medicine could work through the doctor/patient relationship even if I did not know the name for it at the time. Rita Charon, who coined the term Narrative Medicine, explains that ‘using narrative knowledge enables a person to understand the plight of another by participating in his or her story with complex skills…

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Published 23 May 2022 in Special Issue: Writing Disability in Australia. Subjects: Digital literature/s, Disabled writers, Mad studies.

Cite as: Jacobson, Anna. ‘Writing Disability in Australia: Transmedial Potentials for Illness/Recovery Narratives.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, 2022, doi: 10.20314/als.d4b646ecb8.