By Dawn DeBois
As a teen, I idolized Princess Diana and was devastated when she died. As a mom of three young boys at the time, and having grown up without my own mom, I knew all too well the devastation her young sons were feeling. All I kept thinking was: Those poor boys. With the news of Prince Harry's autobiography Spare being released in January, I pre-ordered a copy and cleared my reading calendar. Even so, I was completely unprepared for the emotions I experienced when I read it.
First and foremost, when two people live through similar traumas such as losing their mothers at a young age, it doesn't matter if their family is royalty or foster; the pain is still the same. After Diana's death, I remember someone telling me to not worry because Prince Harry and Prince William would be given the best therapy the world could offer. But, Spare tells us otherwise. A royal family doesn't want its secrets shared; neither does a foster family. So, what do the children do? They come up with their own coping mechanisms. As I read Harry's story surrounding his mother's death and teen years, I found myself having to take breaks because this wasn't just an author sharing a story I wasn't familiar with. I had news reel-type flashbacks from my own memories of Princess Diana's death while reading the book. I was invested because of how much I adored Princess Diana, and I was shocked by how much my childhood grief paralleled Harry's.
Then, along came the part of Harry's story that I could relate to in my current world. He was bringing his girlfriend, Chelsy who resided in Africa, to Britain, and he had to prepare her for the relentless paparazzi. He wrote: "I advised Chelsy to treat it like a chronic illness. Something to be managed." I reflected a lot about that passage on my walk with Rock Dog later that day, and I realized how my life with chronic illness was indeed like Harry's life dealing with the paparazzi.
Harry shared details of how strategic traveling had to be to avoid the paparazzi. I too can't travel anywhere without a lot of forethought about how my meds will be managed, how much I need to bring, how to transport them and how to remember to take them at the right intervals when not in my normal schedule or time zone.
A common theme in the book was Harry wondering if a new girlfriend would be able to handle the stress of the paparazzi. I also often wonder when to introduce the topic of my chronic illnesses in a new relationship. I would like people to meet me for me, but the reality is I come with a host of tagalongs: my diagnoses and meds. Most 50-somethings do not take 15 separate medications daily and do an infusion weekly to keep their bodies in check.
Especially traumatizing for Harry is no matter how hard he tried and planned, he could not shake the paparazzi. After a while, one or two always found him. The fact that it was a paparazzi chase that took his mother's life made these instances especially triggering. This is very similar to living with multiple chronic illnesses. I can take all the prescribed medicines, infuse immune globulin weekly and do everything my specialists recommend, but my life, like Prince Harry's, is not and never will be normal. Symptoms will always pop up, usually at the most inopportune time.
Spare was a great read. Trauma is trauma, families all have issues, therapy helps and love is love. The rest must be managed.