Give Up Hope and Take Up Smoking: Living Well With a Chronic Condition

This is ‘book’ 2 in the series The Impossible Books of Keith Kahn-Harris. The cover was created by Gus Condeixa. For more on this series, read the introduction here.


What sort of book is it?

An unusual take on the self-help book. Relatively brief — 20–30,000 words probably.

How likely is it that I will write the book?

I go through phases of being desperate to write this book and other phases where I think it’s a terribly bad idea. There is every chance that the book would simply enmesh me in a nightmare of controversy from sufferers with chronic conditions without actually helping anyone much. Still, the book deals with something that’s very important to me.

Am I happy for anyone else to write the book?

I think it’s very unlikely that anyone will!


You’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition that limits what you can do on a daily basis. Perhaps that diagnosis only happened after years of suffering. The condition has no certain cure but it isn’t going to kill you. You are told you may or may not get better. You try some treatments but they don’t help. Sometimes, you appear to be getting better but you end up relapsing.

Now what?

For some the answer is to live a careful and ordered life, within the boundaries set by the condition; to stay up to date with the latest research; to try the latest treatments; to be plugged into networks of other sufferers; to seek out specialists who might be able to help; and, above all, never to give up hope of a cure.

That’s the best way forward, right?

Well, for some it is and I’m not knocking it if it works for you. But for some of us who live with a chronic condition, this approach doesn’t quite work: a life spent in perpetual hope and constant self-monitoring is a life spent in suspended animation. Hope is what tortures us, not what sustains us.

This is a book for those who are a living with a chronic condition and are fed up of the constant work that we are supposed to do to stay healthy and hopeful.

It stems from my own experiences of living with moderate but persistent ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for over 20 years. During that time, I spent years hoping to get better, living a patient ordered life, trying a whole range of treatments. Some of these treatments helped and others didn’t, but eventually the constant search for solutions to my ‘problem’ ground me down. My life was on hold, waiting and hoping to get better.

I don’t discount the possibility that one day there will be an effective treatment for my condition, but I can’t wait till then. I have one life and I will live it. Until the day comes when my condition can be cured, I have taken the positive decision to give up hope.

Not only that, I’ve done things over the years that have not helped my condition. At times I’ve been a smoker. This is fucking stupid for anyone to do, especially someone with a chronic condition like mine. But I don’t feel guilty and I don’t repudiate the principle behind the vice: living life to the full means doing things that are against one’s best interests, at least some of the time. Vices, be they slightly naughty or devastatingly self-destructive, are the sign of living a life that is about more than just the drudgery of daily existence. Self-indulgence escapes the rational logic that seeks to extend the quantity of life without any regard for its quality.

One of the worst thing about living with a chronic condition is living without self-indulgence and vice. A life lived with endless measured carefulness and constant attention to one’s body is a life that can grind one into the dust with its sheer remorseless rationality. Living well with a chronic condition, requires escaping oneself, even if only occasionally.

Don’t get me wrong, I live carefully. I try and exist within the boundaries set by my condition. But I reserve the right to break my own rules. I reserve the right to fuck myself up. I reserve the right to live a glorious life outside the dictates of illusory hope — at least sometimes.

So as I live, proudly and apologetically, with a condition that I have given up hope of ever being free of, expecting a diagnosis of lung cancer at any moment, this book aims to offer advice to people like me. It won’t be good advice for everyone. Some of it is grossly irresponsible. At the very least though, my perspective offers an alternative to a living death of careful hopefulness and sterile good health.

Give Up Hope and Take Up Smoking will be organized into a number of chapters, including:

- Give up hope

- Love your illness

- Treat your doctor with suspicion and exploit him/her mercilessly

- Ignore the latest research

- Use and confuse your family and loved ones

- Start smoking

- Overdo it

- Relish idleness

-Wallow in misery like a bohemian artist or some such bullshit

-Die young and leave behind a decrepit corpse

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this Impossible Book, why not browse through the rest of the series here?

Also, please recommend and share it on Medium or elsewhere. I would love to read your comments too.

Many thanks!



Keith Kahn-Harris
The Impossible Books of Keith Kahn-Harris

Professionally curious writer and sociologist. Expert on Jews and on heavy metal — interested in much more. For more about me go to