Nursing Book Club

Everything I Have Is Yours by Eleanor Henderson

A vivid portrait of a marriage strained to the breaking point by chronic illness

Cover of book Everything I Have Is Yours and author Eleanor Henderson

Forty years ago, when I was a nursing student, we learned the phrase “We are bio-psycho-social-sexual beings,” which was a new concept at the time. It seems that all these decades later, we are still trying to figure out what implications that interconnectedness holds for our health.

Strained Relationships

This question is at the heart of author Eleanor Henderson’s 2021 memoir, Everything I Have Is Yours, which examines the impact of physical and mental illness on an adult relationship, and the chaos that results as a family struggles to find the cause and meaning.   The book takes its title from a 1933 Burton Lane/Harold Adamson song, famously performed by Billie Holiday. Henderson played that song at her wedding to her husband Aaron, an older man she fell in love with as a teenager.

A Controversial Disease

For about a decade, everything seemed wonderful: The couple had two children, and Henderson worked hard at getting an education while ambitiously following her dreams, eventually publishing two successful novels.  She was working a little too hard to notice the beginning of her partner’s downward slide. When his health problems surfaced, though, she was all in, researching symptoms, joining support groups, attending medical conferences, and doing whatever she could to hold her family together.

Hiring Now

But, what exactly was that illness? It presented as a painful rash and lesions, symptoms of a condition called Morgellons disease, in which patients experience stinging, crawling sensations, as if tiny parasites or fibrous strands were burrowing through their skin.

Morgellons disease is poorly understood and highly controversial. Some believe that it may be a spirochetal infection, similar to Lyme disease, while others insist that it’s purely psychosomatic. (He was at one time diagnosed with “delusional parasitosis,” which means what it sounds like.)

Whatever your take on Morgellons disease, Henderson’s account makes clear that the lines between physical and mental illness can be blurry, especially when physical symptoms are accompanied by isolation, emotional breakdown, memories of childhood trauma, and attempts to self-medicate.

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It’s also not always easy to know when support becomes enablement. The well-put-together author photo on the book jacket (above) belies the seemingly endless years of financial trouble and strain caused by her husband’s illness.

Impossible Stress

For me, this was a riveting read. Like the author, I have also lived in Ithaca, N.Y., and have taken my husband to the same hospital ER. I could picture the houses on the streets where they lived. All of this imagery became incorporated into the vivid nightmares I had after reading her story.

A memoir of living through impossible stress, Everything I Have Is Yours is beautifully written and powerful, but not light or easy reading. It’s hard to remember anything else I’ve read that has been told in such an honest, confessional manner.

The kind of train wreck that you can’t look away from but are afraid to examine too closely, this is a love story of care and faithfulness “in sickness and in health,” and a reminder of the strength of the human spirit.

Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage by Eleanor Henderson (Flatiron Books/MacMillan, 2021)

CHRISTINE CONTILLO, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, ranging from infants to geriatrics.

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