The Devil's Bait Themes
Mind versus Body
In illuminating the symptoms of Morgellons in “The Devil’s Bait,” Leslie Jamison examines how living with disease disrupts the mind-body connection. Through an outsider’s perspective, she carefully investigates this seemingly psychosomatic condition and the agonizing toll that constant misdiagnoses and misconceptions have on sufferers of the disease. Her essay thus takes into consideration how physical manifestations of Morgellons affect the minds of patients.
Jamison conveys the ways that the “disease or delusion” conundrum—a narrative fueled by the medical community’s inability to grasp the source of Morgellons in the body—traps “Morgies” in a cycle of uncertainty, wherein their symptoms and attendant feelings of alienation are exacerbated by public doubt. This battle between mind and body also reflects a growing disconnect between individual and society. Jamison thus uses her own experience, in which her sensation of worms in her ankle is validated with physical proof, to reflect on this collective mental disengagement:
I remember how everyone looked at me: kindly and without belief . . . The disconnect felt even worse than the worm itself—to live in a world where this thing was, while other people lived in a world where it wasn’t.
In this passage, Jamison emphasizes the role that doubt—especially from medical experts with the power to define symptoms with diagnoses—plays on the psyche of a sufferer; in her case, she quite literally feels another body crawling inside of her skin. She later describes this sensation—from the perspective of another woman attending the Morgellons conference named Sandra—as “creatures . . . making a nest of her body, using the ordinary materials of her life to build a home inside her.” By vividly illuminating how Morgellons takes possession of the body in a ravenous and endless cycle, Jamison highlights throughout her essay that the “feedback loop,” causing physical manifestations of the disease, “testifies to the possibility of symptoms that dwell in a charged and uneasy space between body and mind.”
Moreover, this alienating abyss between body and mind has both a paralyzing and catalyzing effect for someone navigating the symptoms of Morgellons, and without definitive answers to assess the condition, the void becomes deeper. Jamison further affirms that “this insistence on an external source of damage” as validation for suffering contradicts how “the self” inherently functions—which she describes as a conglomeration of “discordant and self-sabotaging” entities. She thus depicts the mind-body connection as clashing internal forces: a chaotic collision course between the mental and physical elements that fuel a person’s self-construction in full, whether realized or not.
The Limits of Knowledge
Jamison’s essay communicates the limits of knowledge by examining society’s misconceptions and resulting mishandling of psychosomatic illnesses, especially addiction. For one, the dismissiveness of doctors toward the physical symptoms that patients of Morgellons face exemplifies how knowledge and compassion are conflicting forces in the search for scientific answers to both internal and external pain. Halfway into “The Devil’s Bait,” Jamison crucially lays out the fundamental basis of her intention in writing this piece:
This isn’t an essay about whether Morgellons disease is real . . . it’s an essay about what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion. It’s about this strange sympathetic limbo: Is it wrong to speak of empathy when you trust the fact of suffering but not the source?
Without explanation or validation from trustworthy sources, patients—especially those with misdiagnoses—must further face another effect of invisible illnesses: that their symptoms tend to blur the lines between what is real and what is not. Jamison describes this phenomenon as a “double-edged sword of fear and...
(The entire section is 1,167 words.)