Communication Studies, Department of


First Advisor

Jody Koenig Kellas

Date of this Version

Spring 4-16-2021


Gunning, J. (2021). Wisdom narratives: Communicated sense-making in emerging adulthood autoimmune disease. Master's thesis, University of Nebraska - Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Jody Koenig Kellas. Lincoln, Nebraska: April 16, 2021

Copyright (c) 2021 Jacqueline N. Gunning


Under the umbrellas of Communicated Sense-making (CSM, Koenig Kellas & Kranstuber Horstman, 2015), the current study explored 25 stories of illness told by assigned female at birth individuals with autoimmune disease. Using both the Theory of Memorable Messages (ToMM, Cooke-Jackson & Rubinsky, 2021) and Communicated Narrative Sense-making Theory (CNSM, Koenig Kellas, 2018), findings reveal helpful and harmful interpersonal memorable messages received across their illness journeys, as well as lessons learned and wisdom gained from disruptive chronic illness onset at a young age. Participants identified messages of belief, support, and interest as helpful while navigating disease, whereas they saw messages of dismissal, blame, and presumed psychosis as unhelpful or negative. The lessons learned from participants’ illness stories (wisdom narratives) revolved around themes such as separating self from illness, creating and committing to new normals, renewing trust in self, increased empathy, and recognition of privilege and disparities in health care. Findings illuminate how to effectively support emerging adults navigating invisible, chronic illness. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Advisor: Jody Koenig Kellas