Book Reviews

It's All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness by Suzanne O'Sullivan

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List Price: £16.99

 

Hardcover: 336 Pages.

Published: 04 June 2015 by Chatto & Windus

ISBN: 0701189266

EAN: 9780701189266

'Even if medical tests cannot explain your pain or tiredness or disability, it does not lessen your suffering. The pain of medically unexplained illness is every bit as real as any other and, if anything, is multiplied by the lack of understanding.'

Most of us accept the way our heart flutters when we set eyes on the one we secretly admire, or the sweat on our brow as we start the presentation we do not want to give. But few of us are fully aware of how dramatic our body’s reactions to emotions can sometimes be.

Take Pauline, who first became ill when she was fifteen. What seemed at first to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then food intolerances, then life-threatening appendicitis. And then one day, after a routine operation, Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly after that her convulsions started. But Pauline’s tests are normal; her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

Pauline may be an extreme case, but she is by no means alone. As many as a third of men and women visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained. In most, an emotional root is suspected and yet, when it comes to a diagnosis, this is the very last thing we want to hear, and the last thing doctors want to say.

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Debra Found

A Fascinating Read

This is an excellent book looking at the ways in which our minds create symptoms making us ill. When we get embarrassed we blush and there is nothing we can do about it. When people feel very strong emotions their bodies react such as a  few tears, a lump in the throat or a snorty laugh. For some people their bodies react much more strongly to difficult situations or stresses and cause serious illnesses and symptoms. One of the ones that most peple will have had from time to time is a stressed induced headache but it can vary widely including seizures, blurred vision and paralysis. These are serious and life changing illnesses which usual medical intervention struggles to treat. Often people are unsuccessfully tested and treated for years with no success. This book looks at these symptoms and illnesses and how they can be treated successfully.

This was a very readable and fascinating book. There are one or two examples where people have deliberately faked symptoms in order to get attention but the primary focus is on people whose illnesses are caused by their minds. The author has a deep empathy with the sufferers and talks about how the biggest hurdle is getting people to accept that in order to be physically well they need to address their emotions. The book also discusses the history of medical research into emotionally induced illnesses and how society doesn't see them as real illnesses despite them having serious and life changing affects.

In the main body of the book, each chapter looks at a particular case study discussing it as well as relevent medical information & other similar case studies. Although there is some use of medical language this is usually explained clearly and I didn't need to resort to the dictionary. The book is well written with a good use of language and excellent research, especially into the development of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

The one word of caution I have with this book is whether or not all of the illnesses covered do fall within the cycle of psychosomatic illnesses. Some of the views on ME & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome did seem to be slightly out of date. Although I am no expert on the subject, I am aware that recent research does lean towards some form of auto-immune problem. In fact the author herself discusses how some of the early neurologists dismissed symptoms as being all in the mind when we now know these form part of a neurological disorder. It seems quite possible that she is making the same mistake with ME & Chronic fatigue. It is quite likely that at least a few of the psychosomatic illnesses mentioned in the book may well be due to physical problems which cannot yet recognise.

This book was well structured forming an easy flow throughout. It was very easy to read and I found it fascinating and difficult to put down.

 
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