It’s All In Your Head

All posts tagged It’s All In Your Head

It’s All In Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness – Suzanne O’Sullivan

Published September 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘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.

In It’s All in Your Head consultant neurologist Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan takes us on a journey through the very real world of psychosomatic illness. She takes us from the extreme — from paralysis, seizures and blindness — to more everyday problems such as tiredness and pain. Meeting her patients, she encourages us to look deep inside the human condition. There we find the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves, and our age-old failure to credit the intimate and extraordinary connection between mind and body.

What did I think?:

Oh, the thoughts. Oh, the feelings. Let me try and start at the beginning and I’m hoping my words make some sort of coherent sense. If not, I apologise. I have a couple of non fiction shelves at home (which you’ll see in due course if you enjoy my Shelfie by Shelfie book tag), and never seem to get round to reading them until this year, I began a new venture where I read three books at once – a current “main” read, a non-fiction read and a re-read of an old favourite. I’ve been eagerly anticipating many of my non-fiction reads, well….apart from this one. Let me explain. I’m a sucker for an interesting title, cover and synopsis and I don’t shy away from potentially controversial subject matters if it means I can educate myself about particular topics but I really wasn’t sure whether this book might hit a little too close to home, even for me.

Neurologist and author, Suzanne O’Sullivan who won The Wellcome Trust Prize in 2016 with It’s All In Your Head.

If you’ve been following me for a while now, you might have seen in a previous review/post that I’ve been struggling for the past eight years with a chronic illness. Basically, my diagnosis is fibromyalgia with chronic fatigue syndrome and hypermobility. It’s got to the point in my life now where I’m managing to cope really well with it. I still have my bad days of course, and at the end of the week, it’s still a mission to keep myself standing upright but I’m absolutely determined  to stay positive and that it’s not going to take my life away from me. This is why I still continue to work full-time, even if it is quite a struggle at times, I have to be honest. If you want to read more about my story, I wrote a personal post HERE.

As I was FINALLY picking up this book, I felt nervous and excited in equal measure. I didn’t know whether this book was going to make me feel horribly angry or completely vindicated about my own chronic health issues. I posted a picture of the book on Instagram and had some amazing and very interesting responses, many of whom were reacting the same way as I did when I first saw that title. Of course, a title like It’s All In Your Head seems to have been deliberately chosen to be controversial and raise a few hackles and, job done, my hackles were well and truly primed. Nobody with chronic illness likes to be told “it’s all in your head,” especially considering the amount of pain, suffering, physical and emotional turmoil we go through on a daily basis. There is literally nothing else my doctor can do for me and how to manage my pain myself has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

However, as I soon came to realise as I made my way through this fascinating and insightful book is that we don’t have to take that title literally and assume the author is saying something she is clearly not. As I’ve learned myself through my chronic illness journey, sadly a lot of my condition is psychological but a) that does not mean I’m going crazy, b) that does NOT mean I’m imagining it, c) my pain IS real and will probably always be there and d) I have to find the best way to cope with it (with the help and support of my loved ones) that will mean I have a fulfilling and enjoyable life. The author does briefly touch on illnesses like fibromyalgia and like she confirms, there is no definitive test for diagnosing it which makes it hard for both the patient and the doctor to ensure that the treatment offered is correct. Obviously more research desperately needs to be done and is ongoing but various studies have shown that although the pain is felt physically in different regions of the body, one theory is that the actual problem may lie in the pain receptors of the brain. In this sense, when you take the phrase “it’s all in your head,” might not mean what I initially assumed it to mean when I looked at the cover of the book and was instantly offended!

In this book, O’Sullivan follows a number of different patients, all with medically unexplained symptoms ranging from tiredness and pain to numbness, paralysis and even violent seizures and when nothing is discovered in blood tests, scans etc, suggests that there may be an emotional connection to the terrifying (and often debilitating) symptoms they are experiencing. She explores some intriguing ideas, including the age-old question – when did it become such a stigma to be psychologically unwell? As a society, we have an undeniable determination to pin everything down with physical evidence of malaise, only accepting cold, hard figures and scientific facts to prove that we are genuinely unwell. However, the individuals she talks about are truly exhibiting physical signs of illness and even if there isn’t a test yet that can decipher exactly what’s going on, O’Sullivan is simply suggesting all possible avenues, even psychiatric ones should be explored so that the patient can get the most appropriate, effective and individual treatment for them alone.

I’m so glad I read this book. Not only was it an absorbing and informative read but personally, I felt like it made me look at my own health problems in a whole new light. I came to this book determined to be angry with it and sceptical of the author’s own thoughts and feelings. However, at the end I felt slightly ashamed when I realised that they were perfectly sound and sensitive, particularly in her reactions to people who are genuinely suffering. Of course there are always going to be “those” people who are attempting to cheat the system and fake illness which is a real shame for those of us who are in very real pain and torment but I loved that O’Sullivan takes each one of her patient’s ailments seriously and compassionately, ensuring all the relevant boxes are ticked before suggesting that there might be an alternative explanation for their symptoms.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

It’s All In Your Head: True Stories Of Imaginary Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan was the forty-sixth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

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Book Tag – Books Beginning With S.P.R.I.N.G.

Published March 21, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hi everyone and hope you’re all well! Today I’m celebrating Spring as yesterday was the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. I came up with this idea after seeing one of my favourite book tubers, Lauren from Lauren And The Books do a video at Christmas. She took each letter of the word CHRISTMAS and presented a title from her bookshelves that began with that letter. I’m going to nab that great idea and today I will be taking each letter of the word SPRING and showing you a book from my TBR that begins with that letter which I hope to get round to very soon. So without further ado, let’s get on with it!

S

What’s it all about?:

Martinique, 1765, and brothers Emile and Lucien are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back the 42 slaves claimed by English invaders at the hospital plantation in Fort Royal. While Lucien, barely in his teens, sees the trip as a great adventure, the older and worldlier Emile has no illusions about the dangers they will face. But with no choice other than to obey Cleophas – and sensing the possibility, however remote, of finding his first love Celeste – he sets out with his brother on this ‘reckless venture’.

With great characters, a superb narrative set up, and language that is witty, bawdy and thrillingly alive, Sugar Money is a novel to treasure.

I’m so excited to read this book after loving Jane Harris’ previous novels, The Observations and Gillespie And I. If you haven’t read her before, I highly HIGHLY recommend her. She writes such beautiful historical fiction you could almost believe you were right there with her characters.

P

What’s it all about?:

A fiercely imagined fiction debut in which two young women face what happened the summer they were twelve, when a handsome stranger abducted them 

Everyone thought we were dead. We were missing for nearly two months; we were twelve. What else could they think? –Lois

It’s always been hard to talk about what happened without sounding all melodramatic. . . . Actually, I haven’t mentioned it for years, not to a goddamned person. -Carly May

The summer precocious Lois and pretty Carly May were twelve years old, they were kidnapped, driven across the country, and held in a cabin in the woods for two months by a charismatic stranger. Nearly twenty years later, Lois has become a professor, teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York, and Carly May is an actress in Los Angeles, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career. When a movie with a shockingly familiar plot draws the two women together once more, they must face the public exposure of their secret history and confront the dark longings and unspeakable truths that haunt them still. Maggie Mitchell’s Pretty Is beautifully defies ripped-from-the-headlines crime story expectations and announces the debut of a masterful new storytelling talent.

I love to support debut authors whenever I can and this synopsis looks too good to be true! I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this novel from the publishers and I still cannot believe I haven’t got round to it yet.

R

What’s it all about?:

The twenty-one stories in Reader, I Married Him – one of the most celebrated lines in fiction – are inspired by Jane Eyre and shaped by its perennially fascinating themes of love, compromise and self-determination.

A bohemian wedding party takes an unexpected turn for the bride and her daughter; a family trip to a Texan waterpark prompts a life-changing decision; Grace Poole defends Bertha Mason and calls the general opinion of Jane Eyre into question. Mr Rochester reveals a long-kept secret in “Reader, She Married Me”, and “The Mirror” boldly imagines Jane’s married life after the novel ends. A new mother encounters an old lover after her daily swim and inexplicably lies to him, and a fitness instructor teaches teenage boys how to handle a pit bull terrier by telling them Jane Eyre’s story.

Edited by Tracy Chevalier, and commissioned specially for Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary year in 2016, this collection brings together some of the finest and most creative voices in fiction today, to celebrate and salute the strength and lasting relevance of a game-changing novel and its beloved narrator.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for so long! Stories inspired by one of my all time favourite books (and definitely my favourite classic)? YES PLEASE.

I

What’s it all about?:

‘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.

In It’s All in Your Head consultant neurologist Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan takes us on a journey through the very real world of psychosomatic illness. She takes us from the extreme — from paralysis, seizures and blindness — to more everyday problems such as tiredness and pain. Meeting her patients, she encourages us to look deep inside the human condition. There we find the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves, and our age-old failure to credit the intimate and extraordinary connection between mind and body.

Science/health books are amongst my favourite non fiction topics to read about (anything about animals coming a close second). This book speaks to me on a personal level as I struggle with a chronic invisible illness and have done for the past seven years. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into this one.

N

What’s it all about?:

Historian Anna Bennett has a book to write. She also has an insomniac toddler, a precocious, death-obsessed seven-year-old, and a frequently absent ecologist husband who has brought them all to Colsay, a desolate island in the Hebrides, so he can count the puffins. Ferociously sleep-deprived, torn between mothering and her desire for the pleasures of work and solitude, Anna becomes haunted by the discovery of a baby’s skeleton in the garden of their house. Her narrative is punctuated by letters home, written 200 years before, by May, a young, middle-class midwife desperately trying to introduce modern medicine to the suspicious, insular islanders. The lives of these two characters intersect unexpectedly in this deeply moving but also at times blackly funny story about maternal ambivalence, the way we try to control children, and about women’s vexed and passionate relationship with work. Moss’s second novel displays an exciting expansion of her range – showing her to be both an excellent comic writer and a novelist of great emotional depth.

I have to admit, I bought this book a while ago for the cover initially, isn’t it gorgeous? Then I read my very first Sarah Moss, The Tidal Zone recently and absolutely loved it. I’m excited to get stuck in to more of her work.

G

What’s it all about?:

The first new collection in almost a decade from a bewitchingly original writer hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction.”

One of today’s most celebrated short story writers, Kelly Link creates brilliantly detailed, layered fictional worlds pulsing with their own energy and life. The situations are at first glance fantastical, but the emotional insights are piercing and the characters vividly real. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural Florida serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a one-time teen idol movie vampire takes a disturbing trip to the set where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a bizarre new reality show; in “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present, a new animated doll. Funny, uncanny, always deeply moving, these stories demonstrate a writer of wondrous gifts operating at the height of her powers.

Another collection of short stories, this book was recommended to me in a book spa by the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. I’ve never read any Kelly Link before and have heard such great things about her writing that this just needs to be done!

Well everyone, that’s the end of my Books Beginning With S.P.R.I.N.G. post! Hope you enjoyed reading it, I’d love to see books from your TBR that make up the word S.P.R.I.N.G. If you decide to do a post, please leave a link in the comments so I can check it out or leave your answers in the comments below, it would be fun to see. I’m hoping to get to all of these books in the next few months and then I’ll be showcasing my books beginning with S.U.M.M.E.R so watch out for that post, coming later this year!