“Is It all in Your Head? Trues Stories of imaginary Illness,” by Suzanne O’Sullivan, MD
(Other Press, pp 296, $26.95)
Psychosomatic illness is problematic. Disregarded as not real, it is often not considered seriously and is relegated to footnotes in medical books. And yet, it is all around us, often having debilitating effects on the sufferer, which can last for years in some cases. According to Dr. O’Sullivan, it costs the health system twice as much to treat as diabetes. Expensive for imaginary treatment. Who has not heard of someone suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome or sudden memory loss? In this important book, O’Sullivan lays out her case for a new approach and treatment methods for psychosomatic illness. Her argument is convincing. Taken from real life experiences, through her work as a neurologist and neurophysiologist, she shares the cases of some of her patients and ponders how come so many of them complain about symptoms without any physical manifestation? Is it really all in their head?
At first brush the book can appear predictable, since each chapter is matched with a specific patient. There’s Pauline, Camilla, and Rachel among others. But each has been carefully selected to illustrate precisely O’Sullivan’s claims. The plurality of psychosomatic manifestations run far and wide and would appear to stem from hidden stress and major traumas. O’Sullivan points out surviving rape or exposure to chronic mental abuses as being frequent culprits. We’ve known for century that the mind can affect our physical health. But clearly, here O’Sullivan seeks to establish a connection between mind and body that goes beyond simple mood disorder treatment. She advocates for new ways to look, understand and treat unexplainable symptoms, paving the way for bringing relief to her patients. Some of the cases will break your heart. Matthew did it for me.