So Much More Than a Headache: Understanding Migraine Through Literature

Kent State Univ. Aug. 2020. 206p. ISBN 9781606354032. pap. $34.95. HEALTH
About 15 percent of the world’s people suffer from migraines, a type of recurring headache marked by moderate to severe pain that is throbbing or pulsing. But according to O’Shea (literature and philosophy, Monroe Comm. Coll.)—a migraineur herself—a migraine is “so much more than just a headache,” as it can last for hours or several days, and can be preceded and accompanied by visual or auditory auras, nausea, weakness, or sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can also be especially debilitating; now thought to have a genetic cause, they are difficult to treat and cannot yet be cured. They can also be frustratingly hard for the sufferer to describe fully. While there are many consumer health guides on migraines, O’Shea’s book is unique in that it compiles selections from essays, novels, and short stories, written by well-known authors (many also migraineurs) such as Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, Oliver Sachs, and others lesser known, arranged around basic themes: what it feels like, what people don’t see, and how to describe the indescribable.
VERDICT A valuable resource to help migraineurs see their sufferings put into words and to help friends and family, bosses and co-workers, and physicians gain more empathy and understanding.
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