So Much More than a Headache: Understanding Migraine Through Literature
“English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear has no words for the shiver or the headache. . . The merest schoolgirl when she falls in love has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her, but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.”
This is the quote that led me to this book. It’s from Virginia Woolf, migraineur and English novelist.
‘So Much More Than a Headache: Understanding Migraine Through Literature’ by Kathleen J. O’Shea, is an anthology of poems, chapters, and essays on migraine written by poets, scientists, authors, and writers.
From the poetry of Jane Austin and Emily Dickinson, chapters from renowned British Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks on his own experiences of migraine, to Irvin D. Yalom’s novel ‘When Nietzsche Wept’ which finds the great philosopher (Friedrich Nietzsche) on the brink of despair due to migraine.
The individual pieces show the beauty and eloquence of the English language, and are skilfully woven together into a complete migraine tapestry by O’Shea, herself a migraineur, who craves “having someone understand, truly understand, what we live with…”
Some of the pieces are so evocative, you cannot help but feel empathy with, not just sympathy for the writer:
– a bullet from an unknown pistol tears through
– a dark calm,
– a great furor,
– a throbbing,
– the collisions of incongruous shrapnel shards.” Iman Mersal, Egyptian poet
The book is broken into five parts and explores almost all aspects of living with migraine. Kathy’s hope is that “this collection offers migraineurs some solace in knowing they are not alone” It’s also intended to give Healthcare Professionals, family members, friends, and others a greater understanding of what life with migraine is really like.
Another aspect of this book that I particularly like is that in my opinion it destroys the myth of migraine sufferers as weak, lazy, work-shy, and other stereotypes attributed to a ‘migraine personality’; this myth has fed the stigma surrounding migraine for years.
All one need do is look at the writers and poets mentioned in this book; Jane Austin, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dr. Oliver Sacks, Kathleen J. O’Shea, to name but a few…
If you want someone to gain a better understanding of what living with migraine means, and particularly if you or someone you know has a love of literature and the English Language, then I’d highly recommend this book.
About the Author
Kathleen O’Shea is a migraineur and Professor in the English/Philosophy Department at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY, where she teaches literature, composition, and humanities courses. She is a regular migraine blogger on psychologytoday.com too.
So Much More Than a Headache: Understanding Migraine through Literature – by Kathleen J. O’Shea
Publisher: The Kent State University Press; 1st edition (30 Jun. 2020)