Book Review by Josephine Lynch: 'The Sleeping Beauties-And Other Stories of Mystery Illness' by Suzanne O' Sullivan

This is the third book by this Irish doctor who lives in London. She is a consultant in neurology since 2004 and now a consultant in clinical neurology and neurosurgery in a UK NHS hospital.

After reading her first book “ All in my Head” I was fascinated to learn that up to 30% of all
people who have been diagnosed, treated and medicated for epilepsy, don't have epilepsy. She challenges herself to try to see illness with new eyes and not to solely rely on her
training as a medic. Her training she knows is very important and extremely useful and it
can also have the negative effect of labelling, or pathologizing symptoms that can’t be
explained. She poses so many questions and brings our attention to how much easier it is to have recognised symptoms such as seizures, numbness rather than a sickness of the heart.

She finds herself so often trying to have a conversion that might include other areas of stress in a person life that needs to be named, felt and acknowledged. Being told the illness is a psychosomatic disorder and not a disease is hard to hear and so often patients, including us think it’s our fault. The label of the disease can become a firm identity for some patients and limit change and growth.
In mindfulness we are aware of this negative identity of the “I am” such as “I am an anxious person” , “a sick person”, “a failure”, “I am and always will be” etc.The attachment to “the story” she sees time and time again, how severely limiting it can be for some patients the chance of recovery.
In her latest book she travels around the world investigating communities that have had “mystery illnesses”, or more cruelly at times called “group hysteria” with no cause found.
They are a type of psychosomatic illness that are influenced not only by the individual but by the group cultures we live in. In this her latest book, she says herself she in more sensitive and tries to ask the questions “what is being expressed with these symptoms”. Her investigation of different communities offers her insights on how some cultures deal with anxiety, change, sexuality, that can result in less identifying with the illness which can leave the patient freer to move on with no stigma attached.

Book Review 'The Sleeping Beauties-And Other Stories of Mystery Illness' by Suzanne O' Sullivan

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