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Summary

Winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2016

Pauline first became ill when she was 15. What seemed to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then life-threatening appendicitis. After a routine operation, Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly afterwards, convulsions started. But Pauline's tests are normal: her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

This may be an extreme case, but Pauline is not alone. As many as a third of people visiting their GPs have symptoms that are medically unexplained. In most an emotional root is suspected, which is often the last thing a patient wants to hear and a doctor to say.

We accept our hearts can flutter with excitement and our brows can sweat with nerves, but on this journey into the very real world of psychosomatic illness, Suzanne O'Sullivan finds the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves.

©2016 Susan O'Sullivan (P)2016 Audible, Ltd

Critic reviews

"Doctors' tales of their patients' weirder afflictions have been popular since Oliver Sacks.... Few of them, however, are as bizarre or unsettling, as those described in this extraordinary and extraordinarily compassionate book." (James McConnachie, Sunday Times)
"A fascinating glimpse into the human condition...a forceful call for society to be more open about such suffering." (Ian Birrell, Daily Mail)

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What members say

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  • Sam
  • Haverhill, United Kingdom
  • 18-08-16

Life-Changing

In a time when so many are attempting to de-stigmatise mental illness, this book is a must-read. For years, I've been attributing my stress and depression to my illnesses and my body's lack of health to pull my mind through. This book has turned my ideas on their heads: it's likely my stress and depression which leads to my illnesses (which have never been diagnosed despite a multitude of tests) which exacerbates my stress and depression. What a refreshing insight.

Whilst I understand the stigma behind being told that your illness "is all in your head" can be humiliating, I feel liberated by finally getting an answer and the possibility of a cure.

A great book with fascinating real-life stories and gripping accounts of patients' responses to their diagnoses. Thank you for this book!

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating

It’s a fascinating book but the narrator makes it oh so very dull sounding (she is very monotone). But it’s worth sticking with it as the book itself is really interesting.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Very Interesting

What did you like most about It's All in Your Head?

Interesting stories, good background about the patients, narration was really good. It was refreshing knowing that the author went to great depths to investigate her patients illnesses.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Overall I very much enjoyed the book, although it is a bit frustrating at times that it only reports what happened with the patients, rather than offering possible treatments besides following it up with psychiatrists.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The story about Camilla and baby Henry was heartbreaking. Have a tissue at hand.

Any additional comments?

I'm glad I gave it a go.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Must read for health professionals

Anyone in a clinical profession should make time to read this. Definite eye opener for me!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Might now have a phobia of getting hypochondria!

What did you like best about this story?

Perhaps because of the nature of the patients involved it was important to get to know them in a little depth, personally, which gives you more of an investment in the outcome of their treatment when compared to some other books which take a drier and less personal look at their case studies.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

None of the patients had simple lives, each having to endure their illnesses to different extents but refreshing throughout was the care that the author had for those she treated, even extending to one patient who did not even need her help at all. It was good to see her response to this was not one of disdain or cruelty, as is often seen by the public. She clearly thrives in this work.

Any additional comments?

The only issue, which the author herself acknowledges, is that in her line of work she doesn't necessarily see the cases all the way through to the end, given how difficult it can be to convince her patients of the nature of their problems. Many walk away, others are moved on to other people. It would be nice to know what happened to every patient, though for obvious reasons, that isn't possible.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A must read for parents of teenagers & GPs

This book should be made a must to read for all GPs, now is the time for them to educate themselves !

Psychosomatic illnesses are more common than ever and a wrong diagnosis damages lives beyond repair.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Important life lessons to understand...

Great book and stories which I think more people should listen to. The current understanding of medicine can't fully explain reactions of the body and it is important we acknowledge this and the important role that stress plays in our lives

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Real Eye-Opener

A very interesting listen, especially if one has often suspected the psychological basis for some illnesses.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great story, shame about the narrator

A really fascinating and sympathetic account of mental health medicine. Unfortunately I couldn’t beat the narrator’s attempt at an Irish accent. I actually had to skip a whole chapter about an Irish patient because the accent was so offensively bad. If you can’t do an accent, just don’t!

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Great book about a difficult topic!

I'm a GP trainee and have seen conversion / psychosomatic / somatising disorders several times, but it is difficult to understand and explain. The author have succeeded in conveying the subject in a light, but still interesting way and with many learning points for professionals.

A must read for GPs and other interested readers.