• Post category:Health
  • Post comments:0 Comments

So Much More Than A Headache

You are currently viewing So Much More Than A Headache


I’m a huge fan of books which open you up to a new perspective – providing glimpses into realities I may have no personal experience with, but can now appreciate in an entirely new light.

Such is the case with this wonderful book which focuses on the fascinating intersection of Medicine and Literature as applied to the chronic migraine.

With incredible skill and a whole heap of compassion, the author, a Professor of Literature, and a migraine sufferer herself, has curated a beautiful anthology of poetry, extracts from novels, and writings from classic and contemporary literature that bring to life the experiences, fears, struggles, isolation, and intimate musings of migraine sufferers from the inside out, – an experience, I must admit, that touched me as deeply as it terrified me.

Contributors include Oliver Sacks, Hilary Mantel, Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, and Jane Austen (amongst many others); each applying their own incredible literary skill to share insights related to their own personal migraine experience.

As the author explains, migraines, (so much more than a headache), are defined as a disease state involving a neurological dysfunction in the brain stem, that can be genetically inherited.

Migraines are mystifyingly cyclic – each episode “triggered” into existence, in each case to begin with a warning phase (actually including the much-publicized “aura” in only approximately 20% of migraines), that may include complex cognitive, emotional, as well as terrifying physical visual disruptions.

“Strands of pain announce themselves, throw shivers of brightness into her eyes so insistently she must remind herself that others can’t see them.”

The warning phase is followed by an acute period of excruciating pain, sensitivity to light, and nausea and/or vomiting – an experience that may last for hours, days, or, in some cases, even weeks. Until the cycle begins again.

“ I am the taste of red.
And thus I establish myself”.

“I am the birth of pain.
And this is my time.“

The experience of being a migraineur (a noun that illustrates the life-long coalescence of inescapable migraine experiences with one’s very self, and identity) is hard for others, (on the outside, after all, looking in) to really understand.

“Pain colonizes her, quickly replaces what was Virginia with more and more of itself, and its advance is so forceful, its jagged contours so distinct, that she can’t help imagining it as an entity with a life of its own.”

As the contributors make clear, as difficult as the pain is itself, a migraineur must also contend with the horrifying isolation resulting from repeated episodes of illness and pain, the combined effect of which is hugely and catastrophically disruptive to intimate and social lives (not to mention the critical need for sympathetic employers).

“Hoof beats in the head – the nightmare’s return.
People watch, but it’s not their concern.”

“Alone she could be as cold and as hard as the truth demanded. No more false cheer. No pretense of intimacy. No lies.”

I loved this book, – essential reading for any medical professional, family member, migraineur, or individual at large, who is interested in reading some truly beautiful works of literature, and along the way, finding new paths of insight and compassion into an unexpected and largely misunderstood corner of the medical landscape.

A great big thank you to the editor, and the publisher, for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.


Leave a Reply