... at once poignant, surprising and sometimes horrifying ... Unraveling the mystery behind such strange occurrences requires more than neurological expertise—it needs careful handling, a deep and empathic understanding of how society and culture, experience and expectation, work in tandem with our neural pathways and bodily responses to produce physiological disorders. Dr. O’Sullivan uncovers these complex mechanisms while painting a picture of psychosomatic suffering that removes its associated stigma, and she asks us to think about illness in new ways ... Functional neurological and psychosomatic disorders are subject to fierce debate, and sufferers already raw from repeated denial of their experience are often the collateral damage. Dr. O’Sullivan wades into this conflict with extraordinary tact. What we underestimate, she tells us, is the power of the brain to disorder the body ... offers a brilliant, nuanced and thoughtful look at the lived experience of illness while asking important questions about the relationship between body and mind. Dr. O’Sullivan’s rich prose weaves a tapestry as hauntingly beautiful as it is scientifically valid ... At the heart of this tour de force is the question, deceptively simple but so difficult to answer: What do we mean by illness? Should medicine—biologically minded, diagnosis-privileging Western medicine—alone be allowed to decide?
... fascinating and provocative ... O’Sullivan’s interest in narrative is purely pragmatic. She’s no neurologist-poet in the mode of Oliver Sacks but, rather, a globe-trotting Lisa Sanders: a briskly professional but secretly tenderhearted disease detective on a mission to dispel misconceptions that have become obstacles to cures. Her reports from the field are generally not encouraging.
... extraordinary ... To compare any book to a Sacks is unfair, but this one lives up to it. Not because it is alluringly freakish, but because it is so compassionate, and so driven by deep curiosity about the human psyche. I finished it feeling thrillingly unsettled, and wishing there was more.
O’Sullivan travels the world collecting fascinating stories of culture-bound syndromes, which she relays with nuance and sensitivity ... O’Sullivan writes with a refreshing humility; unlike some doctor- authors, she doesn’t paint herself as a miracle-worker.
In this illuminating and often challenging book, [O'Sullivan] travels the world, bringing her expertise and curiosity to some astonishing cases of MPIs ... Throughout her travels, O’Sullivan acts with humility about the limits of western medicine ... By making social problems visible on the body, O’Sullivan believes, these conditions allow voiceless people to tell their stories and to make themselves heard. Perhaps this eloquent and convincing book will be the start of making people in authority listen, make change and help.
O’Sullivan’s fair and detailed analysis of Havana Syndrome is itself worth the price of this book ... reveals the link between culture-bound disorders such as grisi siknis and their Western incarnations as resignation syndrome, mass anxiety contagions and other functional neurological disorders.
...gripping, sometimes even disturbing, and will stay with the reader for a long time ... The description of the author's examination of two children suffering from the illness takes the reader into the home of the afflicted girls, alongside the girls' parents and usual helpers. I felt almost uneasy about being given so many details of this visit; it is certainly a powerful and vivid section of the book ... Some of the concepts introduced are quite difficult, but the effort required to understand is certainly worthwhile. O'Sullivan is to be commended for taking on some big issues about illness, the divisions drawn between mind and body, and what is seen as normal. She brings a wealth of research and experience together for us all.
[O'Sullivan] convincingly explains how psychological, cultural, and social factors give rise to symptoms and can produce disability. She provides a powerful perspective of functional neurological disorders ... This is a startling and empathetic investigation into the power of the mind, the contagiousness of fear, and the consequences of hopelessness.
O’Sullivan, a London-based Irish neurologist, marches straight into this deep, strange pocket of experience. A pleasing storyteller, she puts to good use her neurological background while melding it with a closely observed appreciation of environmental, social, and cultural elements in the dissociative process ... O’Sullivan keenly explains illness templates that are coded in our brains by our sociocultural environment ... A fascinating view of mind that mingles culture with biology, creating a richly embroidered, albeit difficult, world.
Drawing on fascinating case studies, neurologist O’Sullivan delivers a razor-sharp study of illnesses that often cannot be explained in traditional medical terms ... O’Sullivan makes a convincing argument for changing how illnesses are discussed ... As O’Sullivan masterfully narrates the cases, she movingly allows the subjects to tell their own stories, too. Fans of Oliver Sacks, take note.