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So Much More Than a Headache

Understanding Migraine through Literature

Forthcoming, Literature & Medicine, Medicine

AuthorThe experience of migraine from Didion, Austen, Herrick, Dickinson, Sacks, Mantel, and many others

“English,” wrote Virginia Woolf, “which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache. . . . let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.”

Despite Woolf’s astute observation and the apparent dearth of writings on such subjects, editor Kathleen O’Shea has managed to gather a wide selection of helpful excerpts, chapters, poetry, and even a short play in this anthology—all with a view toward increasing our understanding and ending the stigma attached to migraines and migraine sufferers. Unlike clinical materials, this anthology addresses the feelings and symptoms that the writers have experienced, sometimes daily. These pieces speak freely about the loneliness and helplessness one feels when a migraine comes on. The sufferer faces nausea, pain, sensitivity to light, and having the veracity of all these symptoms doubted by others. O’Shea, a professor of literature and a migraine sufferer herself, also includes an original essay of her own reflections.

Offered as an alternative not only to medical writing but also to self-help books and internet blogs, So Much More Than a Headache addresses a real omission in the available works on migraine, provides a resource for those who may have under­estimated the depth and range of writing on this subject, and challenges the cultural bias that dismisses migraine as “just a headache.”

EditorKathleen O’Shea is professor of literature and philosophy at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, and a sufferer of migraines. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, she has also been published in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of World Popular Culture.

 

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