Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Reviews & Rants

I read paper books. Does that make me old-timey?

The Migraine Brain by Carolyn Bernstein, MD is an excellent resource. I binge-read it in one day and kept catching myself nodding in agreement with the life changes this book suggests. It's also obvious that this book is written by someone with first-hand experience with migraines, preventing and dealing with them, not just someone who treats them. Read it.

It's All in my Head by Paula Kamen is another good read about a woman with chronic headaches and her journey for treatment and enlightenment. I found it a good mix of sad and funny and hopeful and cynical. Read it.

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World by John Robbins is one of a long list of books of this type I've consumed. This one is a bit sensationalist at times, the juxtapositions of quotes from the meat and dairy industries alongside starkly contradicting quotes from government agencies and scientists are entertaining and sometimes difficult to stomach, but this book lays out the facts pretty well. We are what we eat, and if we aren't making our food responsibly, and consuming it responsibly, we'll suffer the consequences. READ IT.

Migraine by Oliver Sacks had a lot of good information, and I thought it was insightful, particularly in regards to more uncommon symptoms, until I got to the sections dedicated to chronic migraine sufferers. Let me save you the trouble. The gist was that many chronic migraineurs are emotionally unstable or in bad home environments and once they escape those situations -- TA DAH! -- they feel so much better. I've heard theories like this over and over, from doctors and civilians alike, and it never fails to get my hackles up. Check out this excerpt:

Clinical observation of migraine patterns indicates that a majority of patients with extremely frequent, severe, intractable migraines are caught in a situation of severe emotional stress or conflict (of which they may or may not be aware) and that this drives the migraine as a psychosomatic expression of their underlying emotional problems. (249)

"[O]f which they may or may not be aware". This is patronizing, and I'm so tired of being treated like I just need to have a long talk with a shrink, but it's good to know where the idea came from. I don't think Mr. Sacks invented the "migraineurs as repressed neurotics" trope, but I sure wish he didn't reinforce it. This is the book the doctors have all read! And while he has a lengthy bibliography, I'm not going to go hunting for the source of the above clinical observations, and instead I'll issue a challenge: citation needed. I need to know about these studies done on chronic migraineurs and their unresolved emotional problems of which they aren't even aware.

People in chronic pain may have less emotional control than those who are not, true. People who live in unhealthy home environments may have trouble getting proper medical care, also true. But correlation is not causation, and the inverse of what the author suggests is more probable: that many people, from all walks of life, experience emotional instability, or a difficult home life, but chronic migraineurs, like any person with a significant disability, can have an infinitely more difficult time extricating themselves from those situations. I'd bet that in these situations that the author describes, the migraines have more often led to, or at least contributed to, the life misery, not the other way around.

If I could omit these sections from the book, I might recommend it to a new migraineur as well as I would most of the other migraine tomes I've read. But, the ableism and privilege of the hysterical migraine theory made me want to throw it in the fire, so at the very least, skip those parts.


Amy said...

I agree - that is a very patronizing statement. I don't know if I'm a repressed neurotic...I certainly became one after a couple of years with a constant headache. Dealing with all of the emotions of having your life crumble around you as the result of a headache would do that to the strongest of minds, in my opinion.
The other books sound worthwhile though, and I'll be checking those out!