Books are an escape from the everyday drudgery, and if you read books to escape from your head pain, that’s great. Sometimes, though, it’s refreshing to read a book that really speaks to you and echoes what you’ve experienced yourself. Maybe it’s a safety-in-numbers or a knowledge-is-power thing, but for whatever reason, reading a book that mirrors your own life in some way can have a profound impact.
On that note, we’ve put together a list of our ten favorite books about head pain, in no particular order.
1. A Brain Wider Than the Sky: A Migraine Diary, by Andrew Levy
The author describes his own struggles with debilitating migraines, the alterations he made to his lifestyle, and the relationship that he, like many migraine sufferers, developed with his migraines. He also details his rehabilitation from migraines and reentry into the world. This book will appeal to anyone who’s fought frustration or hopelessness while trying to fight back the pain and regain their own lives.
2. All in My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable, and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache, by Paula Kamen
For more than a decade, Kamen has endured the exact same headache, ever since disturbing a bundle of nerves behind her eye while putting in a contact. This book is about the “sometimes frightening, usually absurd, and always ineffective remedies” that she pursued to relieve the pain, from medications to Lithuanian holy water. Even more, it’s about the author’s struggles with frustration, acceptance, and perseverance, even when faced with doctors who said her pain was psychological. Kamen’s struggles, couched in humor and wit, will echo with anyone who’s struggled with chronic pain of any sort.
3. Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn’t Go Away, by Jennette Fulda
This author chronicled her weight loss of nearly 200 pounds in Half-Assed, and in this book, she chronicles her struggles with a headache that refuses to go away. Fulda tried the usual treatments, like medications, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture. When those didn’t work, she moved on to medical marijuana, heavy drinking, lots of chocolate, and ice cream by the pint. She does everything she can to figure out her headache and how to get rid of it. In this book full of honesty and humor, Fulda eventually considers that laughter may just be the best treatment. If you’re able to laugh at yourself while you’re trying ridiculous internet suggestions to relieve your head pain, this book is for you.
4. A Guided Tour of Hell: In the Words of Migraine Sufferers, by Kristine Hatak
As its name suggests, this book is a description of migraines in the words of people who’ve experienced them. There are also descriptions of how it feels to have their pain dismissed as “just a headache.” This would be a good read if you’re just looking to find stories of others with similar experiences, but it might also be a good book to share with other people in your life – especially ones who dismiss your own chronic head pain.
5. Migraine Art: The Migraine Experience from Within, by Klaus Podoll
This book is all about the visual experience of a migraine. There are detailed descriptions of the visual phenomena that accompany migraines, along with corresponding artwork. There are even descriptions of the visual migraine experiences of historical figures like Lewis Carroll. While most books about head pain and migraines focus solely on the pain, this one also showcases the unique visual aspects that are often forgotten or overlooked. For this reason alone, it’s interesting enough to be worth a look.
6. The Bone Season: A Novel, by Samantha Shannon
This one is a novel, so it’s all fiction. However, the author lives with migraines, and the main character reflects this. Paige Mahoney, the main character, is a young dreamwalker and clairvoyant, but headaches, auras, and migraines are a part of her life, too. In fact, the (no longer active) Migraine Monologues Book Club even interviewed the author about how her own experiences influenced her main character. A line from this book that should ring true with anyone who suffers from migraines reads:
“Pain exploded behind my eyes. I’d never felt pain like it in my life: it was knives through my skull, fires in the very tissue of my brain, so hot I couldn’t see or move or think.”
7. Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health, by Joanna Kemper
Until recently, migraines weren’t seen as a neurological issue, but as a psychological one. Because three out of four migraine sufferers are women, there was a lot of gender bias built into everything from pharmaceutical companies to public opinions to treatment methods. This book also covers the identities that migraine sufferers build around their pain, as well as the changes in treatment and research that have come from the changes in the way science and medicine view migraines, so it will appeal to both men and women. There’s a great review, plus a few questions and answers with the author, here.
8. The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine
This one isn’t specifically about head pain or headaches. However, if you’re curious about the differences between the male and female brains, or if you’ve just read Not Tonight, our number seven pick, and you want to know more about the female brain, this is a great read. It’s written by a neuropsychiatrist, and she compiles all sorts of research and information from the scientific community into one book. The writing is accessible, so you don’t have to be a Ph.D. to make sense of it, and it’s a great way to get to know your own brain a little better (or get to know the women in your life a little better!).
9. Migraine, by Oliver Sacks
This book is a bit older, since it was first published in 1970, but it’s been a staple among migraine sufferers since its first publication. There’s a good chance that if you live with head pain, you’ve already read it. If you haven’t read it yet, now is a great time. The author is both a doctor and a migraine sufferer, and he writes with the enthusiasm and passion of someone who both suffers from migraines and is devoutly concerned about his own migraine patients. Migraines covers symptoms, gives explanations, discusses misconceptions, talks about historical migraine sufferers, and more. This is a must-read for anyone who’s remotely curious about migraines, whether or not you suffer from them yourself.
10. Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks
This one is by the same author as Migraine. A migraine sufferer himself, Sacks suffered his first hallucination (a fairly common occurrence among migraine sufferers) as a child. In this book, he talks about his own experiences, but not only about the migraine-related hallucinations; he also mentions a few drug-induced hallucinations from his younger days. Also covered are all sorts of conditions, historical figures, and anecdotes, and Sacks even examines the influence of hallucinations on mythology, literature, and religion. This book makes sense of hallucinations and removes the stigma from people who experience them (hallucinations are a lot more common than most people realize), so it’s a great read if you’ve experienced hallucinations yourself or are just curious. Also, check out this interview with the author.
What’s your favorite book about head pain?
Image by Mo Riza via Flickr