NHNN neurologist writes book about psychosomatic illnesses 

08/06/2015 00:00 
A new book about psychosomatic illnesses written by NHNN neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan has garnered praise for the sensitive way she writes about her patients and put her on the Observer’s list of rising stars as “one to watch” in 2015.
 

Her book, It’s all in your head arrived in bookshops across the country last Thursday (4 June) after being launched at the Hay Festival the previous weekend.
 
She tackles the tricky subject of medically unexplained illnesses and our failure to be aware of the dramatic and extreme way in which our body can react to emotions.
 
“Up to a third of people who go to see their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained; in many of these cases an emotional cause is suspected. And yet, when it comes to a diagnosis, ‘It’s all in your head’ is the very last thing patients want to hear, and the last thing doctors want to say,’ says Dr O’Sullivan.
 
A consultant neurologist at the NHNN since 2011, Dr O’Sullivan is currently on sabbatical reading for a Masters in Creative Writing and hopes to graduate in September and return to work soon after.
 
“This is the first time in my life that I have been able to study just for the sheer joy of it and I never stop being grateful for the great opportunity I have been given. I was very fortunate that UCLH allowed me to take a year off to pursue my goals outside medicine,” she said.
 
“And I cannot get used to the idea that I am a published author. I can be seen in bookshops all over London taking pictures of my book on shelves and through windows.”
 
Dr O’Sullivan had written two books before she went on sabbatical, and this is the first of the two to be out in print. “I was already writing for pleasure when a friend suggested I write about my work. At first I was reluctant, concerned about the delicacy of the subject matter. However as soon as I sat down to write I realised that there was a story that needed to be told. I hope that telling it will raise awareness of a subject matter that is rarely spoken about, and destigmatises the plight of those who suffer with psychological illness.”
 
It is clear from speaking to Dr O’Sullivan that neurology remains her first love. “To me it is the most clinical of all the specialties. Being good at it depends on the ability to accurately assess qualitative descriptions of complex symptoms and signs. I enjoy the detective drama of piecing the puzzle together.”


Dr O’Sullivan says she was heavily influenced by the neurologists she met when she was a medical student, many of whom trained at Queen Square. “They displayed a high level of dedication to the subject and showed great compassion for their patients. Ultimately, I consider the NHNN to be the premier centre for neurology in the UK. I view it as a great honour to work in an institution filled with world experts in their field, and a wonderful opportunity to see neurology practiced at its most sophisticated level.”
 
“I have been a doctor for nearly 25 years but I still see things that I have never seen before. It is not a career that grows old. The epilepsy world in which I have been working has shown many advances just in the four years I have worked at the NHNN, so I am always learning.
 
“I also love the clinical contact with patients. There is a particular joy in the continuity of care involved in looking after people who have long-term illness. You get to know your patients and as you do, the job becomes increasingly rewarding.”
 
Being a published writer is equally fulfilling, if in a different way.
“I am mixing in a world unknown to me, and I can’t say I don’t enjoy the occasional brush with celebrity! The publishing industry is very powerful and I have been very impressed to see that the people I am working with are as keen as I am to use that power to send a positive message.

"I feel very hopeful that I will achieve my goal of raising awareness of psychosomatic disorders. More than anything, I hope this will then lead to an improvement in treatment services for people with psychological illness."

It’s All in Your Head is published by Chatto & Windus and available through all good bookshops in store and online.

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