The Sleeping Beauties
And Other Stories of Mystery Illness
In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children fall into a state that resembles sleep for months or years at a time. In Le Roy, a town in upstate New York, teenage girls develop involuntary twitches and seizures that spread like a contagion. In the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, employees experience headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises during the night. These are only a few of the many suspected culture-bound psychosomatic syndromes—specific sets of symptoms that exist in a particular culture or environment—that affect people throughout the world.
In The Sleeping Beauties, Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan—an award-winning Irish neurologist—investigates psychosomatic disorders, traveling the world to visit communities suffering from these so-called mystery illnesses. From a derelict post-Soviet mining town in Kazakhstan to the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua to the heart of the María Mountains in Colombia, O’Sullivan records the remarkable stories of syndromes related to her by people from all walks of life. Riveting and often distressing, these case studies are recounted with compassion and humanity.
In examining the complexity of psychogenic illness, O’Sullivan has written a book of both fascination and serious concern as these syndromes continue to proliferate around the globe.