Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

by Susannah Cahalan
4.4 231


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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. “A fascinating look at the disease that . . . could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life” (People), Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451621389
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/06/2013
Pages: 266
Sales rank: 17,452
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Susannah Cahalan is a news reporter at the New York Post whose award-winning work has also been featured in The New York Times. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 231 reviews.
NJ-Nina More than 1 year ago
This is a profoundly moving, true story of a young woman who, over the course of a few weeks, spirals into almost total madness. Her loved ones stay by her side throughout her month long hospitalization watching doctor after doctor doing test after test handing down diagnosis after diagnosis. When a doctor mentions a rare disease that may be the cause of the young woman’s illness, her parents are left to decide whether or not to allow a test that may cause permanent brain damage. Susannah Cahalan’s account of her life before, during and after her battle with mental illness is very well written and surprisingly readable. As she delves into the working of the human brain the reading becomes a little dry but by the next paragraph, the reader is once again swept up into a story that is consuming and compelling. I was extremely moved by this book and strongly recommend it.
Colleen33 More than 1 year ago
This is a remarkable book. Author Susannah Cahalan is courageous as she shares her personal experience of “madness”. She brilliantly writes about her bizarre and confounding illness that stumped many neurologists and takes us through her and her family’s journey as they searched for answers to restore her health. This book is inspiring for people/families who have ever experienced a loved one who has been misdiagnosed or has experienced loss in brain functionality. I feel more informed and empowered by reading Cahalan’s true story. As a person who has had a loved one experience rapid loss of brain function, I highly recommend reading this book. I also recommend any books written by Ariel and Shya Kane. I found great comfort reading their book “Being Here: Modern Day Tales of Enlightenment” when my father had a stroke. I found answers how to best support him and my family during this period of our lives. I highly recommend reading Cahalan’s book and seeking out the Kanes to support well-being in your life.
Read-by-Glowlight More than 1 year ago
Susannah Cahalan, a bright young reporter for the New York Post, a talented writer with a career full of promise, suddenly began losing her mind. One day she was doing brilliant research, and the next day she was too obsessive-compulsive about bed bugs to complete her assignment. Then she couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t track conversations, couldn’t compose a simple paragraph. All for no apparent reason. Day by day, hour by hour, reality slipped away as terror took over. Susannah doesn’t remember the trip to the hospital or being admitted, but what she knew for sure was that she didn’t belong there. The morning after a failed attempt to escape, she told the attending neurologist: “You need to let me out of here. I don’t belong here. They’re all saying bad things about me.” “Who’s talking to you?” “The people on the TV.” She also heard people’s thoughts, frightening thoughts about herself. Then she discerned that her parents set up the whole scene: the doctors, the nurses, all of it, in order to trick her into being forced into the medical center. It was all one giant conspiracy. In this candid and brave memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan reveals how it feels to be trapped inside a mind that’s playing tricks and in a body that won’t cooperate. It’s all here: the madness, the details about the team of medical experts who tried every possibility to help her, her family’s and boyfriend’s responses, and the reaction of lifelong friends and strangers. Her story is fascinating, horrifying, and most importantly, educational. We learn about the medical tests, the logic of the diagnostic hypotheses, and how the human brain works. We learn the questions the doctors struggled over, including the bet between two doctors as to what the correct diagnosis might be. It even includes original notes and drawings from her hospital stay. What was destroying Susannah’s mind? Was it bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia? Alcohol poisoning? Allergic reactions? Epilepsy? Demonic possession? No one knew and nothing they tried was working. In the meantime, she lost the ability to read and most of her speech. The one thing everyone agreed on is that something needed to be done fast in order to save Susannah’s life. This is more than a medical memoir; it is also a story of true and enduring love. Her mother and father, divorced and estranged, put aside their personal feelings to stay by their daughter’s side through it all. Her boyfriend, the one her father thought of as a “temporary place holder” showed his true heart and strength by his actions. This part of the story is also important, because it shows the tenacity of love and loyalty. My favorite part of the book is when her father gets down on his knees and prays for his daughter; and her mother, a Jewish skeptic, meets with a Baptist co-worker to join hands in prayer. Right after this, the family is led to a gifted specialist from Pennsylvania. A corner is turned, and in the end, Susannah Cahalan writes this amazing book. Near the conclusion, she writes that she makes a list of people to thank. I have to say, I hope God is on that list. Fantastic book. Highly recommended.
TheRelentlessReader More than 1 year ago
This book made me terrified of my own body. This can actually happen? Your brain can turn against itself and make you appear, for all intents and purposes, as completely off your rocker? It can happen. While reading Susannah's story you can easily imagine how this must have happened to others. And not to the lucky ones with access to healthcare and tenacious doctors. You have to wonder how many people were shut away, given up on, relegated to the attic. Brain on Fire is well written, thought provoking, educational and compelling. Read it. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im going to be short and sweet here. I loved this book, couldnt put it down, found it fascinating, well written, and engrossing. Highly recommended.
kfawv More than 1 year ago
When I purchased this book I wasn't sure what I was going to find. I grew up with schizophrenia, bipolar and depression from within my family. I encounter stereotypes of these illnesses all too often. I have to admit that early on in the book as Susannah begins to exhibit schizophrenia-like symptoms I wasn't sure if I could continue reading it as I care for a loved one who suffers from schizophrenia, and dealing with the paranoia and delusions are very painful for family members. You can only watch them suffer and there's not much you can say that will change it, although you never stop trying. ~ Once Susannah's illness begins to evolve I became very interested in how this was going to turn out. This couldn't be easy for Susannah to write, but I applaud the fact that she did. Stigmas come from ignorance. And even though her illness was only schizophrenia-like in the beginning, it reminded me of the shame our family suffered every day trying to appear as if we didn't experience such a thing. I feel I was meant to share my experiences with others who are hurting and who also struggle. Painful experiences only hurt when we hold onto them and try to cover them up. Life begins when you can break free from the stereotypes and come to accept yourself/family member and experiences for what they are/were, limitations and all. ~ Thank you Susannah for not allowing embarrassment or shame to keep you from writing your very important and educational story. ~Kris
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A well written book on a very interesting premise. Insightful, succinct and educative account of a crippling disease of the mind and the patience's odyssey back to normalcy. True to life and helpful stories like Susannah Cahalan's Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, and other Janvier Chando's educative story The Grandmothers, help give us strength and hope in life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has been a great help for me in a situation regarding a family member. My brother's behavior changed overnight and he was hospitalized with dizziness, confusion, and memory loss. Asking him how he was feeling was impossible, and the doctors were puzzled since his tests did not show any immediate problems (tumors, stroke, etc). The doctors began moving towards autoimmune encephalitis as the problem and suggested this book as an easy to read explanation of the syndrone. As I said, it has been a great help. I'd also recommend this book for anyone who wants to better understand how the brain works, how diagnoses are (aren't) made, and how, in some cases, encephalitis better fits the definition that we have given to autism.
Perdita9 More than 1 year ago
Twenty four year old Susannah Cahalan is a reporter in New York city when she becomes convinced her apartment is invested with bed bugs. Then she is sure her boyfriend is cheating on her. Soon she's having seizures and descending into full blown psychosis. It's harder to say what's scarier -- Susannah's illness or the endless parade of clueless medical professionals. MDs are quick to provide a variety of diagnoses from DTs to Schizophrenia but no one has any real answers. It takes a real life Dr. House to classify Susannah's illness as anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a condition that could possibly be used to explain cases of demonic possession. People with this disease go THAT crazy. "Brain on Fire" is a riveting account of one woman's descent into madness and her long climb out of the pit. Highly recommended.
The_Busy_Bibliophile More than 1 year ago
What an amazing story. This would be a great fiction story, but the fact that it’s true makes it all the more incredible. Susannah takes us on the journey she took as she fell ill to the mysterious illness. The book starts at the first sign that something is wrong and takes us through her time in the hospital, her diagnosis, treatment and the follow-up care and research. Even though she can’t remember anything from that time, she has pulled together doctor’s notes, videos and interviews to create a thorough timeline that makes the reader fell like they’re living through it with her. And it was scary. One minute she was an outgoing, confident young woman and the next she was a paranoid, delusional mess. It came on so suddenly and there were only a few signs that something was wrong before she ended up in the hospital. The tests and incorrect diagnoses she went through before they ever discovered her problem were immense and I’m impressed that her family didn’t give up on her. Their persistence is a testament of their love. Also? I think she might have the best real-life boyfriend ever. You know it’s going to end well (she did write the book, after all) but the writing is so immersive and intense, that you wonder how it will all work out. This could have had a very different outcome, and Susannah is very lucky that the right doctor found the right test at the right time. The last section of the book deals with the aftermath – how Susannah continues to be affected and the research and development that have gone into the disease since her diagnosis. That section wasn’t as intense as the earlier parts, but it was interesting. In fact, there are interesting facts and tidbits throughout the book, which were especially useful so we would know exactly how Susannah’s brain was misfiring. The narrator did a great job, she had the moods and affectations down perfectly. When combined with the fabulous writing, I really felt like I was there in Susannah’s head while she was going through this. The sum up: An intriguing story made even better by the tight writing. Susannah is a gifted writer and I’m amazed this is her first book. Don’t miss it.
books4gail More than 1 year ago
Gripping story highlighting the breaking boundary between psychiatry and physical medicine. I read this in two days. I recommend this for those who liked My Stroke of Insight or even Girl Interrupted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the chapters leading up to and during her hospital stay to be extremely interesting. The later chapters when she details her recovery period felt redundant. Overall an OK read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The topic was interesting. The substance fizzled out. Good quick read and it was enlightening.
dave61 More than 1 year ago
Cannot put this one down. Cruising through it in a few days and getting short on sleep. What a riveting story and thanks Sussanah for sharing it with us. Very intereresting condition and I just love when peopel are so open and sharing of their most personal feelings, fear and ove through adversity. Absolutely Inspiring. Please keep writing you have a gift.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful read! I was very intrigued when reading about the book and was not let down at all! Susannah Cahalan did a wonderful job of telling her story and keeping me interested throughout the book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book kept me emotionally drained.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a courageous book by a courageous author writing from her firsthand experiences. It reminds me of a similar book I have read recently, Enlightened or Mad?, by David Y. F. Ho, a psychologist and no less a courageous author, who bears his soul about his encounters with "madness". Both authors have a lot to teach the world by sharing their personal experiences with others.  
MrLittleAccorn 28 days ago
I absolutely loved this book. Extremely well-written and easy to read! Susannah (the author) explains her situations and circumstances in great detail... easy to picture and almost feel what she is saying. She can then transition you by calming the situation in a way I can't really explain. I was hooked by the first few pages! I also love how she is bringing recognition to her condition, and how easily others can be (and are) misdiagnosed. I highly recommend this book! It's compelling, intense, and heartwarming all at the same time. You will not be disappointed, and will likely have strong feelings about the entire book.
Anonymous 9 months ago
A well written suspense story about disease shows how important your brain is to your personality and experiences
Anonymous 9 months ago
loved it.
lverard More than 1 year ago
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan is unlike anything I've read before. I may be biased, having a passion for science, however the story behind her medical mystery is truly intriguing. Brain on Fire is a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Heather's Pick Fiction award: nothing surprising considering its fresh and enticing memoir of a young woman who has "lost her marbles." Susannah starts out just a normal news reporter at the New York Post: 24 and ready to conquer the news world. She has a boyfriend, a nice family, a good job and her independence. One day, she allegedly finds two bites on her arm, which send her into a frenzy worried about bed bugs in her apartment. This starts off her "month of madness" in which she loses all sense of reality and flows in and out of psychotic episodes and several seizures. What started with minor paranoia about her boyfriend cheating, lack of focus and motivation at her job turns into grand mal seizures in her apartment and violent attacks on her family accusing them of kidnapping her. Cahalan's story telling is extremely powerful. Once admitted into NYU Langone for treatment on the epilepsy floor (due to the frequent seizures), she was hooked up to EEG monitors and video taped since she was at risk of escaping due to her psychotic episodes. Cahalan uses this to her advantage in explaining how her sickness led to her distorted sense of reality. She writes about her stay in the hospital alternating between objective recounts, based on talking to her family and the staff at the hospital, and the videos taken of her in the hospital with inner thoughts that she pieces together from her broken memory during this time. It was moving to be able to have a look into the inner workings of a brain and what was possibly a mental illness: still a taboo in todays society. As the story goes on, Cahalan recounts her prolonged stay at NYU, the myriad of doctors, nurses and specialists that she met with, the multiple wrong diagnoses, grueling tests, and finally, her hallelujah, the correct diagnosis and long recovery with weeks of treatment. She is now perfectly healthy and back to writing at the Post and raising awareness about her rare disease that affects young women and children with high hormone levels (I'll spare the name for spoilers sake) that often goes untreated. With early diagnosis, there is often full recovery or at least 85%. Cahalan's story and the subsequent writing pieces that came out of it (books, articles etc) are honestly moving and inspiring. From her family, boyfriend and friends taking care of her, to her doctors and medical staff never giving up on her, to her brilliant fight against a disease that is still virtually a mystery to science, Susannah represents bravery, resilience and is truly an inspiration. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness is a gripping and emotional book that I recommend to anyone looking for a fresh, original, happy ending.
LisaDunckley More than 1 year ago
This is a terrifying true account of a normal, healthy, smart, successful young woman who suddenly slips into insanity. She is an investigative reporter, and after her miraculous recovery she wrote this book, having to rely on interviews, medical records, and her friends and family's memories of the time that she was “gone”. It is truly scary to think that this could happen to anyone of us—to slip into madness with no control over the matter. During various stages, she was violent, psychotic, or catatonic. It started with obsessive thoughts, forgetfulness, and migraine pain. Then came numbness on one side and weird tingly feelings. Then extreme exhaustion and trouble following conversations and lost, blank hours with no memory of what was happening. Then came a manic episode at work—screaming at her coworkers, panic, rambling paranoia. Only when she began to have seizures and become unconscious was she hospitalized. For a day. Then released! Doctors continued to find no evidence of a diagnosable disease. She continues to become completely mad, and diagnoses are thrown around (alcoholism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, even mono). Finally she gets to the point where she's so psychotic and catatonic that she's admitted. And eventually one doctor, with a theory that there is a rare but very real physical disease going on—goes out on a limb to save her life. The disease was an auto-immune reaction, causing brain inflammation. Dr. Naijar felt that Susannah was suffering from this rare disease, and the best way to find out was to do a rather extreme procedure—a brain biopsy. “Her brain is on fire.” is the way he explained it to her parents. The biopsy confirmed that her immune system was sending inflammatory cells to attack nerve cells in the brain. They consulted with Dr. Dalmau, an expert in this area who had discovered the rare syndrome (unnamed at that point) that Susannah had. It was later called Anti-NMDA-Receptor encephalitis—encephalitis simply means inflammation of the brain, and NMDA receptors are used in a chemical reaction in the brain, they are vital to learning, memory, and behavior. And Susannah was diagnosed with this syndrome. Luckily for her, she was one of the 75% who recover...not everyone does. Well written and well researched, the fact that the author is also the one who experienced this makes this book riveting!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read in 3 days!
Fabian Burstyn More than 1 year ago
This book was a great read. I recomend everyone to hear this story. Her life flipped upside down and she brought it back into place. This is an inspirational story about a women whose life was flipped upside down and how she got it back.
bumblebee23 More than 1 year ago
What a scary and eye opening read! I cannot even imagine what Susannah and her family and friends went through. I hope her story continues to help people.