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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

4.3 230
by Susannah Cahalan

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Greenberg
Brain on Fire is at its most captivating when describing the torturous process of how doctors arrived at [the] diagnosis…At its best, Cahalan's prose carries a sharp, unsparing, tabloid punch in the tradition of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin.
The Washington Post - Maggie Scarf
Cahalan's tale is told in straightforward journalistic prose and is admirably well-researched and described. Because she has no memory of her "month of madness," the story rests on doctors' notes and recollections, hospital films, her father's journals, both parents' recounting of what happened, and the reminiscences of her devoted boyfriend and those of her many friends and relatives. This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.
Publishers Weekly
In 2009, Cahalan was in a serious relationship and her career as a reporter at the New York Post was taking off. But suddenly, as she tells it in this engaging memoir, she began suffering from a bizarre amalgam of debilitating symptoms including memory loss, paranoia, and severe psychosis that left her in a catatonic state that moved her close to death. Physicians remained baffled until one extraordinary doctor determined that Cahalan was “in the grip of some kind of autoimmune disease.” Released from the hospital after 28 days, she had no memory of her stay there. DVDs recorded in the hospital were the only link she had to her startling condition. “Without this electronic evidence, I could never have imagined myself capable of such madness and misery,” she writes. Focusing her journalistic toolbox on her story, Cahalan untangles the medical mystery surrounding her condition. She is dogged by one question: “How many other people throughout history suffered from my disease and others like it but went untreated? The question is made more pressing by the knowledge that even though the disease was discovered in 2007, some doctors I spoke to believe that it’s been around at least as long as humanity has.” A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery. (Nov.)
“The bizarre and confounding illness that beset the 24-year-old New York Post reporter in early 2009 so ravaged her mentally and physically that she became unrecognizable to coworkers, family, friends, and—most devastatingly—herself… She dedicates this miracle of a book to ‘those without a diagnosis’… [An] unforgettable memoir.”
Scientific American
“Swift and haunting.”
“This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter…describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity…Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information…compelling.”
Mental Floss
“Compelling…a New York Post reporter recounts her medical nightmare.”
Booklist (starred review)
“This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter…describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity…Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information…compelling.”
Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology
“For the neurologist, I highly recommend this book on several grounds…First, it is a well-told story, worth reading for the suspense and the dramatic cadence of events…Second, it is a superb case study of a rare neurologic diagnosis; even experienced neurologists will find much to learn in it…Third, and most important, it gives the neurologist insight into how a patient and her family experienced a complex illness, including the terrifying symptoms, the difficult pace of medical diagnosis, and the slow recovery. This story clearly contains lessons for all of us.”
New York Times Book Review
“Captivating…Cahalan’s prose carries a sharp, unsparing tabloid punch in the tradition of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin.”
People magazine
“A fascinating look at the disease that – if not for a nick-of-time diagnosis – could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life.”
"An intense, mesmerizing account of survival. . . Cahalan's deft descriptions of her spooky hallucinations could be right out of a Poe terror tale."
"The best reporters never stop asking questions, and Cahalan is no exception...The result is a kind of anti-memoir, an out-of-body personal account of a young woman's fight to survive one of the cruelest diseases imaginable. And on every level, it's remarkable.....Cahalan is nothing if not tenacious, and she perfectly tempers her brutal honesty with compassion and something like vulnerability. It's indisputable that Cahalan is a gifted reporter, and Brain on Fire is a stunningly brave book. But even more than that, she's a naturally talented prose stylist — whip-smart but always unpretentious — and it's nearly impossible to stop reading her, even in the book's most painful passages....Brain on Fire comes from a place of intense pain and unthinkable isolation, but finds redemption in Cahalan's unflagging, defiant toughness. It's an unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists."
The Daily Texan
“What is most impressive about “Brain on Fire” is that Cahalan has little recollection of her month of insanity…. Thanks partially to her talent as a journalist and to the fact that her parents kept journals, Cahalan was able to recapture her month, leaving no holes in the narrative.”
The Washington Post
“Harrowing . . . Cahalan's tale is . . . admirably well-researched and described. . . . This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.”
The Lancet
“A dramatic and suspenseful book that draws you into her story and holds you there until the last page. . . I recommend it highly.”
From the Publisher
“A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery.”
Publishers Weekly

“Echoing the blend of memoir and journalism, narrator Heather Henderson modulates the story’s shifting emotional undercurrent with her careful use of tone and pacing. . . . Henderson’s voice is crisp, clear, and remarkably unfazed by the . . . medical terminology.”

“A remarkably well-written and well-read account.”

Library Journal
New York Post reporter Cahalan details the madness that briefly robbed her of her independence and ability to write. At first, the author's erratic behavior seemed symptomatic of overwork. Soon, her lack of physical control and frightening, self-destructive behavior became impossible to ignore. Following a string of misdiagnoses, a top neurologist recognized a then newly discovered autoimmune condition called anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. With the help of her doctor and supportive family and boyfriend, Cahalan recovered and was back at work within a year. Though more journalistic in tone, the book parallels Sylvia Plath's literary classic The Bell Jar. VERDICT A compelling, quick read with a moving message. Cahalan's hip writing style, sympathetic characters, and suspenseful story will appeal to fans of medical thrillers and the television show House. Brief, informative biology and abnormal psychology discussions throughout the text will interest science students without slowing the narrative. Because Cahalan's condition is rare and its causes unknown, this book may save lives and promote empathy for those struggling with mental illness. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/12.]—Chrissy Spallone, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A young journalist's descent into her own baffling medical mystery. In her debut memoir, New York Post reporter Cahalan recounts her struggle to understand an unremembered month lost to illness. Cobbled together from interviews, medical records, notebooks, journals and video footage, the author conjures the traumatic memories of her harrowing ordeal. What began as numbness in her hands and feet soon grew into something more serious, climaxing in a terrifying seizure witnessed by her boyfriend. "My arms suddenly whipped straight out in front of me, like a mummy," she writes, "as my eyes rolled back and my body stiffened….Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth." The mystery thickened as doctors struggled to agree on a diagnosis. While the uncertainty proved maddening for her family members, however, it was also what bonded them together. Cahalan's estranged parents, in particular, found a common purpose as a result of their daughter's plight, putting her health before old hardships. After numerous tests revealed nothing, an observed increase of white blood cells in her cerebrospinal fluid eventually clued in medical professionals. Diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis--a rare autoimmune disease with a cure--Cahalan and her family embarked on the long, hard road to recovery. Through the lonesomeness of her illness, a community emerged, the members of which were dedicated to returning the author to her former life as a beloved daughter, sister, lover and friend. A valiant attempt to recount a mostly forgotten experience, though the many questions that remain may prove frustrating to some readers.

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Free Press
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Read an Excerpt



Maybe it all began with a bug bite, from a bedbug that didn’t exist.

One morning, I’d woken up to find two red dots on the main purplish-blue vein running down my left arm. It was early 2009, and New York City was awash in bedbug scares: they infested offices, clothing stores, movie theaters, and park benches. Though I wasn’t naturally a worrier, my dreams had been occupied for two nights straight by finger-long bedbugs. It was a reasonable concern, though after carefully scouring the apartment, I couldn’t find a single bug or any evidence of their presence. Except those two bites. I even called in an exterminator to check out my apartment, an overworked Hispanic man who combed the whole place, lifting up my sofa bed and shining a flashlight into places I had never before thought to clean. He proclaimed my studio bug free. That seemed unlikely, so I asked for a follow-up appointment for him to spray. To his credit, he urged me to wait before shelling out an astronomical sum to do battle against what he seemed to think was an imaginary infestation. But I pressed him to do it, convinced that my apartment, my bed, my body had been overrun by bugs. He agreed to return and exterminate.

Concerned as I was, I tried to conceal my growing unease from my coworkers. Understandably, no one wanted to be associated with a person with a bedbug problem. So at work the following day, I walked as nonchalantly as possible through the newsroom of the New York Post to my cubicle. I was careful to conceal my bites and tried to appear casual, normal. Not that “normal” means a lot at the Post.

Though it’s notoriously obsessed with what’s new, the Post is nearly as old as the nation itself. Established by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, it is the longest continually run newspaper in the country. In its first century alone, the paper crusaded for the abolition movement and helped promote the creation of Central Park. Today the newsroom itself is cavernous yet airless, filled with rows of open cubicles and a glut of filing cabinets packed with decades of unused, forgotten documents. The walls are freckled with clocks that don’t run, dead flowers hung upside down to dry, a picture of a monkey riding a border collie, and a big foam Six Flags finger, all memorabilia from reporters’ assignments. The PCs are ancient, the copy machines the size of small ponies. A small utility closet that once served as a smoking room now holds supplies, and is marked by a weathered sign warning that the smoking room no longer exists, as if someone might accidentally wander in for a cigarette among the monitors and video equipment. This has been my eccentric little world for the past seven years, since I started here as a seventeen-year-old intern.

Especially around deadline, the room buzzes with activity—keyboards clacking, editors yelling, reporters cackling—the perfect stereotype of a tabloid newsroom.

“Where’s the fucking picture to go with this caption?”

“How is it that he didn’t know she was a prostitute?”

“What color were the socks of the guy who jumped off the bridge?”

It’s like a bar without alcohol, filled with adrenaline-soaked news junkies. The cast of characters here is unique to the Post: the brightest headline writers in the business, the hardened newshounds hunting after exclusives, and type-A workaholics who possess the chameleon ability to either befriend or antagonize almost anyone. Still, on most days, the newsroom is subdued, as everyone silently combs through court documents, interviews sources, or reads newspapers. Often, like today, the newsroom is as quiet as a morgue.

Heading toward my desk to start the day, I wove through the rows of cubicles marked by green Manhattan street signs: Liberty Street, Nassau Street, Pine Street, and William Street, throwbacks to a time when the Post was actually flanked by those downtown streets in its previous home at the South Street Seaport. My desk is at Pine Street. Amid the silence, I slid into my seat beside Angela, my closest friend at the paper, and gave her a tense smile. Trying not to let my question echo too loudly across the noiseless room, I asked, “You know anything about bedbug bites?”

I often joked that if I ever had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Angela. In many ways, she is my newsroom hero. When I first met her, three years before, she was a soft-spoken, shy young woman from Queens, only a few years older than me. She had arrived at the Post from a small weekly paper and since then had matured under the pressure of a big-city tabloid into one of the Post’s most talented reporters, churning out reams of our best stories. Most late Friday nights, you’d find Angela writing four stories on split screens simultaneously. I couldn’t help but look up to her. Now I really needed her advice.

Hearing that dreaded word, bedbugs, Angela scooted her chair away from mine. “Don’t tell me you have them,” she said with an impish smile. I started to show her my arm, but before I could get into my tale of woe, my phone rang.

“You ready?” It was the new Sunday editor, Steve. He was just barely in his midthirties, yet he had already been named head editor of the Sunday paper, the section I worked for, and despite his friendliness, he intimidated me. Every Tuesday, each reporter had a pitch meeting to showcase some of his or her ideas for that Sunday’s paper. At the sound of his voice, I realized with panic that I was completely unprepared for this week’s meeting. Usually I had at least three coherent ideas to pitch; they weren’t always great, but I always had something. Now I had nothing, not even enough to bluff my way through the next five minutes. How had I let that happen? This meeting was impossible to forget, a weekly ritual that we all fastidiously prepared for, even during days off.

Bedbugs forgotten, I widened my eyes at Angela as I stood back up, gamely hoping it all would work out once I got to Steve’s office.

Nervously, I walked back down “Pine Street” and into Steve’s office. I sat down next to Paul, the Sunday news editor and close friend who had mentored me since I was a sophomore in college, giving him a nod but avoiding direct eye contact. I readjusted my scratched-up wide-framed Annie Hall glasses, which a publicist friend once described as my own form of birth control because “no one will sleep with you with those on.”

We sat there in silence for a moment, as I tried to let myself be comforted by Paul’s familiar, larger-than-life presence. With his shock of prematurely white hair and his propensity to toss the word fuck around like a preposition, he is the essence of a throwback newsman and a brilliant editor.

He had given me a shot as a reporter during the summer of my sophomore year of college after a family friend introduced us. After a few years in which I worked as a runner, covering breaking news and feeding information to another reporter to write the piece, Paul offered me my first big assignment: an article on the debauchery at a New York University fraternity house. When I returned with a story and pictures of me playing beer pong, he was impressed with my chutzpah; even though the exposé never ran, he assigned me more stories until I had been hired on full time in 2008. Now, as I sat in Steve’s office wholly unprepared, I couldn’t help but feel like a work in progress, not worthy of Paul’s faith and respect.

The silence deepened until I looked up. Steve and Paul were staring at me expectantly, so I just started talking, hoping something would come. “I saw this story on a blog . . . ,” I said, desperately plucking up wisps of half-formed ideas.

“That’s really just not good enough,” Steve interrupted. “You need to be bringing in better stuff than this. Okay? Please don’t come in with nothing again.” Paul nodded, his face blazing red. For the first time since I’d started working on my high school newspaper, journalism disagreed with me. I left the meeting furious at myself and bewildered by my own ineptitude.

“You okay?” Angela asked as I returned to my desk.

“Yeah, you know, I’m just bad at my job. No big deal,” I joked grimly.

She laughed, revealing a few charmingly crooked incisor teeth. “Oh, come on, Susannah. What happened? Don’t take it seriously. You’re a pro.”

“Thanks, Ang,” I said, sipping my lukewarm coffee. “Things just aren’t going my way.”

I brooded over the day’s disasters that evening as I walked west from the News Corp. building on Sixth Avenue, through the tourist clusterfuck that is Times Square, toward my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. As if purposely living the cliché of a New York writer, I rented a cramped one-room studio, where I slept on a pullout sofa. The apartment, eerily quiet, overlooked the courtyard of several tenements, and I often awoke not to police sirens and grumbling garbage trucks but to the sound of a neighbor playing the accordion on his balcony.

Still obsessed with my bites, despite the exterminator’s assurance that I had nothing to worry about, I prepared for him to spray the place and spent that night discarding things that could be harboring bedbugs. Into the garbage went my beloved Post clips, hundreds of articles reminding me of how bizarre my job is: the victims and suspects, dangerous slums, prisons and hospitals, twelve-hour shifts spent shivering inside photographers’ cars waiting to photograph—or “pop”—celebrities. I had always loved every minute of it. So why was I suddenly so terrible at it?

As I shoved these treasures into the trash bags, I paused on a few headlines, among them the biggest story of my career to date: the time I managed to land an exclusive jailhouse interview with child kidnapper Michael Devlin. The national media were hot on the story, and I was only a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, yet Devlin spoke to me twice. But the story didn’t end there. His lawyers went nuts after the article ran, launching a smear campaign against the Post and calling for a judicial gag order, while the local and national media began debating my methods on live TV and questioning the ethics of jailhouse interviews and tabloids in general. Paul fielded several tearful phone calls from me during that time, which bound us together, and in the end, both the paper and my editors stood by me. Though the experience had rattled me, it also whetted my appetite, and from then on, I became the resident “jailhouser.” Devlin was eventually sentenced to three consecutive lifetimes in prison.

Then there was the butt implant story, “Rear and Present Danger,” a headline that still makes me laugh. I had to go undercover as a stripper looking for cheap butt enhancements from a woman who was illegally dispensing them out of a midtown hotel room. As I stood there with my pants around my ankles, I tried not to be insulted when she announced that she would need “a thousand dollars per cheek,” twice the amount she charged the woman who had come forward to the Post.

Journalism was thrilling; I had always loved living a reality that was more fabulist than fiction, though little did I know that my life was about to become so bizarre as to be worthy of coverage in my own beloved tabloid.

Even though the memory made me smile, I added this clip to the growing trash pile—“where it belongs,” I scoffed, despite the fact that those crazy stories had meant the world to me. Though it felt necessary at the moment, this callous throwing away of years’ worth of work was completely out of character for me. I was a nostalgic pack rat, who held on to poems that I had written in fourth grade and twenty-some-odd diaries that dated back to junior high. Though there didn’t seem to be much of a connection among my bedbug scare, my forgetfulness at work, and my sudden instinct to purge my files, what I didn’t know then is that bug obsession can be a sign of psychosis. It’s a little-known problem, since those suffering from parasitosis, or Ekbom syndrome, as it’s called, are most likely to consult exterminators or dermatologists for their imaginary infestations instead of mental health professionals, and as a result they frequently go undiagnosed.1 My problem, it turns out, was far vaster than an itchy forearm and a forgotten meeting.

After hours of packing everything away to ensure a bedbug-free zone, I still didn’t feel any better. As I knelt by the black garbage bags, I was hit with a terrible ache in the pit of my stomach—that kind of free-floating dread that accompanies heartbreak or death. When I got to my feet, a sharp pain lanced my mind, like a white-hot flash of a migraine, though I had never suffered from one before. As I stumbled to the bathroom, my legs and body just wouldn’t react, and I felt as if I were slogging through quicksand. I must be getting the flu, I thought.

This might not have been the flu, though, the same way there may have been no bedbugs. But there likely was a pathogen of some sort that had invaded my body, a little germ that set everything in motion. Maybe it came from that businessman who had sneezed on me in the subway a few days before, releasing millions of virus particles onto the rest of us in that subway car? Or maybe it was in something I ate or something that slipped inside me through a tiny wound on my skin, maybe through one of those mysterious bug bites?

There my mind goes again.2

The doctors don’t actually know how it began for me. What’s clear is that if that man had sneezed on you, you’d most likely just get a cold. For me, it flipped my universe upside down and very nearly sent me to an asylum for life.


What People are Saying About This

David B. Angus
Brain on Fire reads like a scientific thriller, but with a profound and moving philosophy at its heart.”
—David B. Agus, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Engineering, University of Southern California, and author of The End of Illness
Mehmet Oz
“Engrossing. . . . Unquestionably, an important book on both a human and a medical level. Cahalan’s elegantly-written memoir of her dramatic descent into madness opens up discussion of the cutting-edge neuroscience behind a disease that may affect thousands of people around the world, and it offers powerful insight into the subjective workings of our minds.”
—Mehmet Oz, M.D., Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Surgery, New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center

Meet 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 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 230 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.  
Anonymous 6 months ago
A well written suspense story about disease shows how important your brain is to your personality and experiences
Anonymous 7 months ago
loved it.
lverard 10 months 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 10 months 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 12 months 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.
AundriaChristine More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down, and hand it out all the time for others to read.