Memoir Mondays: BRAIN ON FIRE

Imagine waking up strapped to a strange hospital bed. You are alone, and you cannot move or speak. You’re wearing a wristband that says you are a flight risk, and you are told you are violent, dangerously unstable, and prone to hallucinations. No one knows what’s wrong with you—least of all yourself.

This terrifying experience marked the beginning of Susannah Cahalan’s real life “month of madness,” during which she would become a shell of her former self, spiraling downward into acute psychosis and a state of near-catatonia. A team of doctors spent a million of dollars worth of tests in a desperate search for a diagnosis–all of which came back negative. The medical field was baffled by her case, and ultimately came to the (wrong) conclusion that she was schizophrenic and needed to be institutionalized in a psychiatric ward.

It took one doctor (nicknamed Dr. House for his uncanny diagnostic skills) to save Susannah. Using a brilliant (and shockingly simple) diagnostic technique, Dr. Souhel Najar proved that Calahan’s psychotic behaviour was caused by an inflammation of the brain: her body was attacking her brain in a rare and often fatal form of autoimmune disease, called Anti-NDMA Autoimmune Encephilitis.

In Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan provides the reader with far more than a simply riveting read and a crackling medical mystery. This is a powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her “lost month” to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

Learn more about Brain on Fire.

Visit Susannah’s website.

Watch her discuss Brain on Fire below: