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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This memoir will have you questioning everything you know about mental health and the doctors who diagnose it. Susannah Cahalan was a promising young journalist with the world at her feet when she found herself in the midst of a mysterious psychological breakdown that threatened to destroy her life. Pairing heartbreaking recollections with page-turning science, she examines the relationship between physiological and psychological illness with brilliantly descriptive language. As inspiring as it is terrifying, Brain on Fire explores themes of grit, survival, and identity in a way that really hits home.
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Couldn't put it down
I read a lot. I have yet to be moved to wire a review, but I just couldn't put this book down. Literally lost sleep when I planned to read a chapter or 2 before bed and ended up reading well into the night. For a book I picked out in a whim, this was a good read.
Brain on Fire
This book should be read by all doctors and medical personnel!
The author chronicles her progression into madness with clarity and vivid description. Presenting the classic symptoms of schizophrenia, Ms. Cahalan came very close to being institutionalized due to a misdiagnosis of mental illness. If the stars had not aligned she would be dead. In come doctors on the cutting edge of research with the proper diagnosis of a rare encephalitis. With aggressive treatment and the unwavering support of her family and boyfriend, she has fully recovered.
So little is known about the brain. One doctor naively insists her symptoms are due to alcohol withdrawal (even though she had no history of excessive use) or it was a reaction to her birth control patch! Ergo, why all doctors should add this book to their library.
A riveting read. There is no doubt in my mind that this book has and will save lives. How lucky the world is to have an increased knowledge of the brain due to the courage of a young journalist willing to share her journey in such a responsible manner.
Author put into words what I still can not
As a person diagnosed for over 20 years as bipolar I was prescribed too many psychiatric medications to list, experienced too much mental anguish to revisit, and underwent over 40 electro convulsive therapy sessions that may or may not be contributing factors to my splotchy memory.
Then, 9 years ago i was diagnosed as having Hashimoto's autoimmune thyroiditis and hoped my thyroidectomy 6 years ago would put an end to the psychiatric symptoms. The first 6 weeks post surgery were like a miracle and I believed the surgery had put an end my body attacking itself.
I had my last psychiatric hospitalization 4 years ago and at that point it was felt by both my Psychopharmacologist (who had treated me for nearly 20 years) and my endocrinologist that all the acute psych symptoms I had were from Autoimmune Hashimoto's encephalopathy. I had prednisone stocked in my arsenal to take at the earliest signs of recurring psychosis to prevent a repeated episode. I have not had to take the prednisone.
My autoimmune disease attacks my body still but my brain seems to be safer for now. My thought process is slowed, word retrieval sometimes a frustrating if not amusing. Math is something I still feel incapable of. This book is the first book I have read in over a year and a half. I had a hard time putting it down. The story was not mine but was close enough to bring back memories I had thought I lost.
Thank you Ms. Cahalan for speaking for many who can not. At a time when our country truly needs to discuss The Mental Health Situation as it pertains to the patient, the researcher, and the public, I am grateful to you for allowing all the opportunity to read about your experience. Thank you for helping break the stigma! I will be recommending your book to whoever will listen!