The Ninjabot

Brain On Fire – A Young Woman’s Descent into Madness and Back

Posted on July 12, 2014 at 7:19 pm by JESSIE

Brain on Fire

Disclaimer: Brain On Fire is not for hypochondriacs
Reading this book was quite the roller coaster ride for me. As a hypochondriac, I got scared at times. No, not just scared. Downright terrified to the point of paranoia. But I just couldn’t put the book dow. It’s just that good.

I finished Brain on Fire in less than a day within two sittings. The piece is written in such a way that it becomes very easy for the reader to empathize with the author and it’s definitely a page turner. Susannah Cahalan, current reporter for the New York Post, writes with elegance and an endearing kind of formality as she recounts (or tries to) her “month of madness” as she calls it. I use the words “or tries to” because Susannah cannot actually recall her month of madness with clarity. In fact, she cannot remember most of her time spent in the hospital at all. To make up for this discrepancy between memory and reality, Susannah honed her investigative journalist skills while writing this book by interviewing her doctors, parents, friends, and family, and by studying her hospital video records in depth to ensure that her story is as accurate as possible. I think her efforts bleed through the pages and add so much credibility to this captivating memoir. Included in the young journalist’s book are photocopied snippets of actual journal entries and doctors’ reports, among other pieces of evidence that had been collected during this crucial period of Susannah’s life.

During this life-changing month, she becomes afflicted with an extremely rare autoimmune disease that quickly and eerily transforms her entire self. Normally a bright, intelligent, and outgoing individual, the disease causes Susannah to become a manic, paranoid, and crazy person. Known in the professional realm as anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis  (or in plebeian terms as brain-is-super-swollen-itis), the disease becomes the source of Susannah’s quick descent into madness. She first self diagnoses it as bipolar disorder, then later as multiple personality disorder. Eventually, the now-renowned neurologist, Dr. Najjar uncovers the truth by using a clever rudimentary test that merely involved a paper and pencil. The rest, as they say, was history. Well, at least for most of the medical world, that is.

Quite frankly, I loved Brain on Fire. Susannah’s story is not only alluring and filled with real life drama, but it is also informative and educational. I feel as if I learned quite a bit about the human brain from this book. There’s also a purpose behind this work—to spread awareness about a rare autoimmune disease that nearly landed a talented, young, up-and-coming young woman in an insane asylum permanently. It’s an elegant and captivating read that will mesmerize you until the very last page.

Grade: A

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