Author: Susannah Cahalan

ISBN: 978-4516-2137-2

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.


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