A harrowing memoir, in Brain on Fire Susannah Cahalan details her month-long struggle with a rare autoimmune disease that, at the time, had rarely been heard of and was very nearly not diagnosed in her at all.
Unable to remember much from her time in hospital, Cahalan uses her journalistic skills to research into what happened to her during what she refers to as her 'month of madness'. By interviewing her family, friends and the medical professionals that cared for her while she was in hospital, she is able to fill the gaps in her own memory and so Cahalan slowly pieces together exactly what happened to her.
A captivating read, it’s clear through every word that even after her own body attacked her brain, Cahalan still has the skillset that got her a job at the New York Post before her hospitalisation.
The memoir runs in chronological order and so it begins with Cahalan as a successful journalist and then details her descent into, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, suffering from paranoia, seizures, memory loss and severe psychosis. The rest of the novel will take you along with Cahalan on a journey to untangle the mystery of what was taking place inside her brain.
Brain on Fire details what is perhaps one of our most intense fears, what it feels like to lose yourself and wake to find yourself trapped inside your body. Shocking and memorable, it is not only a testament to the author’s survival but to her bravery, strength and incredible writing abilities.
The only slight criticism, if you can even call it that, I have for the book is that at times I found the medical descriptions a little too in depth but overall I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in reading memoirs, or to anyone interested in finding out more about the inner workings of our brains.
Albeit a bit heavy going at times, it’s well worth picking up and sticking with. And, although it centres around what is undeniably a difficult and somewhat scary subject, Cahalan’s story is a reminder of the hope that we must all have that that our scientists and doctors will continue to make new discoveries, and new cures, in the future.
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