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Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire (edition 2012)

by Susannah Cahalan

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1,297886,042 (3.97)56
Title:Brain on Fire
Authors:Susannah Cahalan
Info:Free Press (2012), Edition: 1, Kindle Edition, 290 pages
Collections:Your library, Four/Five stars
Tags:Brain disease, Encephalitis, Medicine, Mental illness, New York Post, Memoir, Hospitals, Doctors, Neurology, Nonfiction

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan


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This memoir is an enjoyable argument for looking at mental illness as part of the physical whole of the body. The link between mental illness, including schizophrenia and depression, and inflammation is getting stronger and stronger, but the difficulties in diagnosing inflammation in the first place and addressing the causes of this inflammation in the second place make it challenging for clinicians to put the physical and the mental together. The other challenge comes from the system being set up to keep mind and body entirely separate. Mental health professionals and medical professionals outside of the mental health field are both unlikely to look at biological causes of patient's mental symptoms. Just the fact that there's a division between mental health professionals and other medical professionals is both evidence of a continued erroneous assumption of Cartesian dualism and the reason that the chasm between mind and body is so difficult to bridge.

Cahalan herself describes a situation in which she was threatened by the medical staff with being moved from the neurology wing to a psychiatric hospital if she didn't straighten up. Only within a paradigm that believes that the mentally ill have control over their mental symptoms would a psychiatric hospital be considered punishment.

As long as we continue to look at mental symptoms as acting out or the fault of the patient, we're not going to be able to see the whole picture and effectively help people with mental illness in the way that we attempt to help those with illnesses we view as purely physical. Because many (perhaps most) physical complaints have a mental health component, it would also be reasonable to expect that by keeping a clinician from taking into account the complete picture, ignoring mental symptoms could also decrease the effectiveness of treatments for physical ailments. I'm not holding my breath for things to change, though, at least not within my lifetime. (Although I suppose if I held my breath long enough, that would almost guarantee there wouldn't be a change during my lifetime.) ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jun 20, 2017 |
I honestly only picked this book out because of the cover, I tend to do that more then I should. I'm glad I did though because this book is very intriguing and informative of a difficult to diagnose brain disease. She writes about her own experience of having it with a lot of the accounts being second hand because she has no memory of a lot of it. Read it before it becomes a movie! ( )
  MadelynJackson | Jun 6, 2017 |
Excellent story skilfully told! ( )
  bness2 | May 23, 2017 |
A MOST fascinating read. Everyone is any social/mental service field should read this and be aware of its possibility. A life saved by the luck of timing, Susannah begins a downward spiral into what is initially assumed to be a form of psychosis, and rightfully so, before a Godsend of a doctor takes on her case and, thankfully, recently read a paper describing her symptoms and a better diagnostic method. Anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis has just recently been diagnosed (2007) and successfully treated and in such, many degrees have also been added to the list of related brain inflammations. Through her own jagged memory and that of those who witnessed her illness, she recounts a near play-by-play journey into an abyss she barely saw the happy end to. Soon to be made into a movie, read it detailed, first hand, from this amazing woman and her supporting cast of family, loyal beau and steadfast friends. ( )
  CherylGrimm | Mar 22, 2017 |
This is definitely a speed read. You feel compelled to find out everything that happened to Susannah as quickly as possible. The book is divided into three parts. The first covers immediately before her hospitalization and how she felt to start "going crazy." This part she largely remembers (although not completely). The second is her hospitalization, which she does not remember, so it is based upon her interviews with those who cared for her, watching the videos of herself in the hospital (that the hospital took to help diagnose seizures) with a few interspersed hallucinations she does remember. Both of these parts are really well written. In the first, you can feel the terror Susannah started to feel as she lost certainty over what was real and wasn't. It made my spine tingle. The second highlights her jouranlistic skills. She was able to really investigate what happened because she was able to hold it at arms' length. She says in the book and has said a few times in interviews that this Susannah feels like a different person since she doesn't remember it. The last third where she talks about her years of recovery and her life now was the weakest. The level of insight and analysis found in the first two parts was absent. While Susannah clearly empathizes with those with mental illness, there's a clear sense that she thinks that all mental illness is just an illness making you look mental and not actually maybe a different way of interacting with the world. A different kind of normal you're just born with. I think Susannah fails to take into consideration what if she was just born seeing colors more brightly and seeing the walls breathe? What if that was just always her normal? That's the reality for many with a mental illness, and she kind of just glosses over that and comes down on the it's all just a physical illness side. I'm more of a believer that it's ok for there to be different ways to be "normal" and maybe society should stop shoving us all into the same shaped peghole. While it's true that situations like Susannah's where your whole personality changes overnight are devastating, that's not how all mental illness presents, and I think she misses that in her quest to find and diagnose those with a brain inflammation misdiagnosed.

Check out my full review. ( )
  gaialover | Mar 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
"..a fascinating and compelling story told in a smart, succinct style.."
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I have felt that odd whirr of wings in the head.
                                 —Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary:
              Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf
Dedicated to those without a diagnosis
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Maybe it all began with a bug bite, from a bedbug that didn't exist.
If all I can remember are hallucinations, how can I rely on my own mind?
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The story of twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan and the life-saving discovery of the autoimmune disorder that nearly killed her -- and that could perhaps be the root of "demonic possessions" throughout history.

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