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on April 15, 2017
I will be forever grateful to Susannah Cahalan for writing this book. It was brought to my attention by a friend and reading it was what lead us to a diagnosis of Autoimmune Encephalitis for my son. This neurological disease has only been identified in the past twelve years and is not widely understood. It is often misdiagnosed as mental illness due to the neuro-psychotic nature of some of the symptoms. The six months proceeding my son's diagnosis were their own kind of hell, and I am not being mellow dramatic when I say that in writing this book, Susannah gave my son his life back. Without it I have no doubt that he would have been institutionalized.

If you have any interest in the brain, medicine, or just enjoy a good medical drama please read this book. Not only is it a gripping medical story, but it raises awareness of an obscure and difficult to diagnose neurological disease. We need all the help we can get to raise awareness of Autoimmune Encephalitis and reading this book is a great place to start. Thank you from the mother of an Autoimmune Encephalitis warrior
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on January 2, 2017
I work in the field of mental health with individuals who suffer with persistent metal illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar and major depression. This book has me questioning so much, and thinking about clients who should have been tested for auto immune disorders. I'm questioning everything. I work as a care manager and one of my main goals is to facilitate communicating among providers...psychiatrists, primary care doctors, neurologists, etc. Since reading this, I have placed an even higher value on that role. Susannah's story taught me how vital it is to not take things at face value and to encourage discussion among professionals caring for someone in the throes of a severe illness.
49 people found this helpful
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"Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness" should be required reading for everyone in the health care profession- especially neurologists. This past April, 2017, my 18 year old granddaughter, Alysa, after having had seizures, spent 2 weeks in the hospital; MRI's, CT-scans, EEGs and blood work came back normal. Slowly, she became unable to read, to eat, to speak. Slowly, she "descended into madness", becoming violent and hallucinating. In the very beginning of her illness, my daughter-in-law, Gretchen, through research, texted me to have the doctors consider "anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis". At the same time, my sister-in-law, Downey, wrote to tell me of this book. Nope. None of the doctors at the first hospital had a clue about it. On April 14th, Alysa was transported to Chapel Hill, NC Neuroscience Hospital. (I requested the information about the anti NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis be forwarded with her records) One month before Alysa's illness, a young woman was the first to be diagnosed with this disease at Chapel Hill. Working with The Mayo Clinic, doctors at CH acquired an infusion- which almost immediately reversed Alysa's psychotic symptoms! She is still recovering and will need more infusions and therapy. Susannah's book has not only given us insight into what was a horrific nightmare for our family, it has also validated getting a second (third or fourth) opinion when a patient's condition is not improving. Thank you, Susannah! I hope you have made a complete recovery by now.
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on May 20, 2017
Susannah Cahalan’s book should be required reading for every med school student, clinical psych major and any other front line profession (like teachers) who may encounter – not just NDMA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis – but any other rare disease that defies accurate diagnosis and treatment. At one level this book is a dire warning about the frequency with which symptomology is often forced into pre-conceived categories by medical professionals out of the toxic combination of arrogance, laziness and ignorance, and when those categories don’t match up precisely, how common the search for accurate diagnosis is sacrificed to a diagnosis that ends in NOS – Not Otherwise Specified. Cahalan makes the point that without a relentless physician, she herself would probably be now institutionalized or dead. She stresses that her “cure” represents a likely minority of patients who will never be properly diagnosed or treated and toward the end of the book she takes “Survivor Guilt” head on. Her unflinching self revelations are not entirely what make this account so worthwhile, though she writes without a shred of self pity or maudlin retrospection, (like the very best journalists often do). One of the most compelling features of this memoir is the brilliantly subtle deconstruction of human experience into all the elements - emotion, behavior, and thought, and how significant, even critical to “health” the integration of these functions is. It is a stunning reflection on the very notion of “self” and a remarkably honest disclosure about family and human relationships and the frailty of both. Stylistically the book bears the unmistakable mark of an accomplished journalist, and, If you are a fan of Cheryl Strayed, John Krakauer and Sebastian Junger you will love this book. Unlike Strayed, Krakauer and Junger however, whose "places" were the Pacific Crest, the Alaskan wilderness or the mountains of Afghanistan respectively, Cahalan's journey is the unfathomable complexity of human biology and psychology. It is perhaps the most daunting terrain to visit let alone report on. She does it very well.
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on June 17, 2016
This is a disturbing novel. To think that things like this might happen often, the misdiagnosis, boggles my mind. This would be a great read for individuals in the health care industry, as well as individuals and families who have any type of interest in mental health issues. Traveling with journalist Susannah Cahalan on her month-long descent into “madness” and the grueling climb back out is spellbinding, yet very depressing and frightening. I will admit I preferred the first two sections of the book more than the third section, which was more scientific, but that is just me. I can't stress enough that Ms. Cahalan had an incredible support system, and that in itself was a major victory. Also makes you also realize that psychiatry, neurology, and chemistry should all be intertwined/connected in the medical field. A very powerful memoir.
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on November 15, 2017
The book tells the story of Susannah and her fight against a mental illness that took over her brain and, yes, set it on fire. The story begins in the middle of our protagonist’s normal life and follows her daily routine as we see her slowly begin to be taken over by her illness. We are pulled into the madness right along with her because of the familiarity of her life prior to the madness. Susannah is relatable, which causes a bigger impact in the middle of the novel when she becomes someone completely different. Through-out her manic state, we suffer with her because we are as frustrated as she is about the fact that no one can pinpoint a cause factor. The feeling of being powerless draws our attention and begs to ask the question, “what if this happened to me?” The story calls attention to the lack of knowledge surrounding mental illnesses and it brings awareness to this issue in a beautifully haunting way. It is evident that one of the author’s main goal was to raise awareness for mental illnesses and diseases.
The author does an incredible job presenting the fear and emotional toll that mental illness can have on an individual. She helps her readers by providing definitions and back stories to some of the medical terms and illnesses that are mentioned throughout the novel. This helps readers who are not familiar with psychology, become more knowledgeable about the topic. Her book can be read by almost everyone, which appeals to the message of the story; many people are suffering from illnesses that take over their mind, and they might not even know it. More research needs to be done on the field in order to help the lives of many.
The novel is beautifully written, and it portrays a realistic and believable narrative that focuses on the disease itself and is not over-shadowed by other elements. I found the reading to be enjoyable as well as educational and have already started recommending it to friends.
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on January 8, 2018
Good read. It makes me wonder how many people have been misdiagnosed with mental issues when there is really an underlying physical problem. Ms. Cahalan is very lucky to have had parents who stood by her side and insisted that medical professionals keep working on her case.
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on July 21, 2014
Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan's memoir of her difficult struggle with a mystery illness, is a fascinating exploration of medicine and survival.

Cahalan was a 24-year-old reporter for the New York Post. She had it all: youth, talent, love, and the beginning of a terrific journalism career. Then she suddenly started to act strangely. She was convinced her apartment was filled with bedbugs, the colors surrounding her became garishly bright, and she became paranoid. This started affecting her work and her personal life.

Diagnosed by one doctor as suffering the effects of too much partying, and by other doctors as suffering from a sudden and severe mental illness, it wasn't until she started suffering violent seizures that she was hospitalized.

During the month that followed, as the doctors tried desperately to figure out exactly what was wrong with her, Cahalan became increasingly more ill.

She spent the month in the hospital, where she was occasionally caught on camera.

After more than $1,000,000 in medical tests, a very simple exam finally came up with a solution. She was suffering from a very rare malady.

After she made her slow process towards recovery, Cahalan decided to explore her lost month. There were some videos that the hospital camera captured, and they were hard for her to watch. She looks totally frightened and lost in those videos. Watching herself on video was like watching a stranger. She also interviewed her doctors and friends and family, because she has few memories of that time in the hospital.

It is an excellent combination of medical mystery and reportage. I found this book fascinating and well written, and have already read it at least twice!
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on November 16, 2014
We have a sense of who WE are. We know our personality, our view of the world we inhabit, and in fact we know our world. What if something happens where these things are no longer so. If the world is no longer one we can make sense of. Where WE are lost to ourselves! Numerous mental illnesses result in such a rearrangement of life, of our personalities, of our sense of ourselves and others. Such a thing happens to Susannah Cahalan in her terrifying story rendered in Brain On Fire. A healthy, competent, engaged news reporter seemingly melts away, becoming what appears to be a seriously mentally ill, non-functioning woman. This is her story, told by her after her recovery from an autoimmune brain affliction, an encephalitis, which almost cost her her life.
Much of her story is recreated from diaries kept by her family and tapes of her from the wards of the hospitals where they struggled to find the cause of her baffling transformation from a successful career as a journalist to a paranoid, frequently seizing, psychotic patient. She was erroneously thought to be an alcoholic, a drug addict, a schizophrenic. She was close to being written off as a hopeless psychotic and institutionalized.
For those with family who have been lost in the mental health world, or the world of rare baffling illnesses, you will recognize the fear, the agony, and the despair.
This is a Great story which reveals how into the darkest, darkest, most hopeless places, healing occurs, and growth occurs, and serendipity bestows its blessings!
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on June 18, 2017
I went to a party about a year ago where a woman I was chatting with was describing how she was going through something her doctors couldn't explain. Another party-goer had read this book and was emphatic that she go to the doctor and demand testing. I downloaded the book but only just now have read it. It's truly a works where you have to fight against the paradigm of anything to get something accomplished and in her case her fight with the disease was every bit as important as her fight against doctors who couldn't see past what they already understood.
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