This best selling autobiography by Susannah Cahalan is a quick albeit intense read. In 250 pages, Susannah reveals how her rather normal world was suddenly flipped upside down into a “month of madness.”
A twenty-four-year-old journalist working her way up at the New York Post, Susannah thinks that her life is falling together. She is beginning to get more challenging and public assignments at work. However, she starts to notice that she does not feel 100 percent. She cannot focus or keep up with her work. She notices that her hand starts to feel numb. Then, her boyfriend wakes up in the middle of the night to her low guttural grunts and her eyes wide open. She then has a grand mal seizure and thus, the quest for answers, begins.
Susannah describes waking up in a hospital in restraints, not knowing how or why she was there. Imagine what she must have been going through in that moment. With the help of video footage, the hospital staff and her loved ones, Susannah was able to begin filling in the blanks for these blackouts that she was suffering from.
It was through the unwavering love and dedication of her parents and friends along with the acumen of Dr. Najar that Susannah was able to find an answer to her medical mystery. Dr. Najar, through a fairly simple, yet highly reflective art test, discovers that Susannah is not suffering from a mental illness, rather a physical one. He determines that Susannah has a rare auto-immune disease known by the name of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which had only just been discovered 2 years prior.
Cahalan is as brave as her loved ones – by revealing her brutally honest story she has helped shed light on not only her rare disease, but also the issue of mental health misdiagnosis. Though it was dominantly perceived to be mental illness, Susannah was suffering from a physical illness that was quite literally attacking her brain. As Dr. Najar put it, her brain was on fire.
This story sheds light on frankly, a bundle of scary factors in the medical field. Susannah knew something was wrong with her, but her initial test results were normal. To not have answers is already overwhelmingly frightening, but to not have people believe you when you say that something is wrong – that’s crushing and in a way, suffocating. Moreover, to be misdiagnosed and consequently, incorrectly stigmatized is another unfair matter altogether. And of course, there is the fact that such a disease exists out there – one that can capsize your world with practically no warning and causes you to blackout and to descend into madness, as Cahalan puts it. This book is a ride – one that’s raw and real.