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.
Our Head Writer, Josephine Bush, attended a UN event this past Friday, September 22nd, and got us the scoop on four books you absolutely have to add to your reading lists. Take your pick from environmental reads like "No Impact Man" to something that challenges your own beliefs on a topic like inequality. Each of us on the Sub-Stances team is going to be taking one book and reading it over the next month and we’ll report back. Let us hear your thoughts on these books. Have you read them? What do you think about them?
By Colin Beaven
What would it be like to try to live a no-impact lifestyle? Is it possible? Could it catch on? Is living this way more satisfying or less satisfying? Harder or easier? Is it worthwhile or senseless? Are we all doomed or can our culture reduce the barriers to sustainable living so it becomes as easy as falling off a log? These are the questions at the heart of this whole mad endeavor, via which Colin Beavan hopes to explain to the rest of us how we can realistically live a more “eco-effective” and by turns more content life in an age of inconvenient truths.
By Janine Di Giovanni
In May of 2012, Janine di Giovanni travelled to Syria. It would mark the beginning of a long relationship with the country, starting with her coverage of the peaceful uprising and continuing as the situation quickly turned into one of the most brutal, internecine conflicts in recent history. Drawn to the stories of the ordinary people caught up in the conflict, Syria came to consume her every moment, her every emotion.
By Joseph E. Stiglitz
America currently has the most inequality, and the least equality of opportunity, among the advanced countries. While market forces play a role in this stark picture, politics has shaped those market forces. In this best-selling book, Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz exposes the efforts of well-heeled interests to compound their wealth in ways that have stifled true, dynamic capitalism. Along the way he examines the effect of inequality on our economy, our democracy, and our system of justice. Stiglitz explains how inequality affects and is affected by every aspect of national policy, and with characteristic insight he offers a vision for a more just and prosperous future, supported by a concrete program to achieve that vision.
By Paul Collier
It is one of the most pressing and controversial questions of our time —vehemently debated, steeped in ideology, profoundly divisive. Who should be allowed to immigrate and who not? What are the arguments for and against limiting the numbers? We are supposedly a nation of immigrants, and yet our policies reflect deep anxieties and the quirks of short-term self-interest, with effective legislation snagging on thousand-mile-long security fences and the question of how long and arduous the path to citizenship should be. Immigration is a simple economic equation, but its effects are complex. Exodus confirms how crucial it will be that public policy face and address all of its ramifications.
There have been few books that have left such an impact on me — "A Long Way Gone" is one of them.
Set in Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah’s memoir illustrates how life can go from average, everyday normal, to the throes of war - overnight. From school children to child soldiers, this story highlights just how little separate the former from the latter. Children do not want to become soldiers, fighters, killers. They want to go to school, play football, listen and rap to music. However, circumstances out of their control engulf them and turn their worlds upside down. This story does an excellent job of demonstrating that and in turn, humanizing child soldiers.
By following the personal story of Beah, readers learn the horrors that surround war. Through Beah, we learn that as an adolescent boy on the run, he is often misperceived as the threat he is fleeing. Therefore, he is rejected and chased away from villages he passes while fleeing the war.
Faced with the option - kill or be killed - Beah joins the army. He notes the horrors that become and surround his daily life - murders, rape, drugs, guns, violence, fear. It's often hard to remember that he is still barely a teenager and not a warmonger.
Beah does end up in a rehabilitation center. It is here, through the help of UNICEF and his incredible nurse that he begins to recover. It is also here that the impact and influence of war is perhaps most potently demonstrated - when the child soldiers try to return to being what they should have been all along, just children. Something that may seem so easy and so natural to return to, is in reality incredibly challenging for the children and caretakers alike. Nevertheless, they persist. I won't spoil the inspiring ending of the book, so I encourage you to read it yourself.
Beah's decision to share his story with the world is a brave one. His story is eye-opening and heartbreaking and quite frankly, a story that the world needs to know as long as child soldiers continue to exist.
** If you are interested in becoming more educated on child soldiers, we also would recommend watching the short movie, “They Came At Night.” You can watch it online for free, here: vimeo.com/81378993