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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness - Susannah Cahalan Overall I found Brain on Fire to be interesting, albeit not terribly engrossing. The medical aspect of the account was by far more interesting to me than the personal account by the author, especially as her personality was oftentimes a turnoff. I also found the book bordered on too long, which may not have been the case if the author had included a more linear account from the time her illness was determined until the time she was recovered. This passage of time was not nearly as well chronicled and made the recovery seem too quick.

I did not feel particularly warm towards the author, her comments irritated me often. Such things as indicating to us how intelligent she was, which was all tell and no show. She had many “lacking in common sense” moments, even in terms of her disease, and it made me wonder if it was a personality flaw or the disease. However, she noted many times how adamantly stubborn she was so I took it as indicating low common sense. She also highlighted how superficial she was as she continually berated herself for gaining weight due to the medications, while also letting us know when someone was checking her out. It also felt as though despite her acknowledgment of others going through this disease and psychosis in general, she never stopped to think what her many negative comments (nuts, crazy and other such terms) would sound like to someone still or permanently afflicted.

Her hair was bleached blond, but it looked attractive, not whorish. Loc298

She herself bleaches her hair, I'm guessing she has the non-whorish type.

Normally I was someone people wanted to include... Loc2598

Do tell us more.

Even though my brain was still repairing itself and it’s undoubtedly dangerous to mix alcohol with antipsychotics, I insisted on drinking. I didn’t care how self-destructive it might be—this was something tangible that connected me to the “normal” Susannah. Loc2610

Smart, so very smart.

Susannah's mother speaking of one of her moments during the disease's stronghold:

“Oh, and you were totally nuts. You walked into a restaurant and demanded food. Just demanded it. Although I guess that’s not too far outside your normal personality.” Loc2803

Great normal personality.

Dr. Najjar gave me permission to highlight my hair, because the scar, which prevented my hair from growing back as promised, had finally healed enough to stand up to the harsh chemical treatment. Loc3015

I especially loved that this followed a lengthy discussion regarding how environmental factors (such as chemicals) could play a major role in developing this disease. Yet again, the author's common sense is missing.

I did, however, find a number of quotes interesting as well.

The girl in the video is a reminder about how fragile our hold on sanity and health is and how much we are at the utter whim of our Brutus bodies, which will inevitably, one day, turn on us for good. I am a prisoner, as we all are. And with that realization comes an aching sense of vulnerability. Loc3165

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness,” Aristotle said. Loc804

We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear go with it. Loc719

A small subset of those with temporal lobe epilepsy—about 5 to 6 percent—report an out-of-body experience, a feeling described as being removed from your body and able to look at yourself, usually from above. Loc708

The symptoms from this type of seizure can range from a “Christmas morning” feeling of euphoria to sexual arousal to religious experiences. Loc703

Temporal lobe issues seem to be the foundation of many religious stories people like to claim to have experienced. Not shocking in the least.

Overall I did enjoy a number of aspects of Brain on Fire, mostly the various symptoms and how they cropped up and the medical explanations that followed. I do, however, find it incredibly alarming that the author's answers came not from such a well-known hospital and many established doctors with every test at their disposal, but from one lone doctor that happened to know about a specific study. I could argue that the test this particular doctor conducted that no one bothered to do so before was the key, but without the doctor knowing the subsequent studies I doubt it would have made a difference. It definitely gives you an idea as to why doctors and other healthcare professionals need to continue to learn about up and coming research.