My Brain Is Attacking Itself

Rebecca Carey 

The Paw Print

Susannah Cahalan’s book “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” takes readers on an incredible journey of her descent into insanity. In her memoir, Cahalan explains to readers how her life went from normal to upside down within the span of a couple months.

She was a healthy 24-year-old with a successful journalist job at the New York Post, lived in her own apartment in the city, and was in her first serious relationship. She started showing symptoms, which lead to Cahalan ending up in the hospital, losing a month of her life. =Her eventual diagnosis and slow recovery took a remarkable amount of strength to overcome.

The entire illness, or as Cahalan assumes, started with a bug bite. In 2009 when the bedbug scare was at large Cahalan started to suspect her apartment was infested with bedbugs after discovering a bug bite on her left arm. After an exterminator stopped by her apartment and declared it to be clean she was still obsessed and purged everything that had the potential to be infested with bedbugs.

Her symptoms started to increase, varying from paranoia, forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of appetite, seizures, and the whole left side of her body going numb. After going to the doctor Cahalan believed they had reached a solution to the problem when in fact her problems were just starting.

After a breakdown at her office in the Post she was given sick leave and her family decided to get to the bottom of her increasing problem.

Cahalan stayed with her mother and stepfather where her symptoms began to increase at an alarming rate. After a couple more seizures, increased anxiety, depression and hallucinations, and a continued loss of appetite and insomnia Cahalan was admitted into the epilepsy floor of New York University Langone Medical Center.

This was the beginning of her missing month. A team of doctors worked relentlessly to find what was causing her increasingly puzzling symptoms. Dr. Souhel Najjar joined Susannah Cahalan’s team a couple weeks in and was successful in discovering her illness. After conducting a simple test of asking Cahalan to draw a clock with the numbers 1-12 Dr. Najjar was able to diagnose her with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. In more simple terms Cahalan’s brain was attacking itself.

Cahalan started to fill in the gaps of her lost month with various sources of information such as her father’s journal, various videos from the hospital, interviews with doctors, nurses and friends, and a journal that was passed back and forth between her parents.

This book is a brave look into a painful time in Susannah Cahalan’s life. Her attempt to understand what she was feeling or thinking in her missing month is a courageous journey into the unknown world of her mind.

During her recovery she was able to return back to work and write an article about her experience and the disease itself. She has done countless interviews and has met numerous people who have been able find a diagnosis because of her story.

Throughout her experience she has forged stronger connections with those she loves and has given multiple families and patients hope that one day there would be a name for the disease that has disrupted their lives. She continues be an advocate for the disease by raising awareness of the symptoms and devastating effects.

This book can be found at Wal-Mart for $13.60 or can be ordered online with the ISBN # 978-1-4516-2138-9. A copy of this book can also be found in the Nielsen Library. is powered by WordPress µ | Spam prevention powered by Akismet