Saturday, June 22, 2019

Susannah Cahalan - Brain on Fire

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?
In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

Comment: This is another book I've buddy read with my friend H. This time we chose a non-fiction which is not that usual in the books we share an interest in. Personally, I don't dedicate much of my leisure reading to non fiction because I always associate it with school/university reading and often being forced to read would take the fun out of it. 
Still, this is not academic, it's mostly a memoir and since I do feel interested in things medical and psychological, I was eager to read the story of a young woman who was "mad" for a while...

In this book the author shares her experience, which lasted through a month during its darker stage, of how she dealt with symptoms that resembled a mental health issue but which turned out to have a different source and explanation.
The time it took for the author to deal with things isn't as clear in her head as she would have liked so she used many documents to try to explain things from a scientific point of view and she interviewed her family to better understand some reactions and even videos of her time in the hospital.
Her problem was solved but there are things she can't forget and others she can't remember. This is an interesting tale for those who are often doubtful about their diagnosis.

I said I like medical stories. Not being in the field of course a more scientific approach or technical development isn't easily understandable so I liked how the author presented her problem in a way that would make it accessible for people to understand what was going on.
I have to say the author was quite clever in how she divided the facts, from how she felt prior to what happened, what she can remember of the process and a after part with advice and what people shared with her after knowing her story.

What probably fascinated me the most was, of course, the time the author battled her illness. The descriptions can seem a little creepy as they often would put in evidence how different she would be, even while interacting with her family. She never did anything scandalous but her behavior was clearly changed and I think it can be complicated to imagine someone you know change so quickly and almost having a different personality. All these ideas are more explored in the book and often she would include references to medical cases, medical situations, articles that would be an interesting consult method for those interested in knowing more.
In terms of writing, I didn't think her style was difficult. I've read a reader say that since she is a journalist, it shows on how she was able to convey her message.

The author sometimes mentions how complicated it can be to reach a diagnosis in cases where the symptoms are so easily confused with something else. The mental illnesses field is both attractive for its weirdness and voyeuristic because we do feel interested in what is different and when people behave so opposed what usually they do. I think what I focused the most on in regards to this story was how unfair so many diagnosis certainly were - and are - in places where people cannot have the same degree of medical help as the author had. She makes a reference to this as well but it can be a little scary when the resources aren't there to help.

In terms of memoir, this isn't probably the best book out there but the theme and the behavior of the author can be quite a wake up call even to situations near us. Sometimes the trickiest problems can have apparent easy solutions but to get there is the biggest hurdle. 
It still makes me think the exact reason why the author got this way and went through such a scary month was not discovered. It could happen to anyone, even within the parameters that doctors could see that made the author get it.
Grade: 8/10

No comments:

Post a Comment