The New York Times bestseller that NPR calls "stunningly bravea kind of anti-memoir, an out-of-body personal account of a young woman's fight to survive one of the cruelest diseases imaginableAn unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists.
An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman's struggle to recapture her identity.
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, Susannah 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. "A fascinating look at the disease that . . . could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life" ( People ), Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.
"Captivating...Cahalan's prose carries a sharp, unsparing tabloid punch in the tradition of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin." New York Times Book Review
Brain on Fire PREFACE
At first, there's just darkness and silence.
"Are my eyes open? Hello?"
I can't tell if I'm moving my mouth or if there's even anyone to ask. It's too dark to see. I blink once, twice, three times. There is a dull foreboding in the pit of my stomach. That, I recognize. My thoughts translate only slowly into language, as if emerging from a pot of molasses. Word by word the questions come: Where am I? Why does my scalp itch? Where is everyone? Then the world around me comes gradually into view, beginning as a pinhole, its diameter steadily expanding. Objects emerge from the murk and sharpen into focus. After a moment I recognize them: TV, curtain, bed.
I know immediately that I need to get out of here. I lurch forward, but something snaps against me. My fingers find a thick mesh vest at my waist holding me to the bed like a-what's the word?-straitjacket. The vest connects to two cold metal side rails. I wrap my hands around the rails and pull up, but again the straps dig into my chest, yielding only a few inches. There's an unopened window to my right that looks onto a street. Cars, yellow cars. Taxis. I am in New York. Home.
Before the relief finishes washing over me, though, I see her. The purple lady. She is staring at me.
"Help!" I shout. Her expression never changes, as if I hadn't said a thing. I shove myself against the straps again.
"Don't you go doing that," she croons in a familiar Jamaican accent.
"Sybil?" But it couldn't be. Sybil was my childhood babysitter. I haven't seen her since I was a child. Why would she choose today to reenter my life? "Sybil? Where am I?"
"The hospital. You better calm down." It's not Sybil.
The purple lady moves closer, her breasts brushing against my face as she bends across me to unhook the restraints, starting on the right and moving to the left. With my arms free, I instinctually raise my right hand to scratch my head. But instead of hair and scalp, I find a cotton hat. I rip it off, suddenly angry, and raise both hands to inspect my head further. I feel rows and rows of plastic wires. I pluck one out-which makes my scalp sting-and lower it to eye level; it's pink. On my wrist is an orange plastic band. I squint, unable to focus on the words, but after a few seconds, the block letters sharpen: FLIGHT RISK.
Now in paperback, the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller BRAIN ON FIRE is a terrifying and triumphant memoir by reporter Susannah Cahalan, about the mysterious physical and mental breakdown that nearly cost her her life, and the two brilliant neurologists who saved her.