Book Club // Brain on Fire

Growing up one of my favorite things to do was to pick up a book and escape into that world for a little while. In middle school you would regularly find me sinking into my bed with a flashlight not to come out until the book was done. I loved when a book would capture my attention and not let me go. At the end of high school and through college I had to give up my reading for fun. Life was too busy and I couldn’t find time to read for school, let alone for fun. Since graduating in May I have taken the time to read a few books and let me tell you, it feels great to be losing myself in a book again.

One of my favorite blogs The Life of Bon hosts a monthly book club. The past few months I would find myself awaiting the post and reading her views as well as those who joined the link-up, but I had yet to join myself. This month I decided would be the month I would finally join. At the end of July I looked up the book and put it on hold at the library. Sadly due to vacation I lost the hold and hadn’t taken the time to get my hands on it. Then last week I remembered the book and put it on hold again. I picked it up last Thursday and started reading every chance I got. Due to my busy schedule I finally finished the book this afternoon. I’m excited to share my thoughts on the book with you, but bare with me as its the first time I have attempted something of this nature.

This months book was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan.

brain on fire

My Summary — Susannah Cahalan was a young twentysomething living and working in New York City as a reporter when she began to experience a variety of health problems varying from flu-like symptoms, to seizures, to hallucinations and more.  She was admitted to the hospital where the hunt for her unknown disease began before she was declared insane and sent to a psych ward. Through many tests (including a brain biopsy), doctors and theories a diagnosis and treatment is found. She is experiencing a rare form of an autoimmune disease where her brain is being attacked. She begins treatments which slowly begin to bring her back to a normal state.This book is a compilation of her experiences which were gathered from parents, nurses, doctors, videos, notes and more as Susannah does not remember the majority of the time in the hospital.

Initial Thoughts – Going into this book I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was looking forward to reading and discovering what happened. As the book began I felt as though I was reading a novel, not a true story and memoir of this woman’s experience. That feeling eventually faded into more of an accurate account of what was going on, but continued to hold my attention.

Bon’s Questions

#1 Was it too “technical” for you? – I found parts of it to get a little technical. I’ll admit I skimmed a few pages where it was discussing some pretty technical medical things. The majority of it held my interest though and the medical talk didn’t phase me too much. Would I want to only read books like this? No way, but it’s reality and sometimes its good to connect with things you wouldn’t normally consider.

#2 Did it scare you?  – Near the beginning of the book where she was literally going mad really got to me. Her writing style and inclusion of some of her writings during that time made me feel as though I was going mad. I always majorly insert myself into the books that I read and I really struggled with certain emotions and feelings through this book. I don’t think it scared me though, just connected me with reality in a different way.

#3 What people in the book did you most identify with? – I feel as though I can really identify with Susannah’s mother. I am not a mother myself, but the way the she handled everything is similar to how I handle things. In the book she was there for Susannah but was never truly accepting of how bad things had become as she trudged forward with necessary things like giving Susannah her pills and caring for her. It isn’t until after she accepts how bad things had become that she and Susannah are able to connect again. Many times in my life when I am facing trials I work through them and try to focus on what needs to be done and live in a state of semi-denial of the situation until eventually it all hits me like a ton of bricks.

Connecting – Going into this book I never imagined I would be able to connect with it in the ways that I was. As was previously mentioned the disease was that of an autoimmune nature where your body begins to attack itself. Almost two years ago I dealt with a situation with my Dad where he was in the hospital for many months fighting an unknown autoimmune disease. While his was attacking his skin, his lungs, and his eyes and not his brain, he still suffered immensely and it was a time of frustration, trials, and experimentation in attempting to discover how to fix the problem. Like Susannah we experienced the struggle of trying to figure out what was truly wrong and not give up.

Final Opinion – Overall I would absolutely recommend this book. There were some technical, confusing aspects but the overall story far outweighs those portions. I’m so glad I decided to participate in this book club because I would have never picked this book up on my own. Sometimes it’s a really good thing to get out of your comfort zone and read things you never thought you would.

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