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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

by Susannah Cahalan

Susannah CahalanSusannah Cahalan is the New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. Her award-winning work has appeared in the New York Times, Psychology Today, Scientific American, BBC's Focus magazine, and Elle. She now is the  New York Post's book editor and is working on a new book about the history of psychiatry, Committed

Cahalan always knew she wanted to write, even when she was in elementary school, writing a "book" about familial dysfunction inspired by the afternoons she spent with her babysitter watching The Bold and the Beautiful. And for as long back as she can remember, she has had a deep love for newspapers. So when there was an internship opening at the New York Post when Cahalan was entering her senior year in high school, she jumped at the opportunity.

Cahalan has now been at The Post for ten years, three of which she worked full-time after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. Cahalan started as a "copy kid" - responsible for making coffee, handing out papers and sorting mail, dreaming that she would one day have a mailbox of her own. Now, she finally does. She has covered a wide variety of topics for the tabloid, from the quirky and the weird, to the dangerous and the criminal. These days she mainly covers books for the paper's Postscript section. Her work has also been featured in The New York Times and The Czech Business Weekly, where Cahalan worked when she studied abroad her junior year of college.

In 2009, Cahalan was the proud recipient of the Silurian Award of Excellence for the article "My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness," on which Brain on Fire is based.

In Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Cahalan recounts the one day that she woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to a bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records-from a month-long hospital stay of which she has no memory-showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier Cahalan had been a healthy twenty-four year old, six months into her first serious relationship and beginning a career as a cub reporter at the New York Post.

Cahalan's memoir Brain on Fire chronicles the swift path of her illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving her life. As weeks ticked by Cahalan moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar - nicknamed Dr. House - joined Cahalan's team. He asked Cahalan to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing her with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which her body was attacking her brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of "demonic possessions" throughout history. Cahalan is also a board member on the non-profit organization The Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance and is an international ambassador for the UK's Encephalitis Society. 

Cahalan lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dog.

Last modified: Dec 19, 2017