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The Desperation of Living Without a Diagnosis
by Madison Woods
“Brain on Fire” is an autobiography by Susannah Cahalan published in 2012. The book takes readers through the story of how she was diagnosed and overcame her rare form of encephalitis. The book was adapted into a critically acclaimed movie of the same name. It is available on Netflix or readers can buy the book at any major bookseller including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
I first read “Brain on Fire” in middle school simply out of curiosity, but it is a work that I have continually revisited in the years following. To me, it is so eye-opening to see that there is so much more going into a medical diagnosis than a simple brain scan or test. Susannah’s doctors thought she was crazy in the months leading up to her diagnosis, so when she finally had reason to believe otherwise, she was relieved despite the terrible discovery. I have always enjoyed autobiographies, but something about this one felt particularly vulnerable.
Susannah shows us the harsh realities of having to live a life without a diagnosis. She went through weeks of having outbursts, breaking up with her boyfriend, and screaming at her entire newspaper office. Everyone around her said she was crazy and must have bipolar disorder. However, after she began to have seizures, doctors were forced to do scans to get her a real diagnosis. Susannah Cahalan uses descriptive text that is only something someone could write about themselves. Her storytelling conveys the desperation she was feeling during this period and makes the reader emotionally invested in her pain.
I think that this is a book that anyone could read, regardless of familiarity with the medical field. It is eye-opening and will keep the reader intrigued while also teaching many valuable lessons. Audiences will learn to respect the struggle she went through in order to obtain her medical diagnosis.