I have always been fascinated with memoirs, the idea of reading the exact thoughts that a person has, albeit subjective, draws me in every time. One of the best things that mass education has given us is the ability of people to write down their lives and experiences – their intimate inner workings and how they chose to deal with a certain situation or event.
Brain on Fire is definitely a memoir, but it is so much more. The level of research that has gone into writing this book is staggering, and if I was to include the gargantuan task that was needed to find the courage and energy to write this it becomes, probably, one of the most interesting books I have ever read.
As I have been dealing with my own struggles I became aware of this book – although I kept postponing reading it for quite a while – mostly because it was about a person that was trying to figure out what was wrong with them and trying to share their experience in doing so, a subject that is very close to my heart.
As a young intellectual with a writing passion that goes through a gruesome medical episode I cannot but admire the necessary effort, both physical and mental, to come up with such a composed and detailed recollection of events – as the author mentions in the book, she had to go through thousands of medical records, speak to an army of doctors and interview every person that was a part of her story in order to remember and recollect what has happened.
The memoir is also unique in the sense that it details almost a breakthrough – a young journalist that suffers what happens to be a breakdown that actually is a very rare and serious disease. Her telling of the numerous doctors and tests that she had to go through to little avail, the way in which it has traumatised her family and the ones closest to her, the way in which she felt like she was losing every sense of what herself was – a disease that was discovered only a few years before she has suffered the episode and the way in which the diagnose was made is almost like the script for a House MD episode, only that this was real and the pain and suffering was not played out, but felt.
The memoir, with its plot and medical terminology explained, is set to offer a vivid exploration into the mind and actions of a sick person, but it also wants to be a resource for people that might be going through the same experience. It is popularising autoimmune disease and informing people that a very unknown disease might be what they are really suffering from and not the more common diagnosis that they have received – the book also mentions in the final chapters the story of a father that, because he had read the experiences of the writer, was able to get the doctors treating his daughter to do the necessary test, diagnose her properly and offer her the needed treatment – so, just by the fact that one life was saved or was significantly improved by the author’s story proves that it was well worth the effort of the documentation and writing of the book.
No fiction will ever beat real life – the pain and disorders we go through on a daily basis offers us more knowledge and art that we ever hope to receive from any masterpiece – the fact that one person’s experience can make a difference in the lives of others proves that we are on the right track to becoming more knowledgeable and adapt to what difficulties lie ahead.
The story of Susannah Cahalan is one of those rare gems that, through suffering and documentation, grips the reader and makes him suffer. And through that suffering it makes the reader more compassionate and informed, and nothing is more necessary in our day and age.
The monthlong epic compacts so many emotions that it is hard to simply read the book, you have to live the despair of the person that thinks it is losing its mind; the parents of a young adult that go through a shock and a constant fear of what is about to happen; simple lives of friends and lovers that are forever changed by something that they never imagined or prepared for. And to add on top of that, the courage to bring these experiences on paper; to relieve, explore and inform.