I finally finished reading Brain on Fire, My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. I say “finally finished” not because it was a bad book, or boring, or anything like that. Quite the opposite. It was such an intense story, so dense in detail and facts and emotion, that I could only read it for so long at a time to absorb it properly. It is the story of a fast-tracking journalist in NYC who all of a sudden starts experiencing some strange behaviors outside of her control, visions, and other sensory hallucinations. She is a young woman, in the prime of life, who has everything going for her who descends into a hell she cannot understand or control. Imagine scenes from The Exorcist, but it’s real life. Quoting The Washington Post: “This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.” The inspiration in the book comes from her family’s steadfast belief that she will get well again, despite the diagnosis of experts. What is truly frightening is the fact that these experts had no idea what was wrong with her with misdiagnoses ranging from alcohol poisoning to various forms of schizophrenia. Through it all, Susannah experienced seizures, canonic states, total memory loss, manic behavior, and all manner of terrifying, uncontrolled behavior and memory loss. When a doctor–himself a miracle case who beat the odds–finally diagnosed her with anti-NMDA-receptor auto-immune encephalitis, Susannah starts down a very long road to recovery. Brain on Fire is more than a medical mystery–it is the story of an incredible woman’s fight to save her identity.
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It’s my believe that we should add a new protected class–introverts– to those already afforded protected under the law. I came to this conclusion after reading Susan Cain’s brilliant work “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book opens with the example of Rosa Parks, a quiet, self-possessed woman who, by one quiet act of defiance touched off a movement which changed society. Cain brings up several introverted heroes in various walks of life: CEOs, inventors, artists, scientists…to whom we owe much for their enormous contributions to society. But the book is much more than this. It serves to challenge the “Extrovert Ideal” which has been held up as the personality model for years, undervaluing the introvert and even making introverts feel somehow damaged or afflicted with something they must “work on to get over.” I felt vindicated after reading this book, especially having learned that much of the introvert/extrovert nature is imbedded in one’s biological makeup. There really isn’t anything wrong with me! Cain explores the neuro-scientific research on sensitivity and convincingly explains the workings of the brain as it affects personality . This physiological component and how it manifests in introverts also explains why they suffer when forced to work in groups, why they need down time alone in order to be creative, and how, unlike extroverts, find large social affairs an energy drain as opposed to a boost. Reading this, I can’t help but think about how most modern workplaces are set up for extroverts–desks crammed together for more “collaboration”–how classrooms force students to engage in group projects more and more, and how the extrovert in a group is often chosen as a leader, regardless of any particular qualifications for the position. You extroverts out there, don’t be turned off by all of this, however! Cain is careful to explain how we in society and in our personal lives need a balance, but that balance must now value the contributions and needs of introverts as well. Her book, which took over seven years to research and write, is filled with compelling stories, carefully researched data, and passionate statements. It is an enjoyable read just at face value, but as an introvert, or the spouse or sibling or parent of one, it is a must read! It will change the way you see the world and others in it.