Released this week, Brain on Fire is the memoir of a time Susannah Cahalan can't remember. She's pieced her story together through journal entries by her father, hospital videos, and first-hand accounts from her mother, boyfriend and doctors. Hers is a case of mental illness with a specific derivation, and a physical one at that: anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which as I understand it, caused her immune system to attack the right side of her brain. The result? Inexplicable behavior and symptoms rivaling Linda Blair at her best.
There are two levels on which I'm fascinated by this (read: will spend the rest of the night Googling obsessively until I know everything there is to know).
One, it's a case that is clear and undeniable evidence of the mind-body connection, and of how wellness is a complicated and inextricably linked dance of the two. Secondly, this, from her Fresh Air interview today:
When you think about the symptoms — in my case alone, this grandiosity, this violence. In a lot of children, you see hypersexuality. Even my grunts and these guttural sounds that came from me sounded superhuman to someone who might be inclined to think that way. ... When you see videos of people — in fact, when I see videos of myself — demonic possession is not far from your mind. It wasn't far from [my boyfriend's] mind when he first saw that seizure. And I've talked to many people who've had this disease, and one woman I spoke to actually asked for a priest because she said, 'The devil is inside of me. I need it out.'
Demonic. Possession. I would love to read any research people have done cross-examining this disease with historic cases attributed to possession. And I wonder how many people without the advocates and access to medical care Susannah had have unraveled and lost their lives to this--whether literally, or by life sentences to institutions... or exorcism attempts.
I have been watching too much American Horror Story. A brighter subject for tomorrow, perhaps?
|Still from American Horror Story: Asylum | Michael Yarish for FX via The Baltimore Sun|