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Susannah Cahalan Acclaimed Journalist & New York Times Best-Selling Author of "Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness"

Susannah Cahalan, Acclaimed Journalist & Best-Selling Author | PDA Speakers

Susannah Cahalan is the New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. She serves as a book reviewer at the New York Post an dis working on a new book that delves into the modern history of psychiatry, The Committed, out in 2018. Her award-winning work has appeared in the Psychology Today, Scientific American, Elle, BBC Focu...    

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Susannah Cahalan is the New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. She serves as a book reviewer at the New York Post an dis working on a new book that delves into the modern history of psychiatry, The Committed, out in 2018. Her award-winning work has appeared in the Psychology Today, Scientific American, Elle, BBC Focus Magazine, and Biological Psychiatry. She has been featured a number of radio and television shows, including The Today Show, The Katie Couric Show, and NPR's Fresh Air. She received a Yale Poynter fellowship in journalism and was Northeastern's 12th Annual Hanson Memorial Lecturer in 2016. In 2009, she was honored with the Silurian Award of Excellence for her article “My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness,” on which Brain on Fire is based, and in 2012 received the Books for a Better Life Award for First Book.

Cahalan was a healthy 24-year-old at the onset of her career as a reporter for the New York Post when she began to experience symptoms including extreme paranoia and erratic behavior, making her question if pressures from her new job or relationship were too great. Weeks later, she awoke strapped to a hospital bed, under guard and unable to move or speak and her medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of which she has no memory—showed wildly uncharacteristic psychosis, violence and dangerous instability.

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 me 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 lectures widely about her condition. She is a board member of the non-profit organization the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance and works as an international ambassador for the UK's Encephalitis Society. Brain on Fire has been adapted into a feature film starring Chloe Grace Moretz and produced by Charlize Theron, scheduled for wide release in 2017.

Cahalan lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dog.


  • Susannah Cahalan at TEDxAmsterdamWomen 2013

    Brain on fire Rare disease mistaken for mental illness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
With exquisite detail and raw honesty, Susannah Cahalan reveals her personal journey from a promising young writer with a clean bill of health to a restrained hospital patient descending into madness. Employing her award-winning journalistic skill, Cahalan uncovers valuable insight into the human brain and incites important discussion around mental illness and the power of human resilience as she brings audiences into her battle to regain her mind, body and self.

Autoimmune Diseases

Memory Loss and Brain Trauma

The Medical Community and Mental Illness

Diseases from a Woman’s Perspective

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