“Brain on Fire” is a film based on Susannah Cahalan’s memoir “Brain on Fire.”
*SPOILERS* This movie is worth watching. Please watch it or read the book before reading this post!
Issues the movie highlights:
- Patient issues not being taken seriously: For a significant portion of the movie, the doctors simply thought Susannah was partying too hard, just stressed, not sleeping enough, and/or drinking excessively. Despite her alarming symptoms, including seizures and sudden, erratic behavior, the doctors she sees initially do not seem to take her case seriously. This could have cost Susannah her life.
- Difficulty of illness on loved ones: Taking care of Susannah is exhausting. She can be aggressive, hostile and paranoid. At one point, her mother cannot handle it and asks her father to take care of the daughter. It becomes too much even for the father, especially when her hallucinations create a violent scene. The entire process of going from doctor to doctor only to end up with no answers is draining and discouraging. Losing their daughter more and more each day that goes by without a right diagnosis is the source of unimaginable levels of pain and heartbreak.
- The importance of standing up for patient: Susannah’s parents refuse to give up. They don’t want the most simple explanation, because they see it as inaccurate and unhelpful. They want to get to the bottom of it, even if the process is far from easy. The doctors were about to just label her with schizophrenia or psychosis and place her in a psychiatric hospital. However, this would have been the wrong setting, given that her illness is not even a psychiatric one. Sometimes, you (or your loved ones) have to be your own advocate.
- It is not always what it appears: Yes, she had symptoms which are associated with mania (She even goes to a doctor and claims that her characteristics align with those of bipolar disorder). Yes, she had symptoms associated with schizophrenia or psychosis. Yes, she had symptoms of depression. However, if the doctors had merely viewed her case as a psychiatric one, they never would have discovered the true diagnosis.
- Recovery is possible: It is important to not give up. Her health was rapidly deteriorating, but the doctors and her loved ones did not give up on her. She also continued to push herself, despite the difficulty of even moving. After treatment, Susannah had to work to regain even basic skills, but she was able to go back to living a full life. There is hope for a better tomorrow, even if getting through today feels impossible.
Have you watched the movie? Read the book? What did you think?