Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

by

Susannah Cahalan

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness: Chapter 42 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In July, Susannah's lease on her apartment expires, so she and Dad meet to pack up her things. Susannah only writes one line in her journal about packing up her apartment. It's flippant and fairly emotionless; she just laments giving up her first real apartment and the possibility of living alone. Susannah explains that, in reality, she was incapable of living alone, though she wasn't ready to accept that.
Here, Cahalan offers a concrete example of Susannah shifting how she writes her own story to avoid facing uncomfortable parts of her identity, which reinforces the questionable reliability of these journals as bearers of real truth.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
To distract herself and feel somewhat in control of her life, Susannah keeps to-do lists (evidence that her brain is healing even more) and begins studying for the GRE. She also starts reading the extremely long novel Infinite Jest, and keeps a running list of all the words she has to look up. Many of the words are obscure, but somehow also relate in some way to her illness or recovery. Despite this, Susannah tells the reader she remembers nothing about the novel.
The experience reading Infinite Jest is a perfect encapsulation of Susannah's current state: she can technically perform these difficult tasks, but her brain isn't quite up to the project of actually making them make sense. This shows that her current performance of wellness still doesn't match what's going on inside.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Susannah also begins to fixate on her appearance. The medications make Susannah gain weight and distort her face. She describes her body, which disgusts her, in detail in her journal, and refers to herself as a "roasted pig." Susannah explains that this fixation allowed her to ignore her cognitive difficulties and her worry that she'd never be the same again.
As Cahalan adds these notes to her descriptions of her diary entries, she reinforces the importance of collecting multiple sources when telling a story like this. Cahalan can add the truth that the Susannah writing in her diary couldn't see or admit.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One afternoon, Susannah walks into Summit's downtown. A lawn worker stares at her, making Susannah uncomfortable that he's staring at her bald spot. When she realizes that he was checking her out, it's thrilling. She decides to take a spin class to help lose the weight, but is mortified to discover that her field hockey coach and several other girls from high school are in her class. Susannah explains that she believes now that her mortification came from an uncertainty about who she'd be in the future. She felt lost and like she didn't even know who she was.
Susannah's realization about the lawn worker shows that other people are now able to view Susannah as a person worthy of this kind of attention—her outside identity is finally catching up to what's going on inside. This is all still tenuous, however, as evidenced by her discomfort in spin class. Unlike the lawn worker, her coach and classmates have memories of the old Susannah that likely don't match up with their current spin classmate.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
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Susannah brought all of her mail home from her apartment with her, but doesn't open any of it until she begins taking her spin class. Amidst the junk mail is an envelope from the office where she had her first MRI. It contains her lost gold ring.
The trajectory of Susannah's ring very much mirrors her own trajectory: it disappeared when her "self" did, and it reappears now that she's beginning to return.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon