Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

by

Susannah Cahalan

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Brain on Fire can help.

Stephen Character Analysis

Stephen is Susannah's boyfriend, who is seven years older than she is. Susannah describes his eyes as being honest and trusting, making Susannah feel as though they've been dating forever. At the start of the memoir, the two have been dating for four months. Stephen witnesses Susannah's first major seizure and rides with her to the ER. Though seeing Susannah so ill is heartbreaking, after she's admitted to the hospital, Stephen vows to stay with her as long as she's there. Others refer to him as the "Susannah whisperer," as Susannah is calmer when he's around. Nurses allow him to stay long past the end of visitor hours because Susannah doesn't try to escape when he's there. Once Susannah returns home, Stephen visits often. They attend parties and weddings together, and Stephen makes sure that Susannah is comfortable and takes charge in conversations. About a year after Susannah first became ill, Susannah and Stephen move in together. Stephen is anxious about this transition and the responsibility of caring for Susannah in case she becomes ill again, but he pushes through his discomfort. He checks in on her obsessively when she goes out without him, which Susannah resists. Their relationship finally returns to an equal partnership once Susannah stops antagonizing him for checking in on her.

Stephen Quotes in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

The Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness quotes below are all either spoken by Stephen or refer to Stephen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon and Schuster edition of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness published in 2012.
Chapter 9 Quotes

"You don't have to do that," I insisted, my voice mellowing as I returned, almost instantly, to my old self. Manic episodes can fade away as quickly as they arise. "I don't want her to worry."

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Stephen, Mom
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

Even during this time when I hardly recognize myself, there are still shadows of the real Susannah, a person who cares what her family and friends think, who doesn't want to cause them pain.

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Stephen, Mom, Allen
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 38 Quotes

I had asked him many times why he stayed, and he always said the same thing: "Because I love you, and I wanted to, and I knew you were in there." No matter how damaged I had been, he had loved me enough to still see me somewhere inside.

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Stephen (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 50 Quotes

The friends and relatives I interviewed would never have used the term skittish to describe me, but every now and then, when I'm on the subway and the colors seem brighter than normal, I think, Is it the lighting, or am I going crazy again?

Related Characters: Susannah (speaker), Stephen
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Brain on Fire LitChart as a printable PDF.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness PDF

Stephen Character Timeline in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

The timeline below shows where the character Stephen appears in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Several days later, Susannah wakes up in her boyfriend Stephen's bed, feeling as though the bedbug scare and her pitch meeting are a distant memory.... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Susannah has Stephen's apartment to herself, as Stephen has already left for band practice. As she lies in... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
The urge to continue digging for more incriminating evidence against Stephen persists, and Susannah tiptoes to his dresser. She wonders if he might have cameras going... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah checks her phone and finds that she's been going through Stephen's things for two hours, even though it only felt like a few minutes. Then her... (full context)
Chapter 3
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Over the next few days, Susannah feels wracked with guilt over going through Stephen's things. At work one day, she asks Mackenzie, the editor for the features page, for... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...now moved down the left side of her body and into her toes. She calls Stephen, who suggests she see a doctor. Susannah laughs this off and asks Angela for a... (full context)
Chapter 4
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...of mono. She spends Saturday in bed and then decides she's well enough to join Stephen, his sister, and her husband at a Ryan Adams show. They meet at an Irish... (full context)
Chapter 5
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...two days off of work, she wakes late in the morning feeling refreshed and calls Stephen. She insists they go to Vermont, which they'd been planning to do but postponed when... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Stephen tries to convince Susannah to stay home, but then Dr. Rothstein calls Susannah. She answers... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...of the mountain, she suffers a panic attack at the thought of having to ski. Stephen convinces her to try and follows her down. By the time she's halfway down, the... (full context)
Chapter 7
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...be the cause of this strange outburst. She thinks that she's bad at her job, Stephen doesn't love her, she's crazy and stupid. Her colleagues begin filing in after the funeral... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...and asks her what's going on. Susannah mentions that she's bad at her job and Stephen doesn't love her, but admits that there's more wrong—though she doesn't know what it is. (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
When Susannah gets home that night, later than usual, Stephen is already there cooking dinner. Rather than take Angela's advice and tell Stephen the truth,... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Stephen hands Susannah a plate of pasta, but she can barely look at it without gagging.... (full context)
Chapter 8
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah tells the reader that she woke Stephen up that night with low moans, squeaks, and then grunts. He thought that Susannah was... (full context)
Chapter 9
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...she's dying because of the MRI lab technician who flirted with her, and she commands Stephen to get her out of the room immediately. Stephen looks frightened. When a doctor assures... (full context)
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah quietly tells Stephen that she's dying of melanoma. When she sees tears in his eyes and he tells... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Stephen insists he has to call Susannah's mom, but Susannah, suddenly back to her normal self,... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
The next morning, Mom bombards Stephen with anxious questions. Stephen, Mom, and Allen try to convince Susannah to move back home... (full context)
Chapter 11
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...a diary of sorts. She writes that she loves working, has to break up with Stephen, and that bipolar makes her who she is. Earlier that day she'd spoken to Dad... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...Susannah walks into the living room and announces that she needs to break up with Stephen. Mom and Allen nod, but Susannah then announces that she needs to quit her job... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
On Friday, Stephen comes to visit and takes Susannah out for dinner. He takes her to an Irish... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
As Susannah and Stephen walk to the car, Susannah is gripped with the urge to either break up with... (full context)
Chapter 12
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
The day of Susannah's EEG appointment, she outright refuses to go. Stephen finally convinces her to get in the car. As she and Stephen sit in the... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...they're in Chinatown. She demands coffee and food, and Allen sharply navigates to a diner. Stephen thwarts Susannah's escape attempt, so Susannah walks into the diner, followed by Stephen. Despite the... (full context)
Chapter 17
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...looks at a doctor's face and the face ages before her eyes. She turns to Stephen, who also appears to age. When Susannah turns back to the doctor, the doctor suddenly... (full context)
Chapter 19
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...hard to be in the same room even after being divorced for eight years. When Stephen visits, Susannah appears to relax and become calmer. The second night he visits, however, Susannah... (full context)
Chapter 21
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...that the hospital is a place without time: there are no clocks or calendars, and Stephen likens the atmosphere to an Atlantic City casino. Susannah develops an affinity for two nurses,... (full context)
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Stephen plays a Ryan Adams concert video on a continuous loop, thinking that it might help... (full context)
Chapter 24
Love and Family Theme Icon
...is catatonic, they can be vacant, rigid, mute, and repeat others' words. This same day, Stephen becomes angry with a nurse for asking if Susannah has always been so slow. When... (full context)
Chapter 25
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...in the hospital. Susannah describes an EEG video in which she lies in bed with Stephen, asleep. Susannah wakes and starts inhaling rapidly, but never exhales. She bends her hands to... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...an unintelligible word over and over, yelling until Hannah finally understands that she's asking for Stephen. When she calls Stephen into the room, Susannah quiets immediately. (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...from. As the nurse begins to draw blood, Susannah jumps and slaps the needle away. Stephen recognizes that this is the psychosis resurfacing. The nurse reprimands Susannah and draws blood without... (full context)
Chapter 27
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...up in a recovery room. She can't move, but tries to wave at Mom, Dad, Stephen, and Allen. A nurse gives Susannah some water when she asks, but then tells her... (full context)
Chapter 32
Love and Family Theme Icon
The next morning, Mom, Dad, Allen, Stephen, and one of Susannah's college friends, Lindsey, collect Susannah's belongings and help Susannah out of... (full context)
Chapter 33
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
That evening, Stephen cooks pasta and Mom and Allen leave Stephen, Susannah, and Lindsey home alone. After dinner... (full context)
Chapter 34
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...listens to her roommate pray with the nurses. When Susannah is released the next morning, Stephen takes her on a drive through Summit. He turns on the CD player, and out... (full context)
Chapter 36
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
A few days after her hospital stay for plasma exchange, Stephen takes Susannah to see his sisters, Rachael and Bridget, and their children. As they drive,... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Stephen hands the children some of Susannah's stuffed animals from the hospital, and then chats with... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...When James arrives at Mom's house after finishing his first year at college, Susannah and Stephen are out. He busies himself watching TV until Susannah arrives and hobbles into the house,... (full context)
Chapter 37
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
...through downtown Summit alone, though they don't allow her to take the train to see Stephen alone. James spends all his time when he's not working with Susannah. They get ice... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Despite Susannah's zombie-like behavior, both James and Stephen notice moments when it seems as though the old Susannah is still there. One night,... (full context)
Chapter 38
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Susannah spends much of her time waiting for Stephen to arrive on the commuter train. One day, as she sits in the car with... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Susannah agrees to attend a barbeque with Stephen several days later. She feels self-conscious that everyone is gawking at her, but realizes now... (full context)
Chapter 40
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...at the thought of being back in the hospital. To cheer her up, Dad invites Stephen and Susannah to spend the night at his house. They sit in the backyard with... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...walks to the outdoor speakers, and puts on Rihanna's song "Umbrella." She looks back at Stephen, Giselle, and Dad, and begins swaying happily. Stephen gets up to dance with Susannah, and... (full context)
Chapter 46
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...attend Dr. Najjar's lecture on anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis at NYU. Susannah, Mom, Allen, and Stephen are late and slip into the lecture behind Dad, Angela, and another friend. Dr. Najjar... (full context)
Chapter 47
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Susannah interviews Stephen, her family, Dr. Dalmau, and Dr. Najjar about her disease. What strikes her immediately is... (full context)
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...film depicts many of the symptoms of the disease in children, and Susannah notes that Stephen cannot watch the film because it makes him think of Susannah's seizures and strange panic... (full context)
Chapter 50
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...live alone. After months of worrying, she brings up the possibility of moving in with Stephen. Though he's privately anxious about becoming Susannah's caregiver, he agrees without hesitation. (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Stephen has changed too: he's now a worrier. It took months for his and Susannah's relationship... (full context)
Chapter 52
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
...experiences when a friend takes her to an Irish pub. Susannah remembers being there with Stephen before the Ryan Adams show. She vividly remembers being disgusted by her fish and chips,... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
A year after she moves in with Stephen, Susannah begins unpacking boxes from her old apartment. She discovers a postcard in a little... (full context)
Chapter 53
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
...name, the nurse's eyes widen and she embraces Susannah. Susannah remembers Dad feeding her and Stephen bringing her things from home. The purple lady kisses Susannah on the cheek. (full context)