Book Review: Sybil, a Fascinating Read, and an Update on my Crazy Life!

I mentioned before that my oldest son came down with vestibular neuritis a few months ago. He was hit, back in June, with an extreme wave of dizziness that wouldn’t go away, and constant vomiting. It worsened, as we took him to the urgent care clinic and then the ER, into a horrible migraine. He was released the next day with the diagnosis of a complex migraine and multiple tests ordered. While he appeared neurologically normal, the doctors were worried that the cause of his symptoms was a brain tumor. Over the next two weeks, we had a couple of MRI’s done, a couple of EEG’s, and some hearing tests, which revealed that he didn’t have a brain tumor or meningitis, but he did have vestibular neuritis, which is a permanent condition affecting his balance. He recovered relatively quickly, meaning that by the end of the summer he was at least able to ride his scooter for a little while. He was even able to drive his dirt bike for about fifteen minutes a couple of weeks ago.

Then, about five days ago, he had a relapse. It took everyone off guard because he’d recovered so well. My mother, who came down with this same disorder a couple of years ago, didn’t get totally back to normal for a year. He was hit with a really bad migraine and more vomiting and dizziness. Needless to say, he missed a few days of school. He wasn’t doing great grade-wise before, but after that episode, and the profound discouragement that followed, his grades tanked. So now I’m working hard to implement his new, more involved treatment plan, meet with his teachers and school administrators to see if we can get him back on track academically. I’ve been doing this while also working (I coordinated an important event that took place this past Thursday and Friday, and had the magazine that I’m the managing editor of sent out to 72,000 university alumni) and taking care of my husband and other son. Life is never dull for me!

But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had time to read, and even work on my book writing. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve written two books, and am in various stages of getting them beta-read or critiqued and then revising them. While that’s been going on, between critique group pow-wows and meetings with one of my beta-readers, I’ve started the research phase for a third book. Tentatively titled My Other Minds, it will be the story of a young man who’s been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, but who knows that the other “personalities” that inhabit his body alongside him are in fact alien souls from a far-off planet. They’ve told him, when he’s himself, that they’ll leave once they find other suitable minds to inhabit, but he doesn’t want to condemn other people to his same kind of craziness. He doesn’t want to lose himself either, which he’s sure to do if they stay any longer. So, he tries to figure out a way to do both.

My research so far has meant reading everything I can on multiple personality disorder, which has meant studying books like I’m Eve by Chris Costner Sizemore and Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber. The latter is the one I’m reading right now. It tells the story of Sybil Dorsett, a real woman who had 16 distinct personalities. Some of them were female, some were male, all were of varying ages younger than herself (as reported by those personalities). It’s fascinating. The author tells Sybil’s story with the flourish of a finely-polished fiction writer, while describing Sybil’s almost unbelievable sickness clinically and in detail.

I don’t read a lot of biographies, and when I do, they tend to be biographies of people who’ve suffered from various neurological phenonema, like Brain on Fire. I write, too, about characters who experience some of the fantastical possibilities I imagine those phenomena could evoke. I wonder what this says about me in light of what me and my family have been going through recently.

Book Review: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan: a Fascinating Read

Oh boy, have I been reading like crazy lately…along with working, slaving over homework with my 13-year-old (if anyone has some hints for helping me with that, let me know) and my 7-year-old (weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth), helping to run a Reflections contest, preparing Sunday School lessons, attending various extended family functions, working on writing some grants for my son’s elementary school, and writing posts here and for my writers’ club. I’m in the middle of Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (a mix of Mortal Instruments and Caribbean legend), Caretaker by Josi Russell (sci-fi), and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audiobook). I just finished Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. I don’t read non-fiction often, but when I do, I love books like this. It was fascinating.



Book Review: Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire is the memoir of a young woman who suddenly wakes up in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, with no memory of how she’d gotten there. “Days before,” says the back cover, “she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper.” It’s the story of her abrupt and unexplained descent into madness, her month in it (of which she has no memory but which she pulled together from the journals of family members, doctors’ notes, and surveillance footage), and recovery from it.


It is both fascinating and well-written, a treasure because it has both elements. Susannah is detailed in her descriptions of her behavior, her explorations of the various hypotheses put forward by doctors to explain it, and the incredibly convoluted journey towards diagnosis and treatment. When she wakes up, she becomes violent, psychotic, and bent on escape. During her hospital stay, she finds herself repeatedly holding her arms out in front of her body like a zombie, not sure why but unable to control the movement. She also becomes, by turns, paranoid and catatonic.


It is a book that reveals the fragility of the human mind, one of the many ways in which things can go wrong. It makes you at once so very thankful for the sanity that you enjoy while also heartsick for Susannah and her family. It reminds me a lot of Chris Sizemore’s book I’m Eve, a memoir of a person who had at least several personalities and was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder when it was still a relatively new diagnosis. If I had another twenty-four hours in my already-crowded days, I would spend them reading memoirs of people dealing with various kinds of mental illnesses and other issues, so that I can better understand what it’s like to live with them. I’m looking forward to reading The Price of Silence: a Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness, and Altered Perceptions, a science fiction/fantasy anthology that is kind of like a bonus DVD full of deleted scenes and alternate versions of some of my favorite authors’ books, written in support of Robison Wells, an author (you have to read his book Black Out) and victim of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I know what it’s like to love someone who has a mental illness, I even deal with it somewhat myself, but I don’t understand all kinds, nor all neurological disorders in general. So, here’s to greater understanding.

Can you recommend other memoirs of people with mental or neurological illnesses?