27 October 2020

Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire, now a Netflix film starring ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, Thomas Mann, and Tyler Perry, is easily one of the most unnerving medical books I've read in a while. What's most frightening is Cahalan's complete inability to understand or control, what was happening to her. At 24 years old, just as she was truly making a name for herself in journalism in New York City, she awoke to find herself strapped in a hospital bed, completely unaware of what had happened to her. Memories erased, speaking was impossible, moving was not allowed, nor was she able to even if she tried: she was strapped to the hospital bed. Pieces of each day began to fragment into moments that increased doubt in her own confidence and undeniable fear at the unknown of what happened to her, the question of what was happening in her body that plagued her, possessed her, but the most terrifying is that it appeared out of nowhere. All within one month. A month that turned into more time erased, a life re-drawn into something maniacal. Her life as she knew it, how she was leading it and loving it, was gone. Doctors diagnosed her as bipolar, manic depressive, with her conditions of erratic behavior leading to fainting and seizures were frantically increasing at an alarming rate.

How it happened still is a mystery encased in medical riddles continuing to be untangled today about an auto-immune disease; we know it happens to primarily young women, but other than that, there is no true and consistent understanding. Historically over the past 100 years, there is an unexpected number of documented cases of young women who suddenly were filled with "hysteria." A notion befitting a 1900s novel on high society, women with fainting spells, however in today's advanced medical community, doctors and nurses and researchers might have a tiny inkling of reasonable and sound evidence to prove something significant. Something within the auto-immune disease category, but more specifically the unique and rare anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.

But even though medical communities might slowly be familiar with this, science is still unfolding pieces every day for more awareness, how to manage it, and one day, hopefully a cure. The "madness" that descended upon the author, one that tested a relationship with her new boyfriend, and also assuredly bonded her once estranged parents, became a goal to combine efforts to figure it out together, in collaboration with doctors who believed. With her family dedicated to her, they shared a common journal in her hospital room to record moments they recorded when they visited with her, seizures, and events that went beyond understanding for a healthy human body, comparing these journaled events with shocking camera footage to decode a pattern, anything to explain why Cahalan was besieged with this medically "new," disease.

What I respected was her acknowledgement that she was lucky, on so many levels. She had a solid family support structure, and a boyfriend who was there for her every step of the way, even though they had just started dating. She had extensive medical health insurance as well, but even with all of that, while it still gave her the luxury to be potentially cared for more than others, she still encountered doubt and disbelief and many diagnosed her initially with mental disorders, paranoia, and more. What about patients who don't have the "right" healthcare coverage, who don't fit into the "approved" and "believable" medical population? What might patients such as those experience?

Moving and heart-wrenching, and downright scary, this memoir of a young woman's spiral into a series of medical appointments, memory loss, physical debilitation, seizures, and more is at times thoughtful and straight-forward, but mostly filled with downright horror. It is completely terrifying to imagine what it might be like for a young mind to go awry, astray, and fall apart, all without any medical research or support for those suffering from an auto-immune disease that many still don't believe exists.

Read this. Recommend it to your friends with young daughters. Watch all and care for them. This is important.

Disclosure: I downloaded this book for free from my library's Libby app.

About the Author (from her website)

Susannah Cahalan is an American journalist and author, known for writing the memoir Brain on Fire, about her hospitalization with a rare auto-immune disease, anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.

She has worked for the New York Post. A feature film based on her memoir was released in June 2016 on Netflix.

Visit her:


22 March 2020

Just my Thoughts on Mother Earth and the Virus

It is without a doubt a time of uncertainty and fear. And so now is when we reclaim moments with our immediate family and slow down. To share time and meals without technology, and if we do, to instead just be present together.

We so need to honor, respect, and appreciate nature and Mother Earth much more (my opinion: I fear we are being rushed earlier for mass change because we have just pushed it too much with nature and mankind; racism is massive and ugly and we cannot ignore it collectively). We have mass produced, toxically polluted our waters, land, and air, so that as expected, any disease easily has evolved and continues to be ahead of the data for us to learn how to “fix” it), and nature is speaking loudly to us. If we do not radically change, make different choices, we are on the way to a life of nightmares.

The rain over Desecheo Island.
When things return to what it was like before, may we also learn to support our local and small businesses, local farms, to learn how to appreciate doing things on our own, living off our own land (if we can) to whatever degree it may be (from having our own chickens, to making our own tinctures, balms, sprays and medical remedies), because we can no longer blindly trust what is in the big box stores. We continue to be brainwashed by this "big store" setting and assume a product has gone through rounds of safety testing before we buy it; it hasn’t. It is filled with chemicals which disrupt hormones. It is carcinogenic. It can cause cancer. Yes, even Clorox.

Hopefully this is when we completely revolutionize and speak loudly how we want to receive information from health and government officials. I hope we take time away from modern day news, to publicly denounce and demand the 24-hour news cycle might finally implode.

We become an obsessed audience, feeding off each spiraling negativity, allowing one bad feeling to override the next, a brainwashing of the nastiness of politics and more because it is thrown in our faces over and over again, and yet we don’t even understand the majority of what is “interpreted” by the news. We only feel constant anxiety and panic which leads to more anger and arguments and less dialogue.

Instead, research on your own. Watch the news but NEVER take the “translation” of the news from any politician or even a news reporter. Editorializing shouldn't really be their thing, yet we end up spouting someone else’s agenda. We, instead, should do our own work and make informed decisions.

If opinions are based on interpretations from any news network, it is a skewed source. If you are creating your opinions based on Facebook friends, no matter which way they feel or vote for - please don't. Think with your heart, your head, your gut, your intuition. Research extensively on your own and build an opinion developed on your own. Trust yourself. We are the ones our ancestors planned to one day have for this great Earth, and yes, I think they might scorn the results thus far. I think they might be exceedingly sad.

Let's do the work. Together.

This is just my own little thought. You may feel free to cut me in the comments, but I do so hope you think of this with love. Please be kind to each other. Our universe needs us.


18 January 2020

Elevation, by Stephen King (audiobook)

This three hour audiobook was as intense and special as Stephen King always is. Thoughts of love, death, moving on and letting go, intersect in the life of one man, Scott, who, while he never changes physically, is suddenly and dramatically losing weight. All of it. But you'd never know it to look at him. If his weekly tracking is correct, it won't be long at all that his body will experience complete weightlessness. What's causing it? Does it matter anymore? And truly, what can he achieve in the time he has left in Castle Rock that will resonate with his friends, new and old? And most importantly, can he help them learn anything as well?

This is a gem of a tale with a short bonus story, which felt like a very special and surprisingly good "b" side track from your favorite band. It really doesn't matter what King writes about; he does it well and makes this reader always happy. When in doubt on what to read next, I just settle down with a King tale and I thank the lucky stars above that he hasn't hired writers to do his bidding or to write in his style (a la many famous mass market writers of today), and instead just continues to produce, one uncomfortable and insightful story after another, or one sweet and sad scene after another. There isn't anything in the human emotion and in life that Stephen King hasn't been able to deliver and articulate well into his stories, something that doesn't strike immediate nervousness or fear, or increasing sadness and empathy, and for that, I will be ever grateful. Stephen King continues to provide us with everything we always need, if we only continue to give him those chances to hear him out again and again.

Side note: I listened to this audiobook from my library's Libby app, and it is read by the great man himself; he is an EXCELLENT narrator, that I will also emphatically state each and every time. It's not often an author is as good as reading their work as they are to write it, so with Mr. King, it is quite a pleasure to hear his voice yet again.

Disclosure: I downloaded this audiobook for free from my library's Libby app. Check with your local library if they participate with Libby (they probably do).

About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The Stand, The Dark Tower series, It, The Shining, Under the Dome, Pet Sematary, 'Salem's Lot, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know. So here you go, click here to visit this wicked cool author's official website.


16 December 2019

The Ash Family, by Molly Dektar

It's been quite a while since I've devoured a book with such gusto, but in a slow and deliberate manner. I took my time reading The Ash Family, by Molly Dektar, and each section had me contemplating the actions and choices made by Berie, the main character. I was dumbfounded to realize that I wasn't shocked one bit with how simple it was for her to fall down the wrong hole in life. 

There are 1264 ratings on Goodreads as of this writing, but only a 3 and 1/2 star review and I was stunned by some thoughts because I think this story is that good. I don't often post reviews on this little corner of the blogosphere nowadays, but I had to for this one. Maybe it's the fall season when I read it and I was ready for a disturbing tale; maybe it was because I happened to be traveling through the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina at the exact time I was reading this book that helped me feel the atmosphere even more so, but I started reading this before my vacation and I live in Puerto Rico. While it might sound a bit corny, I was sitting in Puerto Rico with all of its heat and humidity and the sweat of everyday life, and I was seriously swept away into the cold of the Ash Family's world. I was so excited to join into reading reviews of this book and relishing on shared similar responses by other readers, but alas, I will resign myself to the realization that this will be a sleeper hit, that in a few more years we'll all be wishing we had read it sooner or with a different perspective.

The Ash Family is a quiet story about Berie, a nineteen-year-old who feels passionately about living, but not exactly certain how to fit herself into it all. She's out of step with others, not ever feeling a tie to her own mother or her boyfriend, Isaac. It's in Isaac that Berie may have learned some foundational element of defying authority, which interests her, but instead of fighting it from the outside, Isaac chooses to do so from the inside, by being part of that traditional and conventional life and that decision is significant for her, and it destroys her hero worship view of him. It disappoints her greatly, and you could question why she feels compelled to live her life through others and their choices, but it circles right back to how Berie wants to be led by someone else. She's afraid to make the big decisions, she's never genuinely felt at home in anything, and she's listlessly living that conventional life where her very next step after high school and a broken relationship is the traditional next jaunt of going to college. Instead, Berie skips the flight and takes a bus to anywhere and meets a random man named Bay, so different from anyone she's ever known. Somehow, Bay meets her initial needs of security, comfort and being led. She's perfect to bring home to the Ash family.

The explanation of her decision to stay either "three days or the rest of her life" magnifies the intensity of the stress Berie feels to belong to something. Anything. Even this quiet and bizarre group of people who live off the land, who feed their sheep, who slaughter the animals and grow their vegetables, who values each item so preciously that a member can be punished for the accidental break of a glass jar. It's all so different from the very different and privileged living Berie had before heading off to college. And then before she fully realizes it all, she's now actually in so deep to what isn't a family, but very much so is a cult.

No, there isn't strong and signifiant action and rolling moments to move you through each page; instead it is a story of how easy it is to feel a sense of connection to something, to want to belong with others, to someone and how simply it can just become that way. We can all make fun of teenagers nowadays not knowing how easy they have it, but this is exactly the reason why some can unknowingly fall into the "wrong crowd." But truly, you don't have to be young, old, or have a terrible life - you can quite easily be led astray by the simplest of methods that can take a long amount of time or a quick amount, depending on the victim - which is exactly what brainwashing is, and what Berie experiences.

It is frightening how simple one can be led astray and I will spoil one thing for you - there isn't a big moment that significantly clarifies the choice she makes to live differently - as it is with anyone. There isn't always a momentous identified event that helps to distinguish life before and life after anything; there isn't always a "something.". Life is a natural progression of day in and day out decisions, and then before you know it, you're comfortable. It's home. It's your life. It's the family. Which is actually a cult, but I, as the reader, didn't feel it at first, I didn't realize it was all a cult, I felt comfortable with how Berie becomes part of it. There are characters who move in and out and it's completely dreamlike and terribly sad to feel how deeply embedded into this lifestyle she is ultimately drowning in.

But this happens. This is how cults are born, how innocent communities go astray and become different because of who might be leading them; it's so easy for someone like that to charm a young person who is unsure or insecure about their life and lead them down a different path. Berie is like that. She's unsure and confused about where she belongs, but she is also a little bit confident about wanting to do something different and she wants to earn her spot with the family, with Bay, with the main leader, Dice. She wants to be part of something else with them, more of whatever "action" it is they work on without her inclusion.

So when she meets Bay at the bus station, a strong and big and engaging man who seems like someone she should go with, she just does. She has nowhere else to go. She becomes part of the Ash Family, led by Dice, who gives her the new name of Harmony, and gives her tasks that make her grow callouses on her hands and slowly becomes entrenched in all of her decisions that she simply can't be sure what to do next without his guidance. She always wonders when she'll be trusted enough to be part of the "action." She is always working for that hope and feeling for someone to believe in her, and ultimately it is clear that if she just believed in herself, none of this ever would have happened. It is a frightening example of how anyone can so easily be pulled into a world which cuts them off to everything and everyone they know.

People might shake their heads when they watch documentaries on cults and I don't understand that - I can watch a film on a cult and feel the same but deep down, I am puzzled on what the difference is between a cult and anything else we so gleefully follow. In Corporate America, we faithfully follow our boss and their decisions whether we agree with them or not, we all say the same "company line." Of course, we obviously should choose to not cross the line with anything illegal, but seriously. It's not that hard to imagine how someone gets caught up in the wrong decisions. This is a powerfully told story of insecurity and the blind willingness to belong to anything at all.

I loved this story. I will be giving this 5 stars on Goodreads.

Disclosure: I downloaded this book for free from my library's Libby app.

About the Author (from her website)
Molly Dektar is from North Carolina and lives in Brooklyn. She received her MFA from Brooklyn 
College, where she was awarded the Himan Brown Award and the Brooklyn College Scholarship for Fiction. She is a graduate of Harvard College and was the recipient of the Louis Begley Fiction Prize. The Ash Family is her first novel.

Visit the author: