One day, I woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to my bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. My medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of which I have no memory—showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier I had been a healthy twenty-four year old, six months into my first serious relationship and beginning a career as a cub reporter at the New York Post.
My memoir Brain on Fire chronicles the swift path of my illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving my life. As weeks ticked by and I moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit me to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning me to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined my team. He asked me to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing me with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which my body was attacking my brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.