NPR recently reported a fascinating story about Susannah Cahalan—a 24 year old reporter and book reviewer for the New York Post—who experienced mysterious and debilitating symptoms for a month before being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. Her symptoms, which included erratic behavior, numbness, sensitivity to light, and paranoia, prompted Dr. Souhel Najjar to ask Cahalan to draw a picture of a clock on a piece of paper. She drew all of the numbers on the right side of the clock, which led to her eventual diagnoses and treatment of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Many researchers believe that Cahalan’s symptoms are similar to the ones experienced by people who claim to be possessed by demons. When asked about the possible connection, Cahalan said:
When you think about the symptoms — in my case alone, this grandiosity, this violence. In a lot of children, you see hypersexuality. Even my grunts and these guttural sounds that came from me sounded superhuman to someone who might be inclined to think that way. ... When you see videos of people — in fact, when I see videos of myself — demonic possession is not far from your mind. It wasn't far from Stephen's mind when he first saw that seizure. And I've talked to many people who've had this disease, and one woman I spoke to actually asked for a priest because she said, 'The devil is inside of me. I need it out.' A little girl was grunting — they had a monitor in her room — and she was grunting so unnaturally that her parents looked at each other and said, 'Is she, is she possessed?' They actually said that about a little girl. You can see throughout history why people would believe this.
Her book, Brain on Fire: My Month of Maddness, tells the story of her month without any answers. Click here for the entire interview and to read an excerpt from the book.
Images via npr.com