Susannah Cahalan

WHO: Susannah Cahalan — Storyteller, Survivor
WHY SHE’S FOXY: She’s the queen of turning lemons into lemonade — despite suffering from a mysterious month-long illness that took hold of her body and her mind, she prevailed, and lived to tell the tale in her amazing memoir, Brain On Fire: My Month Of Madness.


ON HER CAREER: "I started my career as an intern when I was seventeen at the New York Post. Two years later I finally got the nerve to pitch my first story. They buried it, but I got in. From there, I was hired on as a runner, which entailed reporting on whatever news story of the day had hit the city. It was such an exciting time, but then I got sick and it changed everything. 


In 2009, at age twenty-four, I was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis, a recently discovered disease that occurs mainly in young women — your body’s immune system begins to target and attack certain parts of your brain responsible for behavior and memory.  I went from a fairly neurotic but functioning person to someone suffering from full-blown psychosis, complete with hallucinations and paranoia. Thankfully, I met a remarkably talented and open-minded physician, who had heard about the disease and had me tested for it before it was too late. Recovering from that disease was the most difficult experience I’ve had in my life. When I was released from the hospital, I could not read or write. Over the course of around seven months, I slowly regained those abilities— and my sense of identity — and went full-force back to the Post. My editor asked me to write a piece about my disease that eventually turned into my book. Now I spend a large portion of my life advocating about this disease. Spreading the word about this disease has become my calling."



ON HER FIANCE: "Stephen and I met thirteen or so years ago when we both worked at the same record store in New Jersey. He was super sexy then but too old for me (I was seventeen, he was twenty-three). That age difference didn’t matter years later when we reconnected at a friend’s going away party at Hi-Fi. He totally won me over when we compared favorite Bob Dylan albums (his: 'Nashville Skyline;' mine: 'Desire') and we’ve pretty much remained connected at the hip since. He works as a music producer creating music for advertising and media. I’m totally in awe of his talents, which are so different from my own. He’s also a crazy good chef and super good at Jeopardy, which is really impressive to a person who can’t cook and has terrible recall. We’re getting married in September on a farm in Nantucket. We just want everyone to have as much fun as possible – lots of drinks, lots of pie, and lots of dancing."


ON HER DOG: "I’ve never been around anything that has received the amount of daily attention that my Italian Spinone does. We both have had seizures in the past, so we have this sad little bond. And poor Stephen has had to deal with the trauma of this in his girlfriend and his dog. Still we tell ourselves that we’re the best owners for him because we know what it’s like."


ON MOTHERHOOD: "I turned thirty this year and instantly my ovaries were like: 'Get going.' It was a switch that flipped, one that I’ve heard so many other people talk about. Do I want a child right that very moment? No, I can hardly make sure that I’m fed and bathed every day. But do I want children sometime in this hazy future? Yes, my ovaries are calling out, yes." 



ON SUPERSTITIONS:  "I am deeply superstitious, even before I lost my black hematite evil eye ring (which I had designed based off a wildly expensive Gucci horse bit ring). I lost that ring when I got an MRI during the early stages of my illness and only got it back when I was a few months into my recovery. That was a profound moment for me; a reminder that I could regain something I thought was lost forever. Needless to say, I never take this ring off and knock on wood about twenty times a day."


ON HER SPACE: "I’m a super messy person by nature but try to at least pretend that I have my shit together in my workspace. I have a little pushpin board of knickknacks and postcards that I can stare up at when I can’t think of a word or get frustrated with a sentence. I’m also super fussy about my notebooks (I think it’s a procrastination tool) and have fallen in love with the Levenger Ledgerdomain notebook."


ON BEAUTY AND STYLE: "I’m super attracted to that power masculine dressing of 'Murphy Brown' era Candice Bergen. I love the blazers and the button downs and the loose pants. Too bad I was born with curves.  Another favorite is Faye Dunaway; no one can looks like a badass in a beret like she does. Personally, I have searched long and hard for a good red lip and found it a year ago with a liquid lipstick. So many people have asked me during marathon events or dinners how my lipstick stays put. It’s magical." 



ON WEDDING VOWS: "We’ve already gone through so much – Stephen has seen me through seizures, psychosis, and about fifty pounds of weight gain, so we really feel the whole 'in sickness and in health' has been covered."


ON HER FANTASY WEDDING: "I’m a little obsessed with Candice Bergen after reading her memoir, A Fine Romance. Her wedding to director Louis Malle was just spectacular. She’s gorgeous in her long-sleeved gown with her hair all messy and lovely and he’s just so in love with her."


FAVE LOVE SONG: "I always think of Grateful Dead’s 'American Beauty' when I think of Stephen. He’s a deadhead and when we first started dating I played that album over and over on my record player thinking of him. But my absolute favorite love song of all time, one that is so sad it hurts, is Nick Cave’s 'Into My Arms.'"


FAVE LOVE BOOK: "Furious Love by Sam Kashner, and my all-time favorite, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I think that Heathcliff was my third bad boy crush (after Scott Baio in Charles and Charge and Leo in Titanic)."