Chapters 35–42

In this memoir, journalist Susannah Cahalan recounts her battle with a mysterious and terrifying neurological illness at the age of 24.

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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. visceral
    obtained through intuition rather than from reasoning
    The raw panic makes me uncomfortable, but the thing that truly unsettles me is the realization that emotions I once felt so profoundly, so viscerally, have now completely vanished.
  2. tentative
    under terms not final or fully worked out or agreed upon
    Recalling moments like these, which occurred frequently during this tentative stage in my recovery, I wish I could, like a guardian angel, swoop down and help protect this sad, lost echo of myself.
  3. apprehension
    fearful expectation or anticipation
    He later told his mom that I reminded him of the mentally handicapped man whom he often saw at their public library. Even in that half state, I could sense his apprehension, though I was bewildered by why he seemed so frightened.
  4. billow
    rise and move, as in waves
    I was wearing oversized, scratched-up glasses, a white cardigan that was two sizes too big, and a mid-length black tent dress that billowed out around me.
  5. fore
    situated at or toward the front
    Perhaps it was the closeness between us as siblings that brought this realization to the fore, or maybe it was because I had always considered myself an older custodian to baby James, and now the roles were clearly reversed.
  6. canvass
    get opinions by asking specific questions
    They frantically canvassed the town, until my father paused in front of Kim’s Nail Salon.
  7. loquaciousness
    the quality of being wordy and talkative
    I struggled to conjure the loquaciousness that had once been a primary aspect of my personality, but in its place found a deep blankness.
  8. dapper
    marked by up-to-dateness in dress and manners
    Only when he reached the passenger side window did I finally recognize him: He had shaved his beard and cut his shaggy, cheekbone-length hair into a dapper, slicked-back 1940s hairstyle.
  9. diffident
    showing modest reserve
    At the party, hardly anyone asked me about my hospital stay, though the people who had heard about it approached me diffidently, eyes downcast, seemingly shamed by their knowledge, however slim, of what had befallen me.
  10. befall
    become of; happen to
    At the party, hardly anyone asked me about my hospital stay, though the people who had heard about it approached me diffidently, eyes downcast, seemingly shamed by their knowledge, however slim, of what had befallen me.
  11. tenacity
    persistent determination
    If there’s one thing about me that has been confirmed by my illness, it’s my tenacity, or bullheadedness, or whatever else you want to call it.
  12. tangible
    perceptible by the senses, especially the sense of touch
    I didn’t care how self-destructive it might be—this was something tangible that connected me to the “normal” Susannah.
  13. blithe
    carefree and happy and lighthearted
    Despite my attempts at seeming blithe and careless, I was hyperattuned to the different ways people were treating me.
  14. wily
    marked by skill in deception
    Because I wasn’t wily enough to throw out the medication, I often left the evidence in the dispenser, which tipped off my mother, prompting her to reprimand me as she would a child.
  15. engender
    call forth
    In many ways, during that recovery period at my mother’s home, I associated the pills—and the fights they engendered—with her.
  16. contemptible
    deserving of scorn or disrespect
    In a more emotional sense, though, I began to feel that she, like the pills, embodied my contemptible dependence.
  17. affront
    a deliberately offensive act
    But instead of sympathizing with her pain, which certainly matched and may have even surpassed my own, I took her suffering as an affront—a sign that she could not handle how flawed the sickness had made me.
  18. animosity
    a feeling of ill will arousing active hostility
    A: “Apple, animal, after, able, an, appeal, antiquity, animosity, after, agile.”
  19. loath
    strongly opposed
    But these sessions only highlighted my inner disunity, and I was loath to continue.
  20. despondent
    without or almost without hope
    I couldn’t help but consider another hospital stay as a step backward in the march toward recovery, so when Dr. Najjar called my mother in late May to say that I needed to return to the hospital for a second round of IVIG treatment, I was despondent.
  21. render
    cause to become
    This imprecise procedure severed several frontal lobe connections, yielding results ranging from dulled emotions to childish behaviors. Some patients were even rendered completely devoid of serious thought and feeling, much like what happened to Randle McMurphy, Jack Nicholson’s character in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  22. figment
    a contrived or fantastic idea
    Perhaps because the diary provides physical evidence of my budding self (I can literally read the thoughts of that wounded Susannah), I can in essence begin to remember what it was like to be her, unlike the earlier Susannah from those paranoid diary entries before the hospital, who was more like a figment of a shadowy memory, so distant that she might have been a character in a horror movie.
  23. prosaic
    lacking wit or imagination
    Yet the person I read about in my recovery diary is childlike and prosaic, unlike that umbral prehospital self who could, even at her most obscured, be eerily illuminating.
  24. lieu
    the post or function properly occupied or served by another
    Then there is the private journal, which my father, in lieu of talking directly to me about what happened, decided to hand over to me for my research.
  25. nebulous
    lacking definition or definite content
    I still had only nebulous recollections, mostly of things that had turned out to be hallucinations, and I wasn’t sure what was real or not.
  26. rehash
    discuss again; go back over
    But after some rehashing, I did remember something: the nurse at Dr. Bailey’s office with her strobe light.
  27. confidante
    a woman or girl to whom secrets can be entrusted
    She once again became my ultimate confidante, companion, and supporter.
  28. flippant
    showing an inappropriate lack of seriousness
    There is only one line about packing up the apartment in my journal, and it’s fairly flippant, like most of my early diary entries: “He helped me pack up my apartment (good-bye living alone).”
  29. effete
    excessively self-indulgent, affected, or decadent
    The words I picked are obtuse to me even now, but they are also strangely illuminating:
    effete (adj): no longer fertile; having lost character, strength, vitality; marked by weakness or decadence
  30. decadence
    the state of being degenerate in mental or moral qualities
    The words I picked are obtuse to me even now, but they are also strangely illuminating:
    effete (adj): no longer fertile; having lost character, strength, vitality; marked by weakness or decadence
  31. distend
    swell from or as if from internal pressure
    My distended stomach, cellulite-covered thighs, and bloated cheeks disgusted me, and I tried in vain to avoid my image in any reflective surfaces.
  32. indulgence
    the act of gratifying a desire
    Just three months later, I had put on 50 pounds, 20 of which were normal recovery weight and 30 of which were due to side effects of the steroids and antipsychotics, as well as my sedentary lifestyle and constant indulgence in mint chocolate chip ice cream.
  33. dour
    showing a brooding ill humor
    Will I be as slow, dour, unfunny, and stupid as I now felt for the rest of my life?
  34. jaunt
    a journey taken for pleasure
    Even though my shins hurt when I walked, I insisted on taking the jaunt to town alone.
  35. sojourn
    a temporary stay
    During my sojourn, a lawn worker stared at me.
Created on April 15, 2020 (updated April 15, 2020)

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