Review: “The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind” by Barbara K. Lipska

Title: The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind
Find it on: Goodreads | Amazon
Author: Barbara K. Lipska
Publication Date: April 3rd 2018
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Psychology, Mental Health
Pages: 208

Synopsis

As a deadly cancer spread inside her brain, leading neuroscientist Barbara Lipska was plunged into madness—only to miraculously survive with her memories intact. In the tradition of My Stroke of Insight and Brain on Fire, this powerful memoir recounts her ordeal and explains its unforgettable lessons about the brain and mind.

In January 2015, Barbara Lipska—a leading expert on the neuroscience of mental illness—was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain. Within months, her frontal lobe, the seat of cognition, began shutting down. She descended into madness, exhibiting dementia- and schizophrenia-like symptoms that terrified her family and coworkers. But miraculously, just as her doctors figured out what was happening, the immunotherapy they had prescribed began to work. Just eight weeks after her nightmare began, Lipska returned to normal. With one difference: she remembered her brush with madness with exquisite clarity.

In The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, Lipska describes her extraordinary ordeal and its lessons about the mind and brain. She explains how mental illness, brain injury, and age can change our behavior, personality, cognition, and memory. She tells what it is like to experience these changes firsthand. And she reveals what parts of us remain, even when so much else is gone.

Review

This memoir by Dr. Barbara Lipska is a story of resilience, hope, and life. Through her candidness Dr. Lipska shines a light on how devastating losing ones cognitive abilities can be. She conveys the raw confusion, pain, and suffering of those affected by similar conditions but unable to articulate their adversity themselves. Anyone familiar with diseases such as dementia, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s will connect deeply with her story. Her personal account accentuates how mental illness severely affects quality of life not only those directly impacted but everyone they hold dear.

As a reader I found many of the stories sad and disheartening, especially when the family’s reactions were brought in. Hearing her husband and children struggle to adjust and embrace their new collective normal is difficult, knowing that the author is at that time a shell of her former self. Equally moving were the occasions where Dr. Lipska described her denial or lack of perceived insight into her own behavior, which sounds isolating and upsetting. With an empathetic heart I can only describe her battle as immensely difficult and her openness as incredibly brave.

As much as it is moving and emotional, the story is also brimming with analysis. A lighthouse figure in neuroscience, Dr. Lipska opens up to the reader and brings an account that is both deeply personal and extremely insightful. Her moving account not only details an enduring battle with cancer and its holistic impact on her health but in parallel holds a magnifying glass to her unexpected cognitive changes. As a psychology and neuroscientist enthusiast I was excited that this book brought many new data points and terms to the table. For example, anosognosia which means “lack of insight” demarcates severe neurological and psychological conditions where the patient is unable to notice or acknowledge changes in theirselves. Dr. Lipska and her family confronted this despite her extensive experience in the field of neuroscience.

There were a number of other interesting facts scattered throughout as well, a couple of which I’ll share:

  • “Every year, approximately one in five adults worldwide experience a mental illness, from depression to anxiety disorders from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder.”
    • Perhaps this is a statistic many already know, but the breadth of impact remains stunning.
  • “While neuroscientists don’t really understand the networks or parts of the brain related to paranoia, in some cases this condition is attributed to temporal lobe damage.”
    • A fascinating point that will hopefully start to result in meaningful progress for treatment of diseases ‘causing’ paranoia in the near future.
  • Empathy and other personality traits are “a result of complex interactions among countless factors that influence the brain’s function.”
    • Somewhat less technical, this still spoke to me as both an empath and a woman in tech – a field laced with many minds laser focused on hard core engineering concepts and often lacking in soft skills.

I loved diving into this heavier neuroscience content and appreciated the level of analysis Dr. Lipska was courageous enough to provide, but want to reiterate this was not the focus of the book by any means. Although the book itself is relatively short Dr. Lipska struck a great balance between the personal and the technical. The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind was an easy, engaging read broaching a difficult topic with inspiring hope and tenacity.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to hear more about mental health disorders from the perspective of someone with both immense knowledge and personal experience.


Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links which mean I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase, at NO additional cost to you. Thank you so much for your support and readership!

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