The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery

by Barbara K. Lipska and Elaine McArdle

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.

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328787309
  • ISBN-10: 1328787303
  • Pages: 208
  • Publication Date: 04/03/2018
  • Carton Quantity: 12

About the book

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.

About the author
Barbara K. Lipska

BARBARA K. LIPSKA, Ph.D., is director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health, where she studies mental illness and human brain development. A native of Poland, she holds a Ph.D. in medical sciences from the Medical School of Warsaw, and is an internationally recognized leader in human postmortem research and animal modeling of schizophrenia. Before emigrating from Poland to the United States, Dr. Lipska was a researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology in Warsaw. She has been at NIMH since 1989 and has published over 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals. A marathon runner and a triathlete, she lives with her husband, Mirek Gorski, in Virginia.

Elaine McArdle

ELAINE McARDLE is an award-winning writer and journalist who has written investigative stories, features, and news for many publications including the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and Boston Magazine. She is the coauthor of The Migraine Brain: Your Breakthrough Guide to Fewer Headaches, Better Health (Free Press). A senior editor at UU World magazine, she lives with her husband Jack McGrail in Portland, Oregon.


One of iBook's "Most Anticipated" Titles for Spring 

Included in the Top 10 of Publishers Weekly's "Spring 2018 Announcements: Memoirs & Biographies"  


“Lipska’s evolution as scientist, patient, and person explores the physiological basis of mental illness, while uplifting the importance of personal identity…. Lipska’s prose soars when narrating her experiences… her story is evidence that rich personal narratives offer value to an empirical pursuit of neuroscientific investigation.” 

Science Magazine 


"This is the story, harrowing yet redemptive, of Barbara Lipska, stricken at 63 with a form of brain cancer. The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, cowritten with Elaine McArdle, is the tale she lived to tell...If Lipska’s book is about 'what it’s actually like to lose your mind and then recover it,' it’s also about a new frontier in cancer care and the vertiginous trajectories for recovery being opened up...Imbued with scientific insight...Pondering the term 'survivor,' Lipska finds the dictionary definition—someone who perseveres and 'remains functional and usable'—resonant. Her mind and body battered, she wonders if she meets this standard. If this memoir is any guide, she more than measures up to it." 

Weekly Standard 


"What is it like to have your mind thrust into the depths of madness and pulled back out again? In startling detail and with keen insight, Barbara Lipska, leading neuroscientist and mental illness expert, describes her own harrowing, albeit temporary, descent into extreme mental illness in her moving new memoir. While her nightmare only lasted eight weeks, Lipska's experience — one she fully remembers — upended the way she looked mental illness, in herself and others. A remarkable story about strength, endurance, and human's capacity for recovery, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind truly captures what it is like to struggle with mental illness." 

Bustle, "10 New Books About Mental Illness To Read In 2018" 


"It’s not often a research scientist, especially one who studies mental illness and the brain, experiences their specialty first hand, and it’s even more rare with this sort of mental break, medical or behavioral. If you enjoyed My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor or Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, this is the memoir you want to read in 2018." 

—KXSU Seattle 


"[An] urgent memoir...Though Lipska's recovery is extraordinary, her suffering and its effect on her family are familiar to anyone impacted by devastating illness. Her experiences provide empathy and understanding for people whose behavior is beyond their control. Lipska is a survivor, and readers will be all the wiser because of it." 

—Shelf Awareness, Starred Review 


“A harrowing, intimately candid survivor's journey.” 

Kirkus Reviews 


"[A] fast-paced memoir...exhilarating." 

Publishers Weekly 


"As a director of the National Institute of Mental Health who focused on the impact of schizophrenia on the brain, Lipska knew a thing or two about mental illness. But she knew considerably more after she exhibited signs of the disease and came back from the brink with amazing insights...Her story conveys deep understanding about the brain and how disease, injury, and age can change our very selves." 


“Lipska recounts her ordeal with equal parts raw honesty and clear-eyed conviction. Her brush with death changed her physically, mentally and emotionally, and lead to a realization that the tragedy of an unlived life should be feared more than death itself.” 


"Barbara Lipska is the director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health in Virginia. Over the course of two months in 2015, she found herself on the strangest journey of her life. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma that had metastasized to her brain, a seemingly terminal condition that mimicked the symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia. Remarkably, her immunotherapy regimen was successful; equally remarkable, she has recreated that period of mental illness and cognitive trauma on the pages of this unusual memoir." 

Toronto Globe & Mail

“Oliver Sacks meets When Breath Becomes Air in this fascinating, page-turning account of insanity.  Barbara Lipska's remarkable story illuminates the many mysteries of our fragile yet resilient brains, and her harrowing journey and astonishing recovery show us that nothing is impossible.” 

—Lisa Genova, New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Every Note Played 


"A riveting science story about how brains go bad, interwoven with the remarkable personal story of one brain going spectacularly bad. A total nail-biter." 

—Lisa Sanders, New York Times best-selling author of Every Patient Tells a Story 


“A spellbinding investigation into the mysteries of the human brain, led by a scientist whose tenacity is as remarkable as her story.” 

—Amanda Ripley, New York Times bestselling author of The Smartest Kids in the World and The Unthinkable 


“A superb memoir from a highly respected neuroscientist who is uniquely qualified to describe her titanic battle against malignant melanoma of the brain.  Barbara Lipska clearly believes in those miracles that can be achieved through medical science, and also has an iron resolve to survive.  Both qualities underpin this remarkable account of sanity lost and regained.” 

—Frank Vertosick, author of When the Air Hits Your Brain 


"An extraordinary chronicle.  Barbara Lipska's story is inspiring and painful, but most of all it is a tribute to the human spirit told with the insight of a scientist and the love of a truly compassionate soul.  I was hooked from the first page and could not put this down until the final sentence." 

—Thomas Insel, co-founder and president of Mindstrong Health and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health 


"In this fascinating book, ?a neuroscientist? describes the terrifying symptoms she suffered as a result of multiple brain tumors. We learn about how the brain can produce ?bizarre and bewildering symptoms from the point of view of someone who has personal experience of aspects of the mental illnesses that she spends her life studying. The book is compelling and powerful, and hard to put down." 

—Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London 


"The doctor becomes the patient in this fascinating memoir." 



"Diving inside some of the deepest mysteries of the human mind with someone who has spent her life studying exactly that, Barbara K. Lipska’s The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind describes the leading ne...