An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

( 156 )

Overview

WITH A NEW PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR

In her bestselling classic, An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison changed the way we think about moods and madness.

Dr. Jamison is one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness; she has also experienced it firsthand. For even while she was pursuing her career in academic medicine, Jamison found herself succumbing to the same exhilarating highs and catastrophic depressions that ...

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An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

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Overview

WITH A NEW PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR

In her bestselling classic, An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison changed the way we think about moods and madness.

Dr. Jamison is one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness; she has also experienced it firsthand. For even while she was pursuing her career in academic medicine, Jamison found herself succumbing to the same exhilarating highs and catastrophic depressions that afflicted many of her patients, as her disorder launched her into ruinous spending sprees, episodes of violence, and an attempted suicide.

Here Jamison examines bipolar illness from the dual perspectives of the healer and the healed, revealing both its terrors and the cruel allure that at times prompted her to resist taking medication. An Unquiet Mind is a memoir of enormous candor, vividness, and wisdom—a deeply powerful book that has both transformed and saved lives.

First-person account of manic-depression.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An invaluable memoir of manic depression, at once medically knowledgeable, deeply human and beautifully written . . . at times poetic, at times straightforward, always unashamedly honest.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“Stands alone in the literature of manic-depression for its bravery, brilliance and beauty.”
—Oliver Sacks
 
“Jamison’s [strength] is in the gutsy way she has made her disease her life’s work and in her brilliant ability to convey its joys and its anguish. . . . Extraordinary.”
Washington Post Book World
 
“The most emotionally moving book I’ve ever read about the emotions.”
—William Safire, The New York Times Magazine
 
“Written with poetic and moving sensitivity . . . a rare and insightful view of mental illness from inside the mind of a trained specialist.”
Time
 
“Enlighting . . . eloquent and profound.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Piercingly honest. . . . Jamison’s literary coming-out is a mark of courage.”
People
 
“Brave, insightful, richly textured and chillingly authentic.”
Boston Globe
 
“A riveting portrayal of a courageous brain alternating between exhilarating highs and numbing lows.”
—James D. Watson, Nobel laureate and author of The Double Helix
 
“In a most intimate and powerful telling, Jamison weaves the personal and professional threads of her life together. . . . [She] brings us inside the disease and helps us understand manic depression. . . . What comes through is a remarkably whole person with the grit to defeat her disease.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“A riveting read. I devoured it at a single sitting and found the book almost as compelling on a second read. . . . An Unquiet Mind may well become a classic. . . . Jamison sets an example of courage.”
—Howard Gardner, Nature
 
“Stunning. . . . [An] exquisite (in both a literary and medical sense) autobiography. . . . This is an important, wonderful book.”
Jackson Clarion Ledger
 
“Extraordinary. . . . An Unquiet Mind must be read.”
The New England Journal of Medicine
 
“A beautiful, funny, original book. Powerfully written, it is a wonderful and important account of mercurial moods and madness. I absolutely love this book.”
—Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides
 
“A landmark. . . . The combination of the intensity of her personal life and the intellectual rigor of her professional experience make the book unique. . . . A vibrant and engaging account of the life, love and experience of a woman, a therapist, an academic, and a patient.”
British Medical Journal
 
“Affecting, honest, touching . . . fluid, felt and often lyrical.”
—Will Self, The Observer (London)
 
“Quite astonishing. . . . Cuts through the dead jargon and detached observations of psychiatric theory and practice to create a fiery, passionate, authentic account of the devastation and exaltation, the blindness and illumination of the psychotic experience.”
The Sunday Times (London)
 
“Rises to the poetic and has a mystical touch. . . . A courageous and fascinating book, a moving account of the life of a remarkable woman.”
The Daily Telegraph (London)
 
“Fast-paced, startlingly honest and frequently lyrical. . . . Jamison has] a novelist’s openness of phrase and talent for bringing character alive.”
Scotland on Sunday
 
“Superbly written. . . . A compelling work of literature.”
Independent on Sunday (London)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Jamison's memoir springs from her dual perspective as both a psychiatric expert in manic depression and a sufferer of the disease. Oct.
Library Journal
This incredibly insightful work chronicles the life of a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University who suffers from manic depression. Jamison began experiencing mood swings during adolescence but, despite her education and training, did not seek help until she had completed her doctorate and began teaching at UCLA. Like so many others suffering from manic depression, she felt initially that the depressions were only passing phases she'd have to work out herself. She experienced the manic phases as great periods of creativity and accomplishment and feared they would be deadened by using medication. (In an earlier book, Touched with Fire, LJ 2/15/93, Jamison explored the relationship between manic depression and creativity.) Jamison finally comes to grips with her illness and recognizes the importance of medication used in conjunction with psychotherapy. This combination of treatment controls her illness and has enabled her to succeed. Her story and writing style are both inspirational and educational. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Jennifer Amador, Central State Hosp. Medical Lib., Petersburg, Va.
Booknews
A psychiatry professor, author, and recipient of numerous national and international scientific awards describes her own struggle since adolescence with manic-depressive illness and recounts how it has shaped her life. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679763307
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,221
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Kay Redfield Jamison is the Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders and Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is codirector of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center and a member of the governing board of the National Network of Depression Centers. She is also Honorary Professor of English at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the author of the national bestsellers An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast, as well as Touched with Fire, Exuberance, and Nothing Was the Same. Dr. Jamison is the coauthor of the standard medical text on bipolar illness, Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression, and the recipient of numerous national and international literary and scientific honors, including a MacArthur Award. In 2010 she married Thomas Traill, a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins.

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Read an Excerpt

Into the Sun

I was standing with my head back, one pigtail caught between my teeth, listening to the jet overhead. The noise was loud, unusually so, which meant that it was close. My elementary school was near Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington; many of us were pilots' kids, so the sound was a matter of routine. Being routine, however, didn't take away from the magic, and I instinctively looked up from the playground to wave. I knew, of course, that the pilot couldn't see me-I always knew that-just as I knew that even if he could see me the odds were that it wasn't actually my father. But it was one of those things one did, and anyway I loved any and all excuses just to stare up into the skies. My father, a career Air Force officer, was first and foremost a scientist and only secondarily a pilot. But he loved to fly, and, because he was a meteorologist, both his mind and his soul ended up being in the skies. Like my father, I looked up rather more than I looked out.

When I would say to him that the Navy and the Army were so much older than the Air Force, had so much more tradition and legend, he would say, Yes, that's true, but the Air Force is the future. Then he would always add: And-we can fly. This statement of creed would occasionally be followed by an enthusiastic rendering of the Air Force song, fragments of which remain with me to this day, nested together, somewhat improbably, with phrases from Christmas carols, early poems, and bits and pieces of the Book of Common Prayer: all having great mood and meaning from childhood, and all still retaining the power to quicken the pulses.

So I would listen and believe and, when I would hear the words "Off we go into the wild blue yonder," I would think that "wild" and "yonder" were among the most wonderful words I had ever heard; likewise, I would feel the total exhilaration of the phrase "Climbing high, into the sun" and know instinctively that I was a part of those who loved the vastness of the sky.

The noise of the jet had become louder, and I saw the other children in my second-grade class suddenly dart their heads upward. The plane was coming in very low, then it streaked past us, scarcely missing the playground. As we stood there clumped together and absolutely terrified, it flew into the trees, exploding directly in front of us. The ferocity of the crash could be felt and heard in the plane's awful impact; it also could be seen in the frightening yet terrible lingering loveliness of the flames that followed. Within minutes, it seemed, mothers were pouring onto the playground to reassure children that it was not their fathers; fortunately for my brother and sister and myself, it was not ours either. Over the next few days it became clear, from the release of the young pilot's final message to the control tower before he died, that he knew he could save his own life by bailing out. He also knew, however, that by doing so he risked that his unaccompanied plane would fall onto the playground and kill those of us who were there.

The dead pilot became a hero, transformed into a scorchingly vivid, completely impossible ideal for what was meant by the concept of duty. It was an impossible ideal, but all the more compelling and haunting because of its very unobtainability. The memory of the crash came back to me many times over the years, as a reminder both of how one aspires after and needs such ideals, and of how killingly difficult it is to achieve them. I never again looked at the sky and saw only vastness and beauty. From that afternoon on I saw that death was also and always there.

Although, like all military families, we moved a lot-by the fifth grade my older brother, sister, and I had attended four different elementary schools, and we had lived in Florida, Puerto Rico, California, Tokyo, and Washington, twice-our parents, especially my mother, kept life as secure, warm, and constant as possible. My brother was the eldest and the steadiest of the three of us children and my staunch ally, despite the three-year difference in our ages. I idolized him growing up and often trailed along after him, trying very hard to be inconspicuous, when he and his friends would wander off to play baseball or cruise the neighborhood. He was smart, fair, and self-confident, and I always felt that there was a bit of extra protection coming my way whenever he was around. My relationship with my sister, who was only thirteen months older than me, was more complicated. She was the truly beautiful one in the family, with dark hair and wonderful eyes, who from the earliest times was almost painfully aware of everything around her. She had a charismatic way, a fierce temper, very black and passing moods, and little tolerance for the conservative military lifestyle that she felt imprisoned us all. She led her own life, defiant, and broke out with abandon whenever and wherever she could. She hated high school and, when we were living in Washington, frequently skipped classes to go to the Smithsonian or the Army Medical Museum or just to smoke and drink beer with her friends.

She resented me, feeling that I was, as she mockingly put it, "the fair-haired one"-a sister, she thought, to whom friends and schoolwork came too easily-passing far too effortlessly through life, protected from reality by an absurdly optimistic view of people and life. Sandwiched between my brother, who was a natural athlete and who never seemed to see less-than-perfect marks on his college and graduate admission examinations, and me, who basically loved school and was vigorously involved in sports and friends and class activities, she stood out as the member of the family who fought back and rebelled against what she saw as a harsh and difficult world. She hated military life, hated the constant upheaval and the need to make new friends, and felt the family politeness was hypocrisy.

Perhaps because my own violent struggles with black moods did not occur until I was older, I was given a longer time to inhabit a more benign, less threatening, and, indeed to me, a quite wonderful world of high adventure. This world, I think, was one my sister had never known. The long and important years of childhood and early adolescence were, for the most part, very happy ones for me, and they afforded me a solid base of warmth, friendship, and confidence. They were to be an extremely powerful amulet, a potent and positive countervailing force against future unhappiness. My sister had no such years, no such amulets. Not surprisingly, perhaps, when both she and I had to deal with our respective demons, my sister saw the darkness as being within and part of herself, the family, and the world. I, instead, saw it as a stranger; however lodged within my mind and soul the darkness became, it almost always seemed an outside force that was at war with my natural self.

My sister, like my father, could be vastly charming: fresh, original, and devastatingly witty, she also was blessed with an extraordinary sense of aesthetic design. She was not an easy or untroubled person, and as she grew older her troubles grew with her, but she had an enormous artistic imagination and soul. She also could break your heart and then provoke your temper beyond any reasonable level of endurance. Still, I always felt a bit like pieces of earth to my sister's fire and flames.

For his part, my father, when involved, was often magically involved: ebullient, funny, curious about almost everything, and able to describe with delight and originality the beauties and phenomena of the natural world. A snowflake was never just a snowflake, nor a cloud just a cloud. They became events and characters, and part of a lively and oddly ordered universe. When times were good and his moods were at high tide, his infectious enthusiasm would touch everything. Music would fill the house, wonderful new pieces of jewelry would appear-a moonstone ring, a delicate bracelet of cabochon rubies, a pendant fashioned from a moody sea-green stone set in a swirl of gold-and we'd all settle into our listening mode, for we knew that soon we would be hearing a very great deal about whatever new enthusiasm had taken him over. Sometimes it would be a discourse based on a passionate conviction that the future and salvation of the world was to be found in windmills; sometimes it was that the three of us children simply had to take Russian lessons because Russian poetry was so inexpressibly beautiful in the original.

Once, my father having read that George Bernard Shaw had left money in his will to develop a phonetic alphabet and that he had specified that Androcles and the Lion should be the first of his plays to be translated, we all received multiple copies of Androcles, as did anyone else who got in my father's flight path. Indeed, family rumor had it that almost a hundred books had been bought and distributed. There was a contagious magic to his expansiveness, which I loved, and I still smile when I remember my father reading aloud about Androcles treating the lion's wounded paw, the soldiers singing "Throw them to the lions" to the tune of "Onward, Christian Soldiers," and my father's interspersed editorial remarks about the vital-one could not stress enough how vital-importance of phonetic and international languages. To this day, I keep a large ceramic bumblebee in my office, and it, too, makes me laugh when I remember my father picking it up, filled to the brim with honey, and flying it through the air in various jet maneuvers including, favoritely and appropriately, a cloverleaf pattern. Naturally, when the bee was turned upside down on its flight, the honey would pour down all over the kitchen table, leaving my mother to say, "Marshall, is this really necessary? You're egging on the children." We would giggle approvingly, thus ensuring a few more minutes of the flight of the bumblebee.

It was enchanting, really, rather like having Mary Poppins for a father. Years later, he gave me a bracelet inscribed with words from Michael Faraday that were engraved over the physics building at UCLA: "Nothing is too wonderful to be true." Needless to say, Faraday had repeated breakdowns, and the remark is palpably untrue, but the thought and mood are lovely ones, and very much as my father could be, in his wondrous moments. My mother has said, many times, that she always felt she was in the shadow of my father's wit, charm, intensity, and imagination. Her observation that he was a Pled Piper with children certainly was borne out by his charismatic effect upon my friends and the other children in whatever neighborhood we found ourselves. My mother, however, was always the one my friends wanted to sit down and talk with: we played with my father; we talked with my mother.

Mother, who has an absolute belief that it is not the cards that one is dealt in life, it is how one plays them, is, by far, the highest card I was dealt. Kind, fair, and generous, she has the type of self-confidence that comes from having been brought up by parents who not only loved her deeply and well, but who were themselves kind, fair, and generous people. My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a college professor and physicist by training. By all accounts, he was a witty man, as well as inordinately kind to both his students and colleagues. My grandmother, whom I knew well, was a warm and caring woman who, like Mother, had a deep and genuine interest in people; this, in turn, translated into a tremendous capacity for friendship and a remarkable ability to put people at their ease. People always came first with her, as they did with my mother, and a lack of time or a busy schedule was never an excuse for being thoughtless or unavailable.

She was by no means an intellectual; unlike my grandfather, who spent his time reading, and rereading, Shakespeare and Twain, she joined clubs instead. Being both well liked and a natural organizer, she unfailingly was elected president of whatever group in which she became involved. She was disconcertingly conservative in many ways-a Republican, a Daughter of the American Revolution, and very inclined to tea parties, all of which gave my father apoplexy-but she was a gentle yet resolute woman, who wore flowered dresses, buffed her nails, set a perfect table, and smelled always of flowered soaps. She was incapable of being unkind, and she was a wonderful grandmother.

My mother-tall, thin, and pretty-was a popular student in both high school and college. Pictures in her photograph albums show an obviously happy young woman, usually surrounded by friends, playing tennis, swimming, fencing, riding horses, caught up in sorority activities, or looking slightly Gibson-girlish with a series of good-looking boyfriends. The photographs capture the extraordinary innocence of a different kind of time and world, but they were a time and a world in which my mother looked very comfortable. There were no foreboding shadows, no pensive or melancholic faces, no questions of internal darkness or instability. Her belief that a certain predictability was something that one ought to be able to count upon must have had its roots in the utter normality of the people and events captured in these pictures, as well as in the preceding generations of her ancestors who were reliable, stable, honorable, and saw things through.

Centuries of such seeming steadiness in the genes could only very partially prepare my mother for all of the turmoil and difficulties that were to face her once she left her parents' home to begin a family of her own. But it has been precisely that persevering steadiness of my mother, her belief in seeing things through, and her great ability to love and learn, listen and change, that helped keep me alive through all of the years of pain and nightmare that were to come. She could not have known how difficult it would be to deal with madness; had no preparation for what to do with madness-none of us did-but consistent with her ability to love, and her native will, she handled it with empathy and intelligence. It never occurred to her to give up.

Both my mother and father strongly encouraged my interests in writing poetry and school plays, as well as in science and medicine. Neither of them tried to limit my dreams, and they had the sense and sensitivity to tell the difference between a phase I was going through and more serious commitments. Even my phases, however, were for the most part tolerated with kindness and imagination. Being particularly given to strong and absolute passions, I was at one point desperately convinced that we had to have a sloth as a pet. My mother, who had been pushed about as far as possible by allowing me to keep dogs, cats, birds, fish, turtles, lizards, frogs, and mice, was less than wildly enthusiastic. My father convinced me to put together a detailed scientific and literary notebook about sloths. He suggested that, in addition to providing practical information about their dietary needs, living space, and veterinary requirements, I also write a series of poems about sloths and essays about what they meant to me, design a habitat for them that would work within our current house, and make detailed observations of their behavior at the zoo; if I did all this, he said, my parents would then consider finding a sloth for me.

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Introduction

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind. We hope they will expand your understanding of this extraordinary and disturbing story of a singularly courageous woman.

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Foreword

1. "The long and important years of childhood and early adolescence...were to be an extremely powerful amulet, a potent and positive countervailing force against future unhappiness"[p. 15]. What aspects of Jamison's early life and upbringing helped to provide her with emotional support on which to draw years later?

2. What benefits did the conservative military lifestyle led by the Jamisons confer upon the young Kay Jamison? With what disadvantages did that same culture, with its stiff-upper-lip creed, afflict her in her battle with mental illness?

3. In graduate school, Jamison writes, "Despite the fact that we were being taught how to make clinical diagnoses, I still did not make any connection in my own mind between the problems I had experienced and what was described as manic-depressive illness in the textbooks"[p. 58]. Why did she refuse to acknowledge the obvious? Why didn't she question the "rigid, irrelevant notions of self-reliance"[p. 101] she had been taught?

4. "Being open is the sort of thing that I advise people to think very long and hard about,"Jamison has stated. "It's one thing if you're independently wealthy. It's another thing if you're out in the real world"(Washington Post Magazine, 4/16/95). Why did Jamison avoid bringing her illness into the open for so many years, and what made her finally decide to do so?

5. Jamison worries that we could "risk making the world a blander, more homogenized place if we get rid of the genes for manic-depressive illness"[p. 194]. On the other hand, E. Fuller Torrey, a well-known author and schizophrenia researcher, says he "wouldquite happily lose a van Gogh to treat the disease"(Washington Post Magazine, 4/16/95). Which point of view do you endorse? Can you sympathize with both sides of the issue?

6. With her book Touched with Fire and her public television specials on artists like Byron, van Gogh and Schumann, Jamison has been accused by some of her colleagues of romanticizing manic-depressive illness by associating it with creative genius. Does this accusation seem reasonable or unreasonable to you?

7. "Lithium moderates the illness,"Jamison observes, "but therapy teaches you to live with it"(Time, 9/11/95). Has she convinced you that drugs plus psychotherapy is the answer for mental illness? In that case, might not psychotherapy benefit people suffering from any debilitating illness, not just a mental one?

8. Some physicians wonder whether the increased use of mood-regulating medications might lead to a society-wide practice of chemically altering personality, with the result of making people blander and more conformist (the widespread use of the anti-depressant Prozac has helped fuel this debate). "Which of my feelings are real?"Jamison asks. "Which of the me's is me"[p. 68]? Jamison's sister discouraged her from taking lithium, saying that her "soul would wither if [she] chose to dampen the intensity and pain of [her] experiences by using medication"[p. 99]. How much of personality do you believe to be intrinsic, and how much is a result of biological impulses and chemicals? Is such a question even answerable?

9. Her work, and her own illness, convinces Jamison of "the total beholdenness of brain to mind and mind to brain. My temperament, moods, and illness clearly, and deeply, affected the relationships I had with others and the fabric of my work. But my moods were themselves powerfully shaped by the same relationships and work"[p. 88]. Jamison expresses anger against physicians who draw a distinction between "medical illnesses"and psychiatric illnesses [p. 102]. Does she imply that there is, in actuality, no difference? If there is a difference, of what does it consist?

10. "Depression, somehow, is much more in line with society's notions of what women are all about....Manic states, on the other hand, seem to be more the provenance of men"[p.122]. What might the results of this stereotyping be when it comes to giving treatment?

11. After David's death, Jamison reflects that "grief, fortunately, is very different from depression"[p.150]. How can you explain the essential difference between the two? Is it more possible to cope with the "real"causes of grief than with the impalpable causes of depression?

12. Through bitter experience Jamison comes to recognize the value of emotional steadiness in a relationship, but "somewhere in my heart,"she writes, "I continued to believe that intense and lasting love was possible only in a climate of somewhat tumultuous passions"[p. 170]. Is this feeling peculiar to Jamison and her temperament, or does it reflect certain assumptions in our society? How is the importance of love and friendship demonstrated again and again in the story? How does each of the three principal men in Jamison's life help her to seek a cure?

13. Jamison worries that her work may now be seen by her colleagues "as somehow biased because of my illness,"while admitting that "of course, my work has been tremendously colored by my emotions and my experiences"[p. 203]. Does this make her work less viable than strictly "objective"work, or more so?

14. "My major goal has been to really try and make a difference in how the illness is seen and treated"(Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/18/95). Has she succeeded, so far as you are concerned? Which of your preconceptions were changed by reading her account?

15. "Do I really think that someone with mental illness should be allowed to treat patients?"[p. 204] Jamison asks. She ultimately answers the question in the affirmative. What would your own answer be?

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Reading Group Guide

1. "The long and important years of childhood and early adolescence...were to be an extremely powerful amulet, a potent and positive countervailing force against future unhappiness"[p. 15]. What aspects of Jamison's early life and upbringing helped to provide her with emotional support on which to draw years later?

2. What benefits did the conservative military lifestyle led by the Jamisons confer upon the young Kay Jamison? With what disadvantages did that same culture, with its stiff-upper-lip creed, afflict her in her battle with mental illness?

3. In graduate school, Jamison writes, "Despite the fact that we were being taught how to make clinical diagnoses, I still did not make any connection in my own mind between the problems I had experienced and what was described as manic-depressive illness in the textbooks"[p. 58]. Why did she refuse to acknowledge the obvious? Why didn't she question the "rigid, irrelevant notions of self-reliance"[p. 101] she had been taught?

4. "Being open is the sort of thing that I advise people to think very long and hard about,"Jamison has stated. "It's one thing if you're independently wealthy. It's another thing if you're out in the real world"(Washington Post Magazine, 4/16/95). Why did Jamison avoid bringing her illness into the open for so many years, and what made her finally decide to do so?

5. Jamison worries that we could "risk making the world a blander, more homogenized place if we get rid of the genes for manic-depressive illness"[p. 194]. On the other hand, E. Fuller Torrey, a well-known author and schizophrenia researcher, says he "would quite happily lose a van Gogh to treat the disease"(Washington Post Magazine, 4/16/95). Which point of view do you endorse? Can you sympathize with both sides of the issue?

6. With her book Touched with Fire and her public television specials on artists like Byron, van Gogh and Schumann, Jamison has been accused by some of her colleagues of romanticizing manic-depressive illness by associating it with creative genius. Does this accusation seem reasonable or unreasonable to you?

7. "Lithium moderates the illness,"Jamison observes, "but therapy teaches you to live with it"(Time, 9/11/95). Has she convinced you that drugs plus psychotherapy is the answer for mental illness? In that case, might not psychotherapy benefit people suffering from any debilitating illness, not just a mental one?

8. Some physicians wonder whether the increased use of mood-regulating medications might lead to a society-wide practice of chemically altering personality, with the result of making people blander and more conformist (the widespread use of the anti-depressant Prozac has helped fuel this debate). "Which of my feelings are real?"Jamison asks. "Which of the me's is me"[p. 68]? Jamison's sister discouraged her from taking lithium, saying that her "soul would wither if [she] chose to dampen the intensity and pain of [her] experiences by using medication"[p. 99]. How much of personality do you believe to be intrinsic, and how much is a result of biological impulses and chemicals? Is such a question even answerable?

9. Her work, and her own illness, convinces Jamison of "the total beholdenness of brain to mind and mind to brain. My temperament, moods, and illness clearly, and deeply, affected the relationships I had with others and the fabric of my work. But my moods were themselves powerfully shaped by the same relationships and work"[p. 88]. Jamison expresses anger against physicians who draw a distinction between "medical illnesses"and psychiatric illnesses [p. 102]. Does she imply that there is, in actuality, no difference? If there is a difference, of what does it consist?

10. "Depression, somehow, is much more in line with society's notions of what women are all about....Manic states, on the other hand, seem to be more the provenance of men"[p.122]. What might the results of this stereotyping be when it comes to giving treatment?

11. After David's death, Jamison reflects that "grief, fortunately, is very different from depression"[p.150]. How can you explain the essential difference between the two? Is it more possible to cope with the "real"causes of grief than with the impalpable causes of depression?

12. Through bitter experience Jamison comes to recognize the value of emotional steadiness in a relationship, but "somewhere in my heart,"she writes, "I continued to believe that intense and lasting love was possible only in a climate of somewhat tumultuous passions"[p. 170]. Is this feeling peculiar to Jamison and her temperament, or does it reflect certain assumptions in our society? How is the importance of love and friendship demonstrated again and again in the story? How does each of the three principal men in Jamison's life help her to seek a cure?

13. Jamison worries that her work may now be seen by her colleagues "as somehow biased because of my illness,"while admitting that "of course, my work has been tremendously colored by my emotions and my experiences"[p. 203]. Does this make her work less viable than strictly "objective"work, or more so?

14. "My major goal has been to really try and make a difference in how the illness is seen and treated"(Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/18/95). Has she succeeded, so far as you are concerned? Which of your preconceptions were changed by reading her account?

15. "Do I really think that someone with mental illness should be allowed to treat patients?"[p. 204] Jamison asks. She ultimately answers the question in the affirmative. What would your own answer be?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 156 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 4, 2008

    I Live This Illness Everyday....

    I have been living with this illness for very long time, doctors and meds are an ongoing event in my life....I decided after this deep comma like depression I was in,the lasest drug that gave me heart racing affects to the point of no return...I decided to start searching for my own answers...as any manic will tell you we buy in bulk, I purchased 4 books this day and Dr.Kay Jamison 'An Unqiuet Mind' was one of them.. It was like reading my life through her pages, it was a breakthrough for me , I am currently I'm off meds for the past 4 day due to severe side effect,I will bring this book in hopes they will try lithuim tomorrow ,I will tell them she has saved MY LIFE MY MIND as well.. My father commited suicide when I was just 7 and and one struggling like I am, SHOULD read this book. I started today and read the entire book today, I couldn't put it down and was feeling terrible about getting close to the end...I will pass this book on to my husband then my daughter so they may somehow understand my mind...THANK YOU Dr. Kay Jamison from the very corners of my mind.... I will try to find her so I can send her a letter of hope for me as well..This is a MUST read, a little FYI I'm not a reader never have been unless it's a magazine, for me to pick this book up and read it cover to cover must say something, right.

    22 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2008

    The first book you should read...

    I have read several short books on bipolar...all in short essay 'this is bipolar for dummies style'...and found this to be what I consider a revelation. Never have I connected with a book as I did this one. Several instances were as if I was reading about myself. If you are currently being treated with MDI, then this is a must. Dr. Jamison spills her story as if it were just you and her in a room. Understanding may be a little foggy for the unaffected layman, or those not yet familiar with their own diagnosis, but you will surely understand once you have finished the book 'and read again as I have.' Don't be fooled by imitations. This is the real McCoy.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2008

    Highly Educational

    Kay Jamison Redfield's memoirs present a unique view of bipolar disorder through the eyes of an extremely competent professional and a sufferer. In this way she is able to describe her symptoms and her own resistance to accepting the disease and the need for medication treatment. These are common problems for many persons with bipolar disorder. While Bipolar disorder is a spectrum disorder, she recounts only the experiences of a person with Bipolar I. Bipolar I typically includes extreme mania, possible psychosis and the lowest lows of the depressive experience. It is important to keep in mind that this is her story and does not typify symptoms of other types of bipolar disorder. Other forms of bipolar disorder may have milder symptoms but can still cause extreme pain and difficulty. As a mental health therapist, this book has become an important educational tool that I often recommend to patients and their families. It can be immensely helpful aid in the understanding of the illness. I often ask people to keep in mind that when the book was written, lithium was virtually the best option for persons with her type of bipolar disorder. Now there are many excellent medication options for the treatment of this disorder. This is a book I would read again and I will keep recommending it. She is truly an inspiration of survival.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2007

    Unbelievable and Pretentious

    The best thing about this book is the title. Beyond that, I found the writing rambling and repetitive. The utter lack of situational details and contradictory statements makes me wonder if this author really does suffer from manic depressive disorder to the extent she claims. I find her pretentious and condescending, and sense that the book is written primarily for the purposes of self-glorification rather than to give an honest depiction of life in unique circumstances - something I expect from a good memoir.

    7 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2007

    What's with all the hype?

    A literary master authored this book. Dr. Jamison certainly has a way with words. I feel this book is probably so popular because it¿s one of the few accounts I¿ve found where someone is willing (or able) to share their personal testimony, and able to identify with what we suffering from manic-depression must deal with on a daily basis. It is marketed in the 'Psychology' or 'Self-improvement' sections of most major book retailers, however after reading it, it fits into neither category in my opinion, and should be labeled simply an autobiography. That being said, if I had to estimate, the topic of manic-depressive illness probably only fills 40% of the reading material. The rest, like I said, is an autobiographical depiction of her years as a child, her experiences in med school, and her life as a practicing psychologist. It does accurately show what the disease is capable of accomplishing, such as poor performance in school and on the job, failed relationships, and so forth. Although an interesting read, if you, like I, suffer from the debilitating illness that is manic-depression, and are looking for answers, help, or therapy-type reading material, this may not be the book for you. There is no doubt the Dr. has her descriptive moments that shed some light on the inner workings of the illness, but all in all it may be nothing that you as a person suffering from Bipolar don't already know. If you are looking for material to share with your friends or family on the topic, I'm sure this book could relatively-accurately relay the 'feelings' of someone living with this illness. However, I would be unsatisfied handing this book to my spouse and telling them 'read this, it will help you understand'. I'm hoping to find less of a literary piece, and more of a self-help book which encompasses types of treatment options, exercises, and thoughts on helping yourself and your loved ones understand what to expect. I¿m afraid this book is going on eBay.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Fabulous Mind

    Author uses lengthy detailed descriptions of her privileged and extremely supportive family as an introduction to herself as a person, and even a definition of who she is. As if the origin and class of the family could ensure the quality of the human being.
    Emphasizing her waspiness throughout the book, she demonstrates beliefs in her perfection and even imperviousness. When the time comes to accept her diagnosis, she remains in denial, because she cannot accept the idea that something is wrong with her.
    Author's family story holds many contradictions. She mentions her mother and her brother, who help her to overcome depression, but her father and her sister "disappear" right after she gets diagnosed. Readers later learn that her father drinks and that is that. How can this perfect supportive family ever fall apart? Has it ever been that connected?
    The fact that Dr. Jamison has been diagnosed by her coworker tells something about her self-knowledge and professionalism. As she describes her erratic behaviors and depressed mood prior to being diagnosed, she presents a clear manic-depressive state, yet she fails to make connections and recognize the symptoms (although at that level of training she should be able to). Even after the formal diagnosis she remains in denial until she cannot manage without lithium.
    Dr. Jamison spends much time sharing her educational experiences and achievements (degrees, practicums, awards, etc.), as if she is writing a resume. Yet she fails to mention any of her clients, people she actually helped. The environment that surrounds Dr. Jamison revolves around her, exists for her, and it seems that the purpose of education in mental health is in having a career, getting tenure, publishing, and making money for travels. I sensed that in Dr. Jamison's grandiose personality there is not much compassion for other people who suffer and need help.
    In fact, she does not even have a high opinion about them. As she puts it, it was humiliating to admit her disorder and go see a psychiatrist and "be on the other side". So, that's what it is, she sees potential help seekers as people who should be embarrassed because they lost their dignity to the disorder. Who would want to ask such a doctor for help?
    In addition to this, the language and poetic inserts aren't that impressive. In fact, they are quite redundant. Multitude of expressive adjectives creates affective blobs here and there, but that creates more noise than emotional strength.
    The truth is, this story is unremarkable. Author tries to make it into a glamorous account of mental illness, while minimizing its severity and impact on relationships. Bipolar disorder ceases to be brutal and draining experience; when Dr. Jamison has it, it becomes more sanitized and dignified. The suicide attempt reads like an unpleasant hitch that does not bring any revelation.
    Dr. Jamison's attitude makes it impossible to empathize with her. She does not want her readers to see her being weak or helpless. All she wants is admiration.
    Finally, in the epilogue author states that if she were to choose, she'd choose to have bipolar disorder, which to me manifests that the author just does not want to be average. She is afraid of being ordinary, one of many. To me, she is.
    With so many incongruences, it is clear that this book is not what it claims to be. When you subtract the misrepresented mental illness, what remains is a poorly written fictionalized memoir.

    4 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2009

    Insightful Reading

    I found this book to be very insightful. I feel it should be a recommended book by counselors/psychologists/psychiatrists for individuals who have Bipolar I or II Disorder. Though individuals experience different levels of Bipolar Disorder, myself, being less extreme, the book educated me, personally, on Bipolar Disorder on a whole new level, one that I "chose" not to "explore". I would highly recommend the book for "everyone", those who suffer Bipolar Disorder and those who do not. Ms. Jamison is not only courageous in sharing her experiences, but considerate in that her experiences might be helpful to others.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Read MADNESS instead

    This book quickly went from ok to insufferable. I get it, you're noble, highly intelligent,very strong and priveliged.
    For a well-written, page-turning, completely naked account of an experience with bi-polarism- read Marya Hornbacher's Madness.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2008

    *Warning* Read only if you have a medical degree!

    I was terribly disappointed in this book. I've been trying to get my hands on real first hand accounts to maybe help me realize some coping skills with my bipolar disorder. It's hard enough to read when your attention span is altered by mood or medication, let alone follow this book without getting frustrated. This book is for someone with a medical or collegate background only. DO NOT ATTEMPT IF YOU HAVE ANY HOPES OF FOLLOWING ALONG OR PULLING ANY USEFUL EXPERIENCES FROM FOR LAYMEN. It just isn't personable at all.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2000

    Good but could've been better

    The author does an excelent job reviewing many of the ups and downs people like us have experienced. My major concern, however, is that the author is not introspective enough about the different opportunities (as well as limitations) that come with her social class. A much poorer, less intellectually gifted person would not have the time or money to take the same steps toward treatment that were available to the author.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2009

    Excellent!

    Very insightful and well written.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2008

    Just Read

    Anyone who suffers from Bipolar should read this book and will find themselves in the author's words. Insightful and amazing. What a shame the book had to end.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2007

    A reviewer

    I first read this book when it was published in hardcover 12 years ago. At the time there weren't so many books of memoirs of living with this horrendous illness. As a graduate student, who had the honor of knowing Dr. Jamison during my undergraduate years at Hopkins 'but not knowing about her diagnosis', I had found myself without any support group where I wasn't far and away the most accomplished individual. Dr. Jamison's book provided me hope that it was possible to not only survive bipolar disorder, but to thrive despite the disease. After living through this disease for nearly 20 years, I look for inspiration and role models where ever I can find them, especially those who are able to see both the horrors and the humor in the experiences that are part and parcel of this life. To me Kay Jamison is an idol.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2012

    Really great book on what living with bipolar disorder feels lik

    Really great book on what living with bipolar disorder feels like. While I did not struggle to take my medications once I was diagnosed (mine have little side effect), I did feel and experience so many of the struggles she did prior to diagnosis. Its so great to hear about one who is smart and capable and yet lacking the understanding of one's own mind. Those who judge from the outside of bipolar disorder often do not understand how long one can struggle before understanding and finding balance within their mind. I thought it was a very good and touching account of her personal experiences with the illness. While there is some repetitive information (the book isn't totally chronological and chapters are loosely organized) I would recommend this book for those living with or who love someone who is bipolar.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2011

    Excellent read. Highly recommended!!

    This book provides an incredible amount of information on Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depressive Disorder) and allows individuals to get a great glimpse into the life-long struggle of coping with Bipolar Disorder. Whether you are a laymen in regards to psychopathology or are a mental health provider, this book is an easy read, while still providing the pertinent information that is incredibly applicable to individuals within the clinical psychology field. Dr. Jamison reveals and incredible amount of information on her darkest moments, greatest moments, and moments of tremendous achievement that most people could never achieve. I comment her bravery in exposing the most vulnerable aspect in her life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2011

    Informational but disappointing.

    I've taken a lot of psychology classes and I experience certain depression issues that cause me to be on meds. I like the book and saw myself in some parts, but couldn't get pass all the errors and repetitive paragraphs. I give it 3 stars only because I admire that it was honest and very open to sharing life experiences when dealing with manic-depression.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    This is one of the most profound books I have ever read.

    I'm aboslutly biased as I suffer from the same disorder as the author, but that's what makes it so wonderful. The overwhelming feeling that the author can feel what I feel, hear my thoughts, understand my confusion, AND put it into words that others can read ... is amazing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2009

    Should be in the biography section

    While the book was somewhat interesting I dont think it really qualifies as a psychology book, it seems to me to be more of a biography. The author does not give much detail about her feelings, emotions or what is truly happening in her mind.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2007

    count the number of times she says 'lithium'

    when i received this book from my mother for christmas it was a validation of my 20 years of struggling with depression. finally she was willing to admit i do suffer from it! the first few pages of this book i cried my eyes out. i found it very interesting to see some of what i've struggled to put into words, put into such eloquent words. i found myself underlining lots of passages. i plan to pass the book along to my aunt, who is also manic-depressive. however, the author seems to identify only ONE kind of medication which can be used. some of this can be credited to the fact that lithium was basically the only depression drug available at the time the author is describing, however, the number of times she could have left off the phrase 'lithium and other' and instead just said 'medications' is mind-boggling. the word lithium appeared so many times on one page i had to stop reading. it is a bit pretentious but not wholly unreadable or without merit. seeing as how it's honestly the first book i've read on the subject i can't say it's the best nor the worst.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2014

    This author appears to be condescending and does not seem "

    This author appears to be condescending and does not seem "real" in discussing bipolar disorder. It reads like an autobiography of the stuffy upper-society clan who hide behind their social status and education in order to avoid "spilling the beans" that they are, in reality, no better than anyone else who suffers from this disease. I think more information on the illness and less ego-mania is called for, in this book.

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