An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
While struggling to live with the havoc of bipolar disorder, Kay Redfield Jamison was also struggling to build a career. Throughout years of trying to cope with—and hide—the spending sprees, ruined relationships, devastating depressions and even a suicide attempt, she became a respected professor of psychiatry and an international authority on mood disorders.
Fuelled by hypomanic energy, focus and creativity, Jamison earned her PhD in psychology and joined the faculty at UCLA where she founded a clinic for affective disorders. Unwilling to give up her manias, she endured the punishing depressions that inevitably followed.
“Fragments of ideas, images, sentences, raced around and around in my mind like the tigers in a children’s story. Finally, like those tigers, they became meaningless, melted pools. Nothing once familiar to me was familiar. I wanted desperately to slow down but could not. …My delusions centered on the slow, painful deaths of all the green plants in the world—vine by, vine, stem by stem, leaf by leaf they died, and I could do nothing to save them. Their screams were cacophonous.
“Increasingly, all of my images were black and decaying.
At one point, I was determined that if my mind—by which I made my living and whose stability I had assumed for so many years—did not stop racing and began working normally again, I would kill myself by jumping from a nearby twelve-story building. I gave it twenty-four hours.”
Jamison began psychotherapy and lithium treatment when she faced the very real possibility that she might lose her job, her marriage and her life to her disease if she didn’t. Even then, as she counseled her patients on the importance of staying on their medications, she struggled with her own reluctance to stay on the lithium she knew her life depended upon. Like many with manic-depression, she knew that mania has its rewards.
Jamison explains how she learned to accept her disease and its treatment, and even to value what she considers its gifts.
“…Because I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; loved more, and been more loved; laughed more often for having cried more often; appreciated more the springs, for all the winters…”
This compelling portrayal of bipolar disorder (Jamison prefers the term manic depression) from the dual perspective of both patient and doctor is a story of struggle but also of triumph and hope. Jamison became a tenured professor at Johns Hopkins University, co-author of a standard text book on the disease and author of other books on the topic, and a recognized scholar in the academic world. Her story shows others who live with psychiatric disorders – and the rest of the world too – that it is possible to live a rich, full life, despite being mentally ill.