The allure of mania can be utterly spellbinding, like the solo voyage to Saturn that Kay Redfield Jamison vividly recalls taking in her mind many years ago. She knows she was experiencing a psychotic episode. Nonetheless, it was beautiful, and the memory is real. Jamison revolutionized her field when she stepped forward to publicly share her personal struggles with bipolar disorder in her book, An Unquiet Mind. During her Colorado visit, Jamison shared passages from her book and highlighted the need for medical providers to understand why their patients might refuse to take medication. Some love feeling manic until their insanity spins out of control and they sink, as Jamison did, into devastating, suicidal depressions.

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T he cultural and medical shift that changed the meaningfully descriptive term "manic depression" into the quasi-mechanistic "bipolar disorder" did nothing to make our understanding of mental illness more precise. Is depression really "unipolar" while manic depression is "bipolar"? Such classifications presuppose, she writes, "a distinction between depression and manic-depressive illness — both clinically and etiologically — that is not always clear, or supported by science".

Jamison, writing in the mids, says she felt personally affronted by the term "bipolar". She was not afraid of admitting that she herself suffered episodes of "madness" — nor did she feel the need to be de-stigmatised by politically correct terminology. A psychiatrist who has suffered from the illness for most of her life, she prefers the term manic depression because it is both more expressive of her experience and, ultimately, more clinically accurate.

Jamison's condition has been about as severe as is possible in someone still capable of holding down a senior medical position currently professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Her arguments flow from a view of major mental illnesses as the downstream biological effects of genetic disorders, and she perhaps underplays environmental factors.

But this book is, above all, a memoir. The events of Jamison's life flow into her understanding of the illness, just as the illness has shaped her life. That is not just a statement of the obvious but an indispensable clinical fact.

Jamison writes about childhood, family and work. She writes about relationships and lovers and how "sex became too intense for pleasure and during it I would feel my mind encased by black lines of light that were terrifying to me".

She writes of the sensation of being "a zebra among the horses", and the struggles of psychiatry to classify, research and treat. The writing is clear and beautiful, the descriptions accurate, the interior world she evokes is furiously alive.

In the 16 years since An Unquiet Mind was first published, no greater book about manic depression — or bipolar disorder — has appeared. Topics Health, mind and body books The Observer. Bipolar disorder Depression reviews. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded.

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An Unquiet Mind Reader’s Guide

The field of narrative medicine holds that personal narratives about illness have the potential to give illness meaning and to create order out of disparate facets of experience, thereby aiding a patient's treatment and resisting universalizing medical discourse. These writers demonstrate that one result of bipolar disorder is a rupture to their sense of identity, making straightforward and verbal forms of narrative impossible. During periods of relative mood stability, reliable memories of mania or depression are equally impossible. As a result, these memoirists seek to develop sources of self-knowledge other than memory and introspection, long the foundations of personal narrative. Finally, An Unquiet Mind and Marbles return attention to questions of selfhood at a time when scholarship on memoir rejects interpretations of life stories as clear and reliable expressions of identity. This site needs JavaScript to work properly. Please enable it to take advantage of the complete set of features!


An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison – review

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? 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. Why did she refuse to acknowledge the obvious?

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