Book 280: An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison

Jamison, Kay Redfield - An Unquiet MindAfter hours and hours of discussions about a personal relationship with someone who experiences bipolar disorder/manic depression and recommending I read this book on multiple occasions, my therapist finally made me take this book with me after an appointment one week and I’m glad she did. I won’t go into that relationship here, as it wouldn’t be appropriate, one day I might write about it on my other blog at some point, but I doubt it, so on to the book.

I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book with how easily accessible it was. I was concerned it was going to be too scientific and not personal enough for me, but I feel it struck an excellent balance between the two. In the last few chapters she goes in-depth into how and why she decided to write the book and one of the big decisions had to do with her personal experience and how it influenced her entire career and research focus and opportunities.

What I found most interesting about the book was how well Jamison got across the extremes of the hyper-manias compared and the depressions. In the last ten or so pages she writes the following,

“We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadness of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this—through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs, or medication—we build these walls, stone by stone, over a lifetime. One of the most difficult problems is to construct these barriers of such a height and strength that one has a true harbor, a sanctuary away from crippling turmoil and pain, but yet low enough, and permeable enough, to let in fresh seawater that will fend off the inevitable inclination towards brackishness.” (214-5)

And what’s interesting to note is that she writes this about EVERYONE’s brains. It’s not that bipolar/manic-depression sufferers have different brains (that research is still being done), but that they’re wired differently. Looking at this quote, it can and does apply to everyone. It’s how we deal with the breaching of these walls that defines us, at least according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Wikipedia link).

It was great to read something written by someone and not about someone and when you add in the Jamison’s success and eminence as a scholar of the disorders, you can’t help but appreciate how much she opens up and shares in the book. It didn’t make it easier for me to imagine having to go through something like this, but it definitely made me think about what I can do to further improve the aforementioned relationship and that’s invaluable.

To end, there were many scenes which stood out to me for their beauty, often when Jamison described her mania’s but when she wrote,

“To this day, I cannot hear that piece of music [Shubert’s Paino Sonata in B-flat, D. 960] without feeling surrounded by the beautiful sadness of that evening, the love I was privileged to know, and the recollection of the precarious balance that exists between sanity and a subtle, dreadful muffling of the senses.” (162)

I couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonderment and loss. Having to experience emotions and feelings in a muted/regulated state is such a foreign concept to me and to imagine that is impossible. I immediately looked up the sonata and it is an incredibly moving piece. Below is the introductory movement and you should listen, even if only for a few minutes.

Recommendation: I would recommend this to anyone who knows someone who struggles with the disorder, or interested in medical/mental health. It was an incredibly well written and researched book. The merging of the professional and personal only added to the books numerous strengths.

Opening Line: “When it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you’re manic, even the UCLA Medical Center has a certain appeal.”

Closing Line: “But, always, there were those new corners and—when feeling my normal self, beholden for that self to medicine and love—I cannot imagine becoming jaded to life, because I know of those limitless corners, with their limitless views.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)


8 thoughts on “Book 280: An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison”

  1. I have close family who are bipolar, and this looks really interesting. I’ll have to keep and eye out for it.

    If you haven’t seen it, Stephen Fry (a personal hero of mine) did a BBC documentary on bipolar disorder. It’s quite good, I thought.


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