An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

The personal memoir of a manic depressive and an authority on the subject describes the onset of the illness during her teenage years and her determined journey through the realm of available treatments....

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Title:An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
Author:Kay Redfield Jamison
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Edition Language:English

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness Reviews

  • stephanie

    i was reading some reviews of the book written by people that disliked this.

    i just want to say, that for a person suffering from mental illness, the fact that you know jamieson's full CV and her academic struggles

    important. it's more of a - look, she was wildly successful, and dealing with this illness, and she finally came to terms with it, and now she's okay - and still wildly successful.

    i also want to say how brave it was for her to write this under her own name. it does a lot to irradica

    i was reading some reviews of the book written by people that disliked this.

    i just want to say, that for a person suffering from mental illness, the fact that you know jamieson's full CV and her academic struggles

    important. it's more of a - look, she was wildly successful, and dealing with this illness, and she finally came to terms with it, and now she's okay - and still wildly successful.

    i also want to say how brave it was for her to write this under her own name. it does a lot to irradicate the stigma against mental illness, and no doubt she met people in academia who had read her book but never met her, and formed opinions that might be less than true. she really kind of put herself on the line for this, and i have to respect that.

    those things aside, this book came to me at a very important time in my life. (hence i remember the date i read it so well.) it was recommended by a psychiatrist i really respect, and. i'll admit, i was in the depths of a serious depressive episode, so perhaps it meant more to me then, but the book gave me hope. because i want a professional career, i want to be well respected in my field - and jamieson proved that it was possible. that you could recover from the depths and haul yourself out.

    she doesn't paint herself as a victim either, which was my main problem with

    . she has this illness, and she finds she can't ignore it any longer. she doesn't blame biology or bad family situations - she just realizes that if she wants her life, she's going to have to make some changes. she writes academically, but accessibly, and she doesn't take the easy way out.

    i've read everything she's written, but this is perhaps my favorite. becuse it shows that you can be honest about your mental health, and still be okay. it's written beautifully, and i go back to it time and again when i'm feeling down - even though i am not bipolar - and again, i think that speaks to the strengths of this memoir.

  • jo

    just re-read this for class. maybe i'll post a a review later. for now, though, i raised my four-star rating to five. the ways in which KRJ thinks about mental illness are not always congenial with mine, but this is a brave, beautifully written, and still very powerful book, many such memoirs later.

    REVIEW 3/12/11

    i'm not going to research this, but i think this was one of the first candid memoirs of mental disorder coming from someone famous/mainstream in the US and published by a ma

    just re-read this for class. maybe i'll post a a review later. for now, though, i raised my four-star rating to five. the ways in which KRJ thinks about mental illness are not always congenial with mine, but this is a brave, beautifully written, and still very powerful book, many such memoirs later.

    REVIEW 3/12/11

    i'm not going to research this, but i think this was one of the first candid memoirs of mental disorder coming from someone famous/mainstream in the US and published by a major publisher. it was especially noteworthy because the author was (is) a mental health professional, a teaching and practicing clinician who had written what was probably the most authoritative textbook on bipolar disorder at the time (maybe it still is). that this woman who had climbed so high in a world of men would come out and say candidly that she had the very disorder she was considered an expert at treating was fairly shocking. bipolar people were and are not supposed to be able to think critically about their disorder (or much of anything), much less to treat it in others. i am not going to research this but i think this book became a bestseller.

    although not herself a psychiatrist (her degree is in psychology), KRJ is a professor of psychiatry and her narrative of madness hinges on the unquestioned premise that bipolar disorder is a biological illness (she doesn't like the word "bipolar disorder," which had already been introduced in the DSM at the time of the book's writing, and prefers to refer to the condition as manic-depressive illness). this means that she embraces what is now referred to as the medical model of (this, at least) mental illness, according to which (this) mental illness is due solely to genetic factors which are responsible for a certain kind of malfunctioning of the brain. humbly, and wisely, KRJ sticks closely to her own disorder, never generalizing about mental illness in general.

    this biological narrative is the backbone of the book. it allows KRJ to exonerate herself and her history for the terrible lows she experienced and believe that if it weren't for her illness she would perfectly fine.

    this is incredibly complicated. it hits the core of the concept of illness in general, and identity, and, also, the fraught field of disability studies. if i am blind, am i perfectly fine except for the fact of being blind? do disabilities attach to the body in ways that leave the self intact?

    i am not even sure that KRJ would agree with my pushing her premises to this conclusion. she definitely does not feel intact. her illness as she describes it affects her life so profoundly, i am not sure she feels that she is entirely separate from it. yet, a certain separateness between the self and the illness is a consequence, it seems to me, of an extreme view of the medical model and of certain conceptions of disability.

    needless to say, i don't find the medical model convincing. for one, there is to this day no hard evidence of any kind that mental illness is biologically based. there is some anecdotal evidence based on heredity, brain scans, and the sometime effectiveness of drugs, but just about all of the above can be explained in other ways, too. more damningly, there is the fact that mentally "ill" people have lively and rich inner lives that we can explain away through biology only by denying some of the most fundamental tenets of humanness. according to a strong medical model, distorted thoughts, hallucinations, obsessions, phobias and dreams are all the result of misfiring neurons and have no significance at all. as such, they don't lend themselves to more then the 15 mins conversation required to decide what drug treatment to adopt.

    the reality is that drug treatment decisions are so arbitrary and themselves anecdotal, there is no single drug that is guaranteed to solve a particular mental disorder, the way, say, antibiotics are guaranteed (well, less and less) to cure infection or insulin to keep diabetics alive.

    it seems at the very least perplexing to me that some thought patterns should be granted credibility and some shouldn't. if you rule out the meaningfulness of the bizarre thoughts of a schizophrenic, why should i lend credence, say, to the thought process that leads you to such ruling out? what makes

    thoughts more valid than those of a schizophrenic?

    etc.

    so this was always my reservation with respect to this book. having just reread it, though, and seen its impact on my students, i have come to appreciate its complexity and value. first of all, it is remarkably and even outrageously candid. this woman's courage in risking her professional standing to tell an extremely uncomfortable truth about mental illness deserves great admiration. i believe that this book has done much to remove some of the stigma that attaches to mental illness.

    secondly, it is written passionately and lyrically, and some passages (especially in the last part) are deeply moving. this is a woman who knows pain, despair, and abject suicidality, and if you know them too you will find in her a fellow traveler and a beacon of hope.

    what i like best, though, lies at the meta-level. when pain hits us harder than we can bear it, we desperately need a narrative that makes sense of it and, in doing so, allows us to survive. in

    KRJ may or may not be telling something informative about bipolar disorder, but she is certainly giving us the narrative she created for herself in order to survive the intolerable pain she was experiencing and even thrive in spite of it. This seems to me of tremendous value. If even one person found in this book a story that helped her carry on and succeed in putting together a satisfactory life, the book would be worth its ink in gold.

    when KRJ wrote

    the capacity of lithium to stabilize mood had just been ascertained. since then, lithium has been proven to be also very dangerous, so if you read this and your (uninformed) psychiatrist puts you on a gigantic lithium regimen, read up on the internet what lithium can do to your body. there are a number of people who have lost kidney function to the miraculous curative powers of lithium. on the other hand, maybe lithium works for you in small amounts, or other drugs do, and that's great. or maybe you are one of those people who prefer to live their bipolar lives medication-free, and if so more power to you (and the best of luck: you are going to to need a lot of resources to keep out of a very coercive pro-medication mental health system).

    i have my own personal narrative of mental illness and it works for me. i think it's the right one and i am quite wedded to it. it is based on the so-called trauma model of mental pain and tends to be quite wary of the medical model. at the same time, i appreciate the well-being psychodrugs have brought to countless people, just as i appreciate the well-being people derive from: love, friendship, therapy, good food, yoga, exercise, comfort, compassion, and immoderate amount of chocolate.

    there is no magic bullet when it comes to inner pain. we do well to keep this in mind at all times.

  • Tia

    An autobiography of a brilliant woman who suffered from manic depression (she resists the more watered down label "bipolar" because she thinks it hides the essential nature of the disease.) She made it through a PhD in psychology and became one of the foremost authorities in her field before finally getting the consistent treatment she needed. Just seeing how she was able to achieve such professional success while privately dealing with such hellish, frightening moments of near insanity is enoug

    An autobiography of a brilliant woman who suffered from manic depression (she resists the more watered down label "bipolar" because she thinks it hides the essential nature of the disease.) She made it through a PhD in psychology and became one of the foremost authorities in her field before finally getting the consistent treatment she needed. Just seeing how she was able to achieve such professional success while privately dealing with such hellish, frightening moments of near insanity is enough to be massively impressed.

    If you've ever looked at the world and thought it was so full of amazing things that you couldn't sleep for days, or alternatively, if you've ever spent days just imagining every single living thing on the earth dying slowly (I believe she actually describes compulsively thinking of this during high school), then the feelings aren't that new. But she paints a cohesive picture of what it's like to live as a never-ending captive to these see-sawing feelings. She also gives clear insight into why people may resist taking medicine that dulls their manic moments, because they may feel so much more alive, productive, and vibrant during these spells.

  • Suzanne

    The author suffers from manic depressive illness (who chooses this coin of phrase as opposed to bipolar disorder, and I tend to agree with her). She is a brilliant mind, an academic and health care professional and absolute authority on this subject; she lives and breathes the disease but is able to treat her patients with complete and utter understanding and of course, empathy. This is Kay’s memoir, and it

    The author suffers from manic depressive illness (who chooses this coin of phrase as opposed to bipolar disorder, and I tend to agree with her). She is a brilliant mind, an academic and health care professional and absolute authority on this subject; she lives and breathes the disease but is able to treat her patients with complete and utter understanding and of course, empathy. This is Kay’s memoir, and it is just simply very interesting and fascinating reading. She has ridden the extreme mania highs and suffered the almost deadly depressions and tells her story with eloquence, humour and authority.

    seems the perfect way to describe this lady who

    Kay speaks simply of her problem:

    Interesting take on her own self-worth:

    She is even humorous:

    Kay Redfield Jamison has come quite the guru for me. Would love to meet her in real life. I work in an academic library therefore I have unlimited access to her work. Fancy a 1kg text book anyone?! Unfortunately, I will never get through all her work. This one does fascinate me though:

    I may get to this soon.

  • Lizzy

    is an honest and profoundly dramatic memoir that reveals the challenges and sufferings faced by people that suffer from bipolar disorder.

    herself endured the dangerous highs of euphoria mixed with the lows of depression. Her professional success as a clinical psychologist coupled with her forthright story

    is an honest and profoundly dramatic memoir that reveals the challenges and sufferings faced by people that suffer from bipolar disorder.

    herself endured the dangerous highs of euphoria mixed with the lows of depression. Her professional success as a clinical psychologist coupled with her forthright story helps to diminish the stigma of this serious mental illness that affect many.

    Insightful, poignant and thoroughly revealing. Highly recommended!

  • Britta

    I'm still not quite sure what I think of this book. It was recommended to me by a therapist thinking I would be interested as someone with bipolar disorder. Due to the source of the suggestion and the author of the book, an expert on and individual with bipolar disorder, I expected some practical insight into living with this disease. What I found was much different.

    This book is labeled a memoir, and the writing style and content certainly fit the label. Unfortunately, the author see

    I'm still not quite sure what I think of this book. It was recommended to me by a therapist thinking I would be interested as someone with bipolar disorder. Due to the source of the suggestion and the author of the book, an expert on and individual with bipolar disorder, I expected some practical insight into living with this disease. What I found was much different.

    This book is labeled a memoir, and the writing style and content certainly fit the label. Unfortunately, the author seemed to try too hard, and quite unsuccessfully, to become a writer of creative non-fiction. This frustrated me extremely and made it difficult to actually finish the book. Still, I tend to be unnecessarily harsh when it comes to writing skills. My inner lit snob simply won't shut up.

    What seriously complicates my opinion of this book, however, is whether the author intended to give hope to individuals with bipolar depression. As previously mentioned, I expected just that from this book based on its presentation to me. Instead, I found myself wanting the author to remember more clearly how difficult it sometimes is for a person with bipolar disorder to see a way out. I found myself highly skeptical of the author's management of the illness considering her unlimited access to psychiatric treatment and information from experts.

    I think this book may be more useful to friends and family of people with bipolar disorder than those trying to dig their way out from mania or depression. I guess I like what this book tries to do, but I'm not convinced it was well done.

  • Jessica

    A lot of people seem to have a negative reaction to this book, which I totally get. I didn't find Jamison a particularly likable person, and this wasn't great literature, though it did go down fast and smooth.

    Be that as it may, I've strongly recommended

    several times, and I can't judge it by the normal standards that I apply to most books. I see

    as performing a specific and vital function, at which I think it succeeds extremely well: that is, Jamison's memoir

    A lot of people seem to have a negative reaction to this book, which I totally get. I didn't find Jamison a particularly likable person, and this wasn't great literature, though it did go down fast and smooth.

    Be that as it may, I've strongly recommended

    several times, and I can't judge it by the normal standards that I apply to most books. I see

    as performing a specific and vital function, at which I think it succeeds extremely well: that is, Jamison's memoir does a spectacular job of demonstrating that a) severe mental illness can and does affect intelligent, high-functioning people who periodically struggle with symptoms but are able to manage their illness and live full, meaningful lives; and (more uniquely and importantly, I think) b)

    does an AMAZING job of demonstrating how powerful one's lack of true insight into one's mental illness can be. Jamison is a

    , and it's just incredible to hear her describe how her vast stores of knowledge about psychiatric symptoms, and about her own illness, were useless against her mind's conviction that she's fine, and not symptomatic, and doesn't need medication. It's just such a great illustration of how intelligence and knowledge aren't assets at all -- and might even be liabilities -- when it comes to understanding and accepting one's own psychiatric disorder.

    As a social worker, I work with people who are diagnosed with severe mental illness -- mostly schizophrenia, but also many with severe bipolar disorder. The vast majority of my clients have little in common with the relatively wealthy, privileged Jamison aside from a diagnosis, and I doubt most would relate much to her story, but on occasion I try to force one of them to read this book.

    is good medicine for literate, intelligent people who would be successful in maintaining jobs and relationships if they could manage their symptoms, who fear that their diagnosis is a death sentence for their chances at a "normal life." I think Jamison does an excellent job of showing how this struggle to live with a severe mental illness plays out, and of getting across how difficult it is to accept the realities and limitations of one's disease in the interest of reclaiming the sense of self and real life that disease has jeopardized.

    Actually, a lot of the most annoying and boring parts of this book -- e.g., Jamison's emphasis on her tiresome love affairs and her tic of constantly reminding us how great she is -- are much of what I want certain of my clients to read. Being diagnosed with a psychotic disorder is terrifying and can be very dehumanizing. People are often scared that they'll never be able to have romantic relationships, that they won't be able to work, that their brains will never function properly. People in that position need reassurance that being mentally ill doesn't mean you're unattractive or stupid or doomed to become some pathetic and useless zombified shuffler. I'd recommend this book to people who could relate somewhat to the author, who need to know that they can recover from mental illness. I'm glad that Kate Jamison wrote it, because even if it's flawed as a book,

    succeeds in providing a crucial sense of the reality of that hope.

  • Meaghan

    This was overrated. I learned very little about what it's like to actually have manic-depression; Dr. Jamison preferred to write about her love life and her visits to England. She glossed over her suicide attempt and the only description of hospitalization is that of one of her patients. Also, the memoir skips back and forth in time and it's irritating. There are better books out there.

  • Belinda

    Just ran across this review of "An Unquiet Mind" that I wrote a couple of years ago (January 2009). As I go back through blog posts, Twitter feeds, book reviews, etc., it amazes me how difficult a time *I* was having... and how I was paying NO attention to that whatsoever. It was all about someone else. And really, in this book, that's how Jamison seems to think it should be.

    I just had the opportunity to re-read this book when it was offered on the Kindle, and I was surprised.

    Just ran across this review of "An Unquiet Mind" that I wrote a couple of years ago (January 2009). As I go back through blog posts, Twitter feeds, book reviews, etc., it amazes me how difficult a time *I* was having... and how I was paying NO attention to that whatsoever. It was all about someone else. And really, in this book, that's how Jamison seems to think it should be.

    I just had the opportunity to re-read this book when it was offered on the Kindle, and I was surprised. I seemed to remember it as being immensely insightful the first time I read it, but consider that that was immediately after my husband's initial bipolar 1 diagnosis. This was the first book everyone was recommending back then.

    Now, several years of living with a bipolar spouse later, I read it and think, "Meh." I have tremendous respect for Jamison as a leader in this field of study, but I can't figure out what she was going for in this memoir. It seems to have been written more FOR herself than about herself, if that makes sense--it reads as very personal and cathartic.

    Is it helpful for others, though? I'm not so sure. There are some wonderful passages in which she borrows from images in poetry and literature, and those, for me, make the book worth reading. But I don't get much of a sense of hope for those dealing with manic-depressive illness, because Jamison's resources were/are simply out of the reach of most of us.

    If my husband had access to the level of care that Jamison has enjoyed throughout her life, he'd probably be doing much better. Who WOULDN'T thrive with near-daily psychiatric attention and round-the-clock home care (which, just by the way, is provided by friends/family/lovers, most of whom happen to be practicing psychiatrists)? Heck, I'd like to get in on some of that, myself. As it is, we receive financial assistance from our physicians, to lower our co-pay, so that he can see a therapist (not an MD, but a psychologist) once a week, and even that's a burden. Then there's couples therapy, because this disease puts a mighty strain on a marriage.

    As someone in the "caretaker" role, to use Jamison's own terminology, I found the message of the memoir a bit burdensome. Yes, she shows great appreciation for her loved ones and their unflagging support. She also puts ENORMOUS weight on that support as being the key to her success. That only reads as a compliment the first few times, then it becomes a sledge-hammer of obligation and guilt.

    I don't know--I'm conflicted this time around. It's a bit of "thank you for being there," and a bit of "but for you, I'd be dead." That's a lot of pressure, gratitude or no.

  • rachel  misfiticus

    So far... about half way done...

    1 star for her vanity and pretension

    5 stars because of the taxidermic fox

    3 stars being a calculated average

    **UPDATE**

    Perhaps I have been corrupted by the reviews I read before finishing this book; however, I am still trying to wash Kay Redfield Jamison’s self-haughtiness out of my mind. I think that the first chapter and the last chapter are the only ones with any weight. Chapter one is about Jamison’s childho

    So far... about half way done...

    1 star for her vanity and pretension

    5 stars because of the taxidermic fox

    3 stars being a calculated average

    **UPDATE**

    Perhaps I have been corrupted by the reviews I read before finishing this book; however, I am still trying to wash Kay Redfield Jamison’s self-haughtiness out of my mind. I think that the first chapter and the last chapter are the only ones with any weight. Chapter one is about Jamison’s childhood and more specifically, her manic father. The second chapter is suddenly more academic and speaks about the semantics of the disease – manic depression vs. bipolar disorder – and the choice to use certain words which may be construed as offensive: madness. The rest of the book can be recycled. I chose “An Unquiet Mind” because I was hoping for a candid account of moods from someone who studies them – not an embellished CV/personal ad.

    Here is a sum up of the book:

    SWF with mood disorder seeks tall, charming, handsome man for lots of passionate lovemaking; must be compassionate, understanding, and artistic.

    I write little anecdotes revolving around my manic episodes. Aren’t I charming?

    I use lots of adjectives, such as black and bleak, to describe my depression.

    My family and friends support me and love me. My sister deals with manic depression as well, but she does not support me and she is against Lithium – she is such a bitch and I don’t talk to her anymore. Have I mentioned I am spectacular?!

    Lithium! Take it or you will die!

    Insert Byron, Edna St. Vincent Millay, William James quote. I listen to Schubert and Mozart. I like art!

    For a book that is praised for its candor, Jamison did not seem very genuine or candid. Her first marriage, for example, ended in perceivable heartbreak when she left her husband on impulse. Instead of delving into her relationships that were injured by her bipolar disorder, she glosses over them. She explains that she and her first husband are still friends – no hard feelings – and leaves it at that. But (oh!) the pages she spends on her perfect, sexualized, relationships. Jamison is redundant and self-centered.

    I wanted to like this book, but it fell so far from my expectations. I recognize that manic episodes and depressive states are not the same for everyone, but there was something dubious about Jamison’s account. I am curious about what her peers thought of her incessant self-grandiosity. I would agree that it takes courage to share such personal experiences with others, but do it right. Manic depression alienates. Jamison glorifies and romanticizes her disorder, calling it madness and relating her mania to flying around Saturn and dancing in the rain. Mania can lead to adventures and funny stories, but it also can incur humility and regret. Likewise, debilitating depression can cause one to miss out on positive opportunities.

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