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An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (1995)

by Kay Redfield Jamison

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,600532,735 (3.94)74
From Kay Redfield Jamison - an international authority on manic-depressive illness, and one of the few women who are full professors of medicine at American universities - a remarkable personal testimony: the revelation of her own struggle since adolescence with manic-depression, and how it has shaped her life. Vividly, directly, with candor, wit, and simplicity, she takes us into the fascinating and dangerous territory of this form of madness - a world in which one pole can be the alluring dark land ruled by what Byron called the "melancholy star of the imagination," and the other a desert of depression and, all too frequently, death. A moving and exhilarating memoir by a woman whose furious determination to learn the enemy, to use her gifts of intellect to make a difference, led her to become, by the time she was forty, a world authority on manic-depression, and whose work has helped save countless lives.… (more)
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English (52)  German (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
"An Unquiet Mind" is an important, honest, and interesting book, but I'm not sure it's an entirely successful book. The author presents a kind of psychological autobiography here, tracing the development of her manic-depressive disorder and her continual struggle to keep it under control, even as she builds an impressive career as a psychiatrist, academic, and researcher. She doesn't have it easy, and she loses her way a number of times. Jamison's startlingly forthright descriptions of her deep depressions, her reckless behavior, and occasionally, her cruelty to others, hold nothing back. Neither do her descriptions of her manic states, in which she describes visions in which she literally felt herself sail through the solar system. Jamison's descriptions of what it feels like to experience manic high or a depressive low are astonishingly vivid, and particularly valuable to anyone who wants to understand what manic depression actually feels like. The flip side of these sections, appropriately enough, is Jamison's passionate advocacy for both talk therapy and medication. You could almost call "An Unquiet Mind" a sort of love letter to lithium, even as Jamison tells us that manic depressives -- herself included -- are often tempted to stop taking their medication. Jamison is somebody who's experienced mental health care from just about every perspective imaginable, and the depth of her expertise is certainly in evidence here.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book isn't quite as effective. Jamison demonstrates real insight when she describes the sheltered, straight-laced military environment she grew up in, but other parts of the book -- particularly those that describe the time she spent studying and teaching in Britain, dive headlong into cliché. There are a few too many picturesque fogs and nights in cozy pubs in these sections for my taste. And, as other reviewers have mentioned, Jamison takes pains to stress how her friends have family have provided invaluable help to her in her darkest moments, but sometimes I found myself that she'd do more showing, and less telling. "An Unquiet Mind" is, in some ways, very well written, but sometimes it feels a bit overworked. While Jamison's focus on moods and emotions is laudable, the prose doesn't really breathe. Perhaps it doesn't help that while Jamison is obviously astonishingly talented and driven, these same qualities made it a bit difficult for me to relate to her. Of course, this isn't to say that I don't admire her, or even that I didn't find things to like about "An Unquiet Mind." But I'm not sure this one really worked for me. But this one's received real raves from other users, so maybe that's just me. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Sep 10, 2021 |


This book hit me really close to home. I learned so much and could not put it down. ( )
  Tosta | Jul 5, 2021 |
The biggest thing that struck me after reading this was not Jamison's brave admittal of her battles with manic depression, but of the availability of the unconditional love and support that she received from her close friends and family - which marks the importance for advocation and education to fight against the appalling stigma of mental illness in society.

Not many people have access to support and care, not even from their close friends and family themselves. If anything, it tempers the argument for education as essential routes for understanding and compassion. ( )
  georgeybataille | Jun 1, 2021 |
"I am tired of hiding, tired of misspent and knotted energies, tired of the hypocrisy, and tired of acting as though I have something to hide. One is what one is, and the dishonesty of hiding behind a degree, or a title, or any manner and collection of words, is still exactly that: dishonest."

Unmatched. Kay Redfield Jamison wrote this memoir in the 1990s, about her experiences with mental illness. She studies mood disorders at Johns Hopkins, and realized while studying Bipolar disorder that she herself had manic-depressive symptoms. The fact that she simultaneously has both an academic and a personal understanding of the condition allows her to articulate the experience in a way that is, as I said, unmatched.

Finding good representation of mental illness in any sense is frustratingly difficult. Lately I've been trying to find ways to articulate my own experiences, and I don't know how in the world I can copy what Dr. Jamison did in this book but I want to find out. This is not only an exemplary piece of writing, it is a beacon to any neuro-typical readers that want to see what it's like.

My experience, or the experience of anybody with any mental health problems, does not need to be exactly like Dr. Jamison's in order for this book to be meaningful. It's mere existence, let alone it's success, let alone it's actual content and style, is all so overwhelmingly excellent. To hear depression described as the feeling of being "dull, boring, inadequate, thick brained, unlit, unresponsive, chill skinned, bloodless, and sparrow drab" is energizing in it's honesty. Mental disorders, especially those of the depressive sort, are so inherently isolating. It takes an excellent writer to convey the feeling that those who struggle with these things are not alone.

The book also easily grapples with the complex struggles of medication, self-doubt, and maintaining healthy connections with other people. It explores the fears of hospitalization, and the reason why so many suicide attempts "fail", and why we consider these attempts "failures" (we shouldn't).

All in all, fantastic book.

"He taught me that the road from suicide to life is cold and colder and colder still, but- with steely effort, the grace of God, and an inevitable break in the weather- that I could make it."

I know the quotes are getting out of hand, but I'm going to close with pretty much the entire epilogue because it's very important:

"I have often asked myself whether, given the choice, I would choose to have manic-depressive illness. If [medicine] were not available to me, or didn't work for me, the answer would be a simple no- and it would be an answer laced with terror. But [it does, so]... I would choose to have it. It's complicated. Depression is awful beyond words or sounds or images; I would not go through an extended one again. It bleeds relationships.... there is nothing good to be said for it except that it gives you the experience of how it must be to be old, to be old and sick, to be dying...

Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome... So why would I want anything to do with this illness? Because I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply... worn death "as close as dungarees", appreciated it-and life- more...

Depressed, I have crawled on my hands and knees in order to get across a room and have done it for month after month. But, normal or manic, I have run faster, thought faster, and loved faster than most I know... The countless hypomanias, and mania itself, all have brought into my life a different level of sensing and feeling and thinking. Even when I have been most psychotic- delusional, hallucinating, frenzied- I have been aware of finding new corners in my mind and heart. Some of thee corners were incredible and beautiful and took my breath away and made me feel as though I could die right then and the images would sustain me. Some of them were grotesque and ugly and I never wanted to know they were there or to see them again. 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." ( )
  MaxAndBradley | May 27, 2020 |
An Unquiet Mind is a gripping account but Jamison's prose leaves a lot to be desired in terms of beauty or eloquence. Much of how she writes about her illness feels superficially descriptive and while there are some asides that are more moving it felt like a book that didn't want to ask too much of the reader with respect to really being dropped into her manic-depression.
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
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Epigraph
I doubt sometimes whether
a quiet & unagitated life
would have suited me—yet I
sometimes long for it.
—Byron
Dedication
For my mother,
Dell Temple Jamison
 
Who gave me life not
once, but countless times
First words
Prologue
When it's two o'clock in the morning, and you're manic, even the UCLA Medical Center has a certain appeal.
I was standing with my head back, one pigtail caught between my teeth, listening to the jet overhead.
Quotations
"Moods are such an essential part of the substance of life, of one's notion of oneself, that even psychotic extremes in mood and behavior can somehow be seen as temporary, even understandable, reactions to what life has dealt."
"It took me far too long to realize that lost years and relationships cannot be recovered, that damage done to oneself and others cannot always be put right again, and that freedom from the control imposed by medication loses its meaning when the only alternatives are death and insanity."
"If we got rid of all the manic-depressives on the medical school faculty, not only would we have a much smaller faculty, it would also be a far more boring one." (chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital)
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From Kay Redfield Jamison - an international authority on manic-depressive illness, and one of the few women who are full professors of medicine at American universities - a remarkable personal testimony: the revelation of her own struggle since adolescence with manic-depression, and how it has shaped her life. Vividly, directly, with candor, wit, and simplicity, she takes us into the fascinating and dangerous territory of this form of madness - a world in which one pole can be the alluring dark land ruled by what Byron called the "melancholy star of the imagination," and the other a desert of depression and, all too frequently, death. A moving and exhilarating memoir by a woman whose furious determination to learn the enemy, to use her gifts of intellect to make a difference, led her to become, by the time she was forty, a world authority on manic-depression, and whose work has helped save countless lives.

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In her memoir, Unquiet Mind, Jamison tells of her battle with the illness: the joy of the manic highs, which gave her an omnipotent feeling of cosmic connectedness, and the terrifying depressions, when she wanted only to die. An Unquiet Mind tells of how Jamison used her zeal and intensity, and her impressive intellectual gfts, to bring the complexities of manic-depressive illness to the world's attention. Her work has helped save countless lives.
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