An Unquiet Mind

In an effort to get back into reading again, I got a library card and checked out Kay Redfield Jamison’s “An Unquiet Mind”, which I’ve wanted to read for years. Dr. Jamison is a well-known bipolar expert who happens to suffer from a particularly nasty version of BP 1, making her writing that much more credible given her lived experience with the disorder.

It took me a full week, reading in fits and starts according to my attention span, but I made it through this fascinating story of manic-depressive illness (she doesn’t like the term ‘bipolar’). The only problem is that it’s made me question my own diagnosis: how could I be in the same category with someone who’s gone through psychotic manias so severe that she became violent, needing hospitalization and sometimes even physical restraints?

OK, I’ve had episodes where I was verbally abusive and thrown things. I even punched a refrigerator once. I’ve also had touches of psychosis (ever heard music that isn’t playing or cats running around the ER? I have). But I can’t imagine going through the kind of hell Dr. Jamison has…..and yet we carry the same label.

I’ve researched this topic in the DSM and found that bipolar 1 has a number of specifiers (e.g. ” with mixed features” and “most recent episode depressed”. But there are no different levels of severity within the category, and I wonder why there aren’t. I don’t think my manias are as serious as those of some other members of my cohort. But then, several psychiatrists (including my own) have agreed on my diagnosis, so I may as well stop trying to wiggle my way out of it.

Anyway, I found Dr. Jamison’s story compelling and utterly believable, because even despite the advantages of wealth and privilege, she has suffered the tortures of the damned that make all bipolars kin. I recommend this book for anyone with bipolar of any variety, as well as those who love someone who has the disease.

And yeah, I’m proud of myself for reading an entire book, as brief as it was. It was the first one I’ve read since 2011. Now it’s on to a book of Stephen King short stories!

Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

20 thoughts on “An Unquiet Mind

    1. Maybe it’s because she has so many advantages over us mere mortals who don’t have access to the best and newest of everything? I know I thought that at first, but then she’s had so many brutal BP episodes and they are the great equalizer IMHO.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison and Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin wrote Manic Depressive Illness, Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression. I have the second edition with over a thousand pages. Years ago a Dr. Klein wrote that there were six different kinds of bipolar. Can’t remember his first name. Never could read my way out of this illness. lol

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  2. I love this book. I don’t have bipolar disorder, but I actually have this quote from it written down because I so related to it….”I had developed mechanisms of self-control, to keep down the peals of singularly inappropriate laughter, and set rigid limits on my irritability. I avoided situations that might otherwise trip or jangle my hypersensitive wiring, and I learned to pretend I was paying attention or following a logical point when my mind was off chasing rabbits in a thousand directions.”

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  3. I’ve only recently been diagnosed with depression, and there are whole days when I feel well enuf to doubt that I have a problem at all, especially compared to others I know with more severe depression. But then I’ll have an especially dark day (or days) when some very bad solutions suggest themselves as reasonable, and I know that this stuff manifests itself in many, many ways. We each have our own.

    I’ve read some of Jamison’s stuff, and I like it, but like you, I’ve been having a hard time concentrating long enuf to reach more than snatches.

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  4. “An Unquiet Mind,” was practically required reading in my graduate program in New York. I’m a playwright and attend the Actor’s Studio Drama School at The School University.

    Many artists suffer from this. I was very lucky to be living in New York when my “disorder” got to a point where it interfered with my daily life. I was lucky to have been recommended to Dr. Ulla Laakso in NYC. She does not like to use labels at all because this condition is as different a the people who have it. She diagnosed me with a mood disorder with the main cause being a long term sleep disorder I did not realize I had. I thought it was normal to wake-up 4 or 5 times a night and the bouts of insomnia I experienced as early as 10 were normal. Dr. Laakso assure me it was not normal. She started out treating me with medication, but eventually I was able to go with out it. The condition would have gotten steadily worse as I got older if I had not sought help when I did.

    Many artists suffer and go untreated because they are afraid treatment will take away their creativity. I once believed it. It is a silly idea when I look back on it. I missed out on a lot of opportunities because of the disorder and it wasn’t necessary. If I had sought treatment sooner–but that is water under the bridge.

    Reading, “An Unquiet Mind,” was what made me seek treatment. I knew I did not have the disorder to the same degree, but something was wrong. A few of things she talked about, like when described a switch being flipped, resonated with me. I am so grateful I got to the bottom of my issues and encourage other artists to stop using their art as an excuse and seek treatment or at least find out what is wrong. I still have my copy of the book on my shelf.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s true that a lot of us “creative” folks fear that we’ll lose that artistic edge, but it’s when our disorder is under control that we usually do our best work. At least that’s been my experience. πŸ™‚


  5. We have to remember that no two people are alike. If we try to compare our illness to another person’s, we will be unfair to both ourselves and the other individual. There will be similarities that perhaps exist, but the dynamics will always be specific to each individual.

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  6. I thought the book was fair. I have BP II so I couldn’t relate to a lot of the extreme mania she went through. Also she didn’t expand on the depressive part of her illness which was kind of disappointing. She did talk A LOT about her experience with lithium, so if you take that drug you will definitely relate. I found her travel and love life stories to be rather drawn out and self-absorbing. Overall, I wasn’t a fan of her or the book, but only because our backgrounds and personalities are so different that I couldn’t relate to her even though we have the same disorder. Goes to show you that we truly are NOT are illness. We are all unique and shouldn’t be label as the same based on our diagnosis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your analysis of the book. I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t relate to Dr. Jamison because she came from wealth and has a lot of education. She does spend a lot of time reflecting on her love life, which I could’ve done without. But overall, I thought the book was good and now I want to read her other ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great to read the comments here. I’ve been trying to get into blogging for a while but didn’t want to talk openly about depression. Only recently have I realised that I can derive so much strength from talking about my experiences. Writing makes me feel so much better and I think is a means of turning this awful illness into something positive. Turning a weakness into a strength and in doing so taking control back.

    Liked by 1 person

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