An unquiet mind

by Kay R. Jamison

Paper Book, 1995




New York : A.A. Knopf, 1995.


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)

User reviews

LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
My first acquaintance with the author of this book was in an article of The Washington Post Magazine quite a few years ago. I remember reading about a woman who was suffering from manic-depression. I was horrified to find out from that article that she was also a practicing clinical psychologist. Now, many years later, I finally have had the chance to read her memoir. I am so glad that the field of psychiatry has evolved as much as it has during the intervening years and look foward to yet more progress in the treatment of what is now called bipolar disporder.

Sadly, I know of people who have successfuly ended their young lives after having suffered with this disorder. My feeling is that anything the general public can do to help these individuals is a step in the right direction. Most of all, though, it's to the credit of Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison that the public has become more aware of this genetic disorder and its implications in an individual's life.

I took from this book the need for the public to accept each person affected with bipolar disorder with warmth and understanding and reject the stigmas that have been part of this mental illness in the past. I also expect that no one should assume to understand the demons of living with bipolar disorder, although the author does a magnificent job of putting her experiences into words.

My hope is that I'll be able to use what I've learned from this book in a positive manner to help others and continue to read works by Dr. Jamison and others in an effort to expand my knowledge of this devastating illness.
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LibraryThing member Ravenclaw79
I was very disappointed by this book. I hoped to gain new insight into what it's like for someone with bipolar disorder, but this book didn't tell me anything I didn't already know just from researching on the Internet and being around the mental health community. Plus, it was almost too happy of a story -- "I had a lot of bad symptoms, but let me gloss over them, 'cause I took a pill, and hey, first pill I tried made me all better!" Maybe I'm exaggerating a tiny bit, but seriously, it seemed so easy for her, just take one pill and it all becomes much better and totally manageable. I know for a fact that for a lot of people with bipolar disorder (and any other mental illness, in fact), it's not that simple -- it takes a lot of tinkering, trying one pill after another, first this combination of medications, then that one, dosage up, dosage down, awful side effects, hey, let's try this one now instead, and you still might not be much better. By not mentioning that fact in her book, the author grossly oversimplifies the treatment of mental illnesses and how difficult of a process it can be.… (more)
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
This is an extremely well written memoir of a person who suffers from bipolar disorder. Not just a person, but a professor of psychiatry.

Jamison is an amazing person in many ways, and that is perhaps the books most glaring weakness. Most people who suffer from bipolar disorder don't have her intellect, talents or resources.

Still this is a good book to help someone understand the basic ins and outs of bipolar disorder. I recommend to spouses of people recently diagnosed as bipolar. It gives them some understanding, but also some hope that they can have something of a normal life (whatever THAT is.)

Even if you are not interested in mental health, the book is entertaining and extremely well written.
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LibraryThing member meggyweg
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member ratastrophe
As someone with bipolar disorder (or manic depressive disorder, if you prefer), I know this kind of subject matter well. Reading the author's unfolding story had me doing a lot of "yep, been there and done that" but also a lot of "wow, I'm glad that didn't happen to me" and "huh, I wonder why THIS didn't happen to her even though it happened to me so many times".

I expected all of that. People with bipolar disorder stop at a lot of the same way stations but travel between them in a huge array of styles.

What I didn't expect was for this book to be so triggering for me, primarily in the explanation of how hard it is to stay on medication. While reading those parts, I found myself longing for the person that *I* was without medication. This is a struggle that it seems like nobody really escapes (at least nobody that I've known), and the fact that I felt it so keenly while reading this book makes me suspect that the author does a good job of conveying how hard it can be to stay medicated - even when you know intellectually that it's saving your life.

Would somebody 'normal' find this as good of a read as I did? No clue... but I'm probably as close to 'normal' as I'll ever get and I liked it. :)
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LibraryThing member marshapetry
A fairly quick overview of one person's unquiet mind. Doesn't get into depth about mental illness - this is more of a history lesson of Kay's life. Leaves a LOT of questions unanswered and I guess that is the author's prerogative but it didn't help the book. It *is* interesting and Kay is a fine narrator but left me wanting a whole lot more about some areas in her life... (and, conversely, was way too much info about her love life and boyfriends. It's nice that she's found some good men but the spiels about how great so-n-so was and how brilliant and witty etc... just wasn't that interesting. Would have loved to hear more about the unquiet illness than how good some guy was at cooking or cleaning or talking...… (more)
LibraryThing member joannajuki
For Kay Jamison, madness was a lightning bolt. But it doesn't usually strike like that. There was a great vacuum in this book at the psychotherapeutic level.
LibraryThing member tealightful
I had a very hard time with this book. It was a mix between a very dry birth of clinical mental health studies and a very vague, pretentious personal story.

The first few chapters were very promising, I felt there was passion infused in the pages as she spoke about her father, her military upbringing, her mother..her general early life. But as the story continued forward, it became more disjointed, dried out and read as if she used a thesaurus on every word humanly possible. It was overkill.

I admire Ms. Jamison for the strong, obviously intelligent psychologist that she is and for the great studies and growth she has brought to her field. On a personal level, I do not feel that her story was as honest and clear as it could've been. I didn't connect with her struggle, as it wasn't descriptive or deep.

It reads more as a clinical study and I would recommend this book only to those studying the field; not to the typical memoir lover.
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LibraryThing member SmithSJ01
This memoir is compelling reading. I have found it to be frank and honest as well as informative. I had a friend, sadly no longer with us, who was manic depressive and I found reading this a way of understanding who he was.

Kay Jamison writes about her life from seventeen - when she had her first attack of manic depression - through to her life now as an adult over twenty years later. It is an extremely well written account and whilst it is factual and often distressing to read I actually enjoyed it. It shows not only her courage but her determination to succeed at life with an illness that almost killed her.

I couldn't actually put this book down and read it in the course of one day, over a series of sittings. This book must be of help for people who don't know how to deal with their own turmoil at the hands of this illness and likewise for those whose lives are affected by it. It doesn't have a text book feel about it but nor does it feel lightweight.

I can't recommend this book enough!
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Interesting. Surprisingly quiet, ironically, as there's no dialogue - it's just a this happened and this is how I felt about and then I made this choice and then that happened" for 200 pp. No bibliography or notes, virtually no outside perspective.

I found it amazing that Jamison had so much support, so much love, and still fought not to take her meds. A reader is made to realize that it's not surprising that so many people effectively resist treatment, because they really do feel best when manic, as they don't have the support she did to help them feel better at other times. And she makes it abundantly clear that it's meds psychotherapy that is necessary and best for most sufferers.

I found it disturbing that she feels that her low moods are comparable to being old. Granted, I am less passionate as I age, and less athletic, but I wouldn't have to be. Even the very infirm might very well feel ecstasies - and young, healthy people get clinically, chronically depressed, too. I want to know how she views the comparison that she made here, now that she herself is older.

Overall, well-written, and valuable, especially as an advocacy to convince people to get good help and to follow through with prescribed treatment plans. But not the first book I'd recommend to people looking for help."
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LibraryThing member allison.sivak
It's both a relief and a worry to hear about how long in your life you can go successfully hiding and self-managing your mental illness. Really nicely written.
LibraryThing member bogopea
"Invaluable memoir of manic depression, deeply human and beautifully written" by a psychiatrist who is both "healer" and healed". Eye-opening into early uses of lithium as well as doses. Gives us her inside feelings when manic and when depressed. If one has same/similar issues, important read.
LibraryThing member lloannna
Pretty good stuff, but the personal details were a little excessive. It's one thing to hear "I self-medicated using sex" and it's another to hear it twenty times with rather more detail than necessary. The author didn't do the best of jobs separating out the uniqueness of her experience from what bipolar disorder is generally like at times.… (more)
LibraryThing member commonwealth
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison (1996)
LibraryThing member jcopenha
An interesting short read. Having never been around anyone with a mental ilness it was helpful to get an idea of what manic-depression is really like.
LibraryThing member steadfastreader
Clinical, yet easy enough for the layman to understand. Goes through both the experiences of the trained and obviously very intelligent psychatrist(logist? Can't remember) who is dealing with bi-polar, otherwise known as manic-depressive disorder. Fascinating, but I think it might be especially helpful for individuals with the disorder, or people who have family members with the disorder, as in my case. A great read.… (more)
LibraryThing member RCPsychLibrary
a popular book re bipolar. Julie Evans Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.
LibraryThing member campingmomma
I really enjoyed this book and recommend this read for anyone suffering from bipolar or mental illness in general. Because I typically suffer from depression and low grade mania's her success seemed like a load of crap as did her romantic love life; I have to agree with Arctic-stranger on this one, I don't think her success and unbelievably supportive romances are typical for most who suffer with this illness.

The book however, minus her personal life, was a very adequate description of what a manic-depressive goes through. I only wish families and friends who have relationships with people who suffer with this illness can read this book and relate to it the way a manic-depressive does. It's all right there, they just can't see it because they don't experience it . It really is all in your head and if it's not even the most educated phychiatrist can never really relate. That is how I know it was real for her.
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LibraryThing member Desirichter
Psychiatrist Kay Jamison details the mind of a manic/depressive patient from the concurrent lenses of patient and practitioner. Informative, compassionate, insightful. How to translate this book to the classroom? Biology, pharmacology? I would love to have highschool students be able to pinpoint the pathology and possibly the pharmacological mechanism of lithium.

This book simultaneously humanizes and medicalizes bipolar disorder, and in my opinion needed to be written in order to keep destigmatizing mental illness
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LibraryThing member coffeesucker
Fascinating and engrossing!
LibraryThing member ap60453
An Unquite Mind is one of the premiere illustrations of the life of an individual gripped in manic depression. Kay Redfield Jamison, a top psyciatric researcher and patient, puts forward a powerful account of her struggle to control her affliction while rising to the top of her field. A must-read for patients, family and public policy makers.… (more)
LibraryThing member Annannean
I took the grace of reading this book without reading any reviews on it to prevent bias. I fucking hated it anyways.

I felt the presence of men all over the book. Kay rarely mentioned women and the only ones who showed up were her mother and older sister. It was overly suffocating and I felt condescended to when Kay mentioned her achievements and the oppression she felt when her mental illness prevented her from accomplishing what her WASP/Ivy status allowed her to do.

Her writing was good but it was not enough to distract me from her abysmal egocentricity about her sex life, her list of lovers, and all those men who were her friends. I don't understand why she doesn't talk about any female friends...maybe she doesn't have any? I understand that's reasonable since to each their own but I'm still baffled.

There was so much centralization on SEX and MEN. what the actual fuck
Like if I wanted to read about romance, I would've searched out a love story! (and I love romance, by the way; it adds a lot of fun to an otherwise tragic book that takes itself too seriously with its sad, gory, and fantastical elements)

Sorry, I read this book expecting a book on mood disorder and that's what it was marketed as but I now want my money back. I didn't EVEN BUY THE DAMN BOOK. never mind I actually want my time back. This book wasted my time and it wasn't even about how unlikable Kay was. I'm sick and tired of this book, it's only 228 pages and it's saturated with achievements, her rise to prestigious job positions, and the amount of support she received from men. Okay, yeah, you garnered a lot of attention from men and you also have a lot of handsome friends.

Your two best friends in high school were handsome, sardonic and super popular GUYS in high school. Thanks for describing that, did it contribute to your story, influence your illness or even impact your life?!!! Because you briefly drop them and then talk about other guys you meet in college, husbands (yes, husbandS), and turbulent love affairs.

Keep in mind I have a 8-page paper due in a few hours and all of it to be written by referring to this book. And yet, wa-la! I am writing about how much cock and bull I read wastefully. And surprisingly, I wrote so much and infinitely quickly on my subjective review of this book than my actual assignment essay!

A lot of the aforementioned male friends and people who supported you need not be included because Kay did not show their long-term support. She would talk about them for a few pages and then it would all revert back to her. They are then dropped and I never hear about them again (except for maybe the psychiatrist and her family). Nearly every men she comes into contact with was always first and foremost described physically and usually as devastatingly handsome and/or charming.

Her self-centeredness and grandiosity is beyond belief.
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LibraryThing member jesskahlow
I read this book to better understand the complexities of mania and depression and to learn more about it from the perspective of not only someone with the disease, but from someone who is also a professional and academic in the field. Perhaps what I find most compelling about this book is the openness through which she discusses the topics of bipolar, mental illness, and suicide. These topics are still considered socially taboo, and she does a great job of bringing to light why they’re so important to talk about (with friends and family, as well as in academia).
However, I unfortunately think her case is truly extraordinary. I was surprised by how supportive virtually everyone she encountered was of her and of her illness. Then again, she was surrounded by incredibly well-informed individuals (and some of the best researchers and practitioners in the field). Not everyone with bipolar has a such a strong support system or has the luxury of being surrounded by people who know and understand the disease, which is also part of the problem. Further, it doesn’t even begin to describe to the socioeconomic problems faced by lower or middle-class individuals who have the disease. It can be hard for people with this disease to hold a job (or even get a job), which can seriously limit their access to healthcare. People less fortunate than her often end up institutionalized in one form or another, and lack access to healthcare and other resources they need to function.
I think this book does a great job of explaining the highs and lows of bipolar and how it truly affects all aspects of life. It answers many of the ongoing questions friends and family of people with bipolar have: how and why bipolar is a disease and should be treated as such, how even the most intelligent people can become suicidal, and why people with bipolar so often stop and then resume taking medication (and the often-horrible side effects of such medication). Overall, it’s a very insightful book that gives interesting, thought-provoking insights into bipolar illness.
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LibraryThing member MH_at_home
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison is an intimate look into the havoc that bipolar disorder can wreak. The book captures her journey with bipolar disorder, from its emergence in her late teens to the effects it has had on her accomplished career as a clinical psychologist and university professor.

The book contains rich descriptions, and is searingly honest with no attempt to gloss over the messy and downright ugly bits of mental illness. The author is extremely insightful, and does an excellent job of capturing in words what mental illness feels like. She described the “particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness… You are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and totally enmeshed in the blackest caves of the mind.”

Many of the challenges Jamison has faced will sound very familiar to anyone living with a mood disorder. She is very open about her struggle to accept her diagnosis and the attached stigma. Even once she did recognize that she was struggling with her mental health, fear and shame initially stopped her from seeking treatment. It took a long time for her to accept that she needed to remain on medication, and there were multiple occasions when she stopped her meds and then experienced a relapse of mania. There were several factors that played into her reluctance to take medication, including a wish not to be brought down from the highs of mania. She thought of medications as something that “might be indicated for psychiatric patients, for those of weaker stock, but not for us”. She was placed on high doses of lithium, which caused considerable side effects including nausea and impaired coordination, and at times she ended up with toxic blood levels.

Her work as a psychologist impacted how she experienced and managed her illness and its treatment. When she first met with a psychiatrist, “the questions were familiar, I had asked them of others a hundred times, but I found it unnerving to have to answer them, unnerving not to know where it was all going, and unnerving not to realize how confusing it was to be a patient.”

When she was highly depressed, her psychiatrist tried to persuade her to go to hospital, but she refused. The idea terrified her and she didn’t want to have to “put up with all of the indignities and invasions of privacy that go into being on a psychiatric ward”. She also worried that if it became known she’d been hospitalized “my clinical work and privileges at best would be suspended; at worst, they would be revoked on a permanent basis.” This resonated strongly with me, as I have similar fears about the loss of my nursing license if I were to be hospitalized again.

As Jamison was recovering from a long period of suicidal depression, she began a romantic relationship with a man. He asked her to come to stay with him in London, and she states that although she was “still recovering… and my thoughts were so halting and my feelings so gray I could scarcely bear it I somehow knew that things would be made better by being with him. They were. Immeasurably.” Love helped her replace the awfulness of illness with beauty and vitality, which I found this interesting, as in the past love has made a big difference in my own recovery,

She writes about the issue of language choices when it comes to mental illness. She prefers the term manic-depressive illness to bipolar disorder, as she finds it more accurate. She also questioned whether in the end destigmatization can possibly come from simple language changes, or whether it will instead come from things like public education and improvements in diagnosis and treatment. She touches on stigma within the health professions, giving the example of one doctor who told her she shouldn’t have children due to her illness. She warns that stigma may prevent clinicians with mental illness from seeking treatment because of concerns about their professional license or privileges. She has been careful to create a safety net of colleagues who are aware of her illness and who will step in to keep her from practice should her mental health start to deteriorate. This reminds me of the safety net I had in place several years ago when I was getting outpatient ECT. I knew from past experience that ECT adversely affected my memory and I was often unaware of the full extent of this impairment, so I had spoken to each of the physicians I worked with and asked them to let me know if I was slipping in my management of our shared patients so that I would know if I needed to take time off.

I found the conclusion of the book very powerful. The author stated that as a result of her illness, “I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; loved more, and been more loved; laughed more often for having cried more often; appreciated more the springs, for all the winters; worn death ‘as close as dungarees’, appreciated it–and life–more; seen the finest and the most terrible in people, and slowly learned the values of caring, loyalty, and seeing things through.” It’s a good reminder to all of us that as dark as mental illness can be, it does not entirely shut out the light. I would definitely recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member ravlibrary
In An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison changed the way we think about moods and madness.

Dr. Jamison is one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness; she has also experienced it firsthand. For even while she was pursuing her career in academic medicine, Jamison found herself succumbing to the same exhilarating highs and catastrophic depressions that afflicted many of her patients, as her disorder launched her into ruinous spending sprees, episodes of violence, and an attempted suicide.

Here Jamison examines bipolar illness from the dual perspectives of the healer and the healed, revealing both its terrors and the cruel allure that at times prompted her to resist taking medication. An Unquiet Mind is a memoir of enormous candor, vividness, and wisdom—a deeply powerful book that has both transformed and saved lives.
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