Photo by Camilla Quintero, Unspalsh.
Photo by Camilla Quintero, Unspalsh.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is a highly successful clinical psychologist who has taught and written extensively on bipolar and other mood disorders. She has concentrated her work on depression and mania and received numerous awards and honorary degrees.

Her memoir, “An Unquiet Mind,” focuses on a different role: that of patient. Jamison provides an inside look at a mental health professional struggling with her own mental illness, bipolar disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes fluctuations in mood, energy, activity, and concentration or focus. Individuals with bipolar disorder can experience episodes of:

•  Depression (feelings of sadness, lack of interest, feeling slowed down, difficulty making decisions, sleep disruptions and other symptoms), and;

•  Mania (feeling very high/elated or extremely irritable or touchy; feeling wired/jumpy; increased spending, food, drinking, or sexual desire; decreased need for sleep; feeling important, talented, or powerful).

“An Unquiet Mind” doesn’t read like a freshman psychology text. It’s personal, self-deprecating and honest. During manic episodes, “ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars.” Jamison felt productive, seductive and “effervescent.” She was euphoric and enjoyed being the life of the party. But mania had a darker side, leading to irritability, anger, and confusion. Mania-induced spending sprees lead to crippling financial debts. Jamison ruefully notes: “(M)oney spent while manic doesn’t fit into the Internal Revenue Service concept of medical expense or business loss. So after mania, when most depressed, you’re given excellent reason to be even more so.”

Her depression was exhausting, debilitating and isolating. She wrote, “filling the ice-cube tray was beyond my capacity,” and she sometimes slept in the same clothes she wore during the day because she was too exhausted to change. Bipolar disorder nearly led to her death due to a nearly fatal suicide attempt.

Ultimately, Jamison’s story is one of vulnerability. She candidly shares her fear about her professional colleagues’ response and anxiety that revealing her diagnosis would result in her losing her hospital privileges. Each time she shared her diagnosis with someone in her life (professional or personal), it was hard not to hold your breath for the response. And yet, she benefited from the support of the community she allowed into her world. Those individuals became the network of those who encouraged her, sheltered her from the worst parts of the storms, and kept her honest.

In sharing her struggle, she modeled that vulnerability and courage for us all in this book. And that’s the true beauty of “An Unquiet Mind.” 

Joanmarie M. Dowling, Esq. is a member of the Diocesan Mental Health Committee. She is an attorney with Dowling Law, PLLC.