An Unquiet Mind

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness; she has also experienced it firsthand.

Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

Kay Redfield Jamison provides a personal history of her life living with bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness and manic depression) by giving a powerful phenomenological description of the condition. Raised in a military family with a history of mental illness, her first experience with tumultuous moods occurred during her teenage years. These experiences escalated and by the time she was in the mid-twenties, manic depression had taken ahold of her life. This memoir traces the dizzying upward spirals and the crushing downward crashes that characterize manic-depressive illness. In the end, Jamison finds solace through a combination of therapy, lithium, and love. The events in Jamison’s life flow into her understanding of the illness, just as the illness has shaped her life. Her writing is clear and beautiful and her descriptions are on point. The cycle of moods she articulates are furiously alive. She eloquently describes the exhilaration and despair that are part of manic depression:

I now move more easily with the fluctuating tides of energy, ideas, and enthusiasm that I remain so subject to … My high moods and hopes having ridden briefly to the top car of the Ferris wheel will, as suddenly as they came, plummet into a black and gray and tired heap….then at some unknown time, the electrifying carnival will come back into my mind. (p. 213)

Jamison does not limit her accounts to the sharp opposing poles of mania or depression. She explores the complexity of this disease that to many is indescribable. For example, she address psychosis and mixed-states, where mania and depression coexist at the same time honesty and accuracy.

Jamison’s memoir is one of the most brilliant and brutally honest books I have ever read on bipolar disorder. Nothing I have read has fully captured the anguish and invigoration of this strange illness. This is a book that I would highly recommend to both those suffering with bipolar disorder and those on the outside of the illness.