In an "invaluable memoir of manic depression, at once medically knowledgeable, deeply human, and beautifully written" (The New York Times Book Review), Kay Redfield Jamison offers a story with a dual perspective: from that of healer and healed. Powerfully candid, exceptionally wise, An Unquiet Mind is one of those rare book that has the power to transform lives--and even save them
As a founder of UCLA''s Affective Disorder Clinic and a co-author
of a standard medical text, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison may be the
foremost authority on manic-depressive illness. She is also one of
its survivors. And it is this dual perspective -- as healer and
healed -- that makes Jamison''s memoir so lucid, learned, and
Even as she was pursuing her psychiatric training, Jamison found
herself succumbing to the exhilarating highs and paralyzing lows
that afflicted many of her patients. Though the disorder brought
her seemingly boundless energy and mercurial creativity, it also
propelled her into spending sprees, episodes of violence, and an
attempt at suicide.
Powerfully candid, exceptionally wise, An Unquiet Mind is one of
those rare books that has the power to transform lives -- and even
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow
are designed to enhance your reading of Kay Redfield Jamison''s
An Unquiet Mind
. We hope they will expand your
understanding of this extraordinary and disturbing story of a
singularly courageous woman.
1. "The long and important years of childhood and early
adolescence...were to be an extremely powerful amulet, a potent and
positive countervailing force against future unhappiness"[p. 15].
What aspects of Jamison''s early life and upbringing helped to
provide her with emotional support on which to draw years
2. What benefits did the conservative military lifestyle led by
the Jamisons confer upon the young Kay Jamison? With what
disadvantages did that same culture, with its stiff-upper-lip
creed, afflict her in her battle with mental illness?
3. In graduate school, Jamison writes, "Despite the fact that we
were being taught how to make clinical diagnoses, I still did not
make any connection in my own mind between the problems I had
experienced and what was described as manic-depressive illness in
the textbooks"[p. 58]. Why did she refuse to acknowledge the
obvious? Why didn''t she question the "rigid, irrelevant notions of
self-reliance"[p. 101] she had been taught?
4. "Being open is the sort of thing that I advise people to
think very long and hard about,"Jamison has stated. "It''s one
thing if you''re independently wealthy. It''s another thing if
you''re out in the real world"(Washington Post
Magazine, 4/16/95). Why did Jamison avoid bringing her
illness into the open for so many years, and what made her finally
decide to do so?
5. Jamison worries that we could "risk making the world a
blander, more homogenized place if we get rid of the genes for
manic-depressive illness"[p. 194]. On the other hand, E. Fuller
Torrey, a well-known author and schizophrenia researcher, says he
"would quite happily lose a van Gogh to treat the
disease"(Washington Post Magazine, 4/16/95). Which
point of view do you endorse? Can you sympathize with both sides of
6. With her book Touched with Fire and her
public television specials on artists like Byron, van Gogh and
Schumann, Jamison has been accused by some of her colleagues of
romanticizing manic-depressive illness by associating it with
creative genius. Does this accusation seem reasonable or
unreasonable to you?
7. "Lithium moderates the illness,"Jamison observes, "but
therapy teaches you to live with it"(Time,
9/11/95). Has she convinced you that drugs plus psychotherapy is
the answer for mental illness? In that case, might not
psychotherapy benefit people suffering from any debilitating
illness, not just a mental one?
8. Some physicians wonder whether the increased use of
mood-regulating medications might lead to a society-wide practice
of chemically altering personality, with the result of making
people blander and more conformist (the widespread use of the
anti-depressant Prozac has helped fuel this debate). "Which of my
feelings are real?"Jamison asks. "Which of the me''s is me"[p. 68]?
Jamison''s sister discouraged her from taking lithium, saying that
her "soul would wither if [she] chose to dampen the intensity and
pain of [her] experiences by using medication"[p. 99]. How much of
personality do you believe to be intrinsic, and how much is a
result of biological impulses and chemicals? Is such a question
9. Her work, and her own illness, convinces Jamison of "the
total beholdenness of brain to mind and mind to brain. My
temperament, moods, and illness clearly, and deeply, affected the
relationships I had with others and the fabric of my work. But my
moods were themselves powerfully shaped by the same relationships
and work"[p. 88]. Jamison expresses anger against physicians who
draw a distinction between "medical illnesses"and psychiatric
illnesses [p. 102]. Does she imply that there is, in actuality, no
difference? If there is a difference, of what does it consist?
10. "Depression, somehow, is much more in line with society''s
notions of what women are all about....Manic states, on the other
hand, seem to be more the provenance of men"[p.122]. What might the
results of this stereotyping be when it comes to giving
11. After David''s death, Jamison reflects that "grief,
fortunately, is very different from depression"[p.150]. How can you
explain the essential difference between the two? Is it more
possible to cope with the "real"causes of grief than with the
impalpable causes of depression?
12. Through bitter experience Jamison comes to recognize the
value of emotional steadiness in a relationship, but "somewhere in
my heart,"she writes, "I continued to believe that intense and
lasting love was possible only in a climate of somewhat tumultuous
passions"[p. 170]. Is this feeling peculiar to Jamison and her
temperament, or does it reflect certain assumptions in our society?
How is the importance of love and friendship demonstrated again and
again in the story? How does each of the three principal men in
Jamison''s life help her to seek a cure?
13. Jamison worries that her work may now be seen by her
colleagues "as somehow biased because of my illness,"while
admitting that "of course, my work has been tremendously colored by
my emotions and my experiences"[p. 203]. Does this make her work
less viable than strictly "objective"work, or more so?
14. "My major goal has been to really try and make a difference
in how the illness is seen and treated"(Philadelphia
Inquirer, 9/18/95). Has she succeeded, so far as you are
concerned? Which of your preconceptions were changed by reading her
15. "Do I really think that someone with mental illness should
be allowed to treat patients?"[p. 204] Jamison asks. She ultimately
answers the question in the affirmative. What would your own answer