Nothing Was The Same: A Memoir

Paperback | January 11, 2011

byKay Redfield Jamison

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Kay Redfield Jamison, award-winning professor and writer, changed the way we think about moods and madness. Now Jamison uses her characteristic honesty, wit and eloquence to look back at her relationship with her husband, Richard Wyatt, a renowned scientist who died of cancer. Nothing was the Same is a penetrating psychological study of grief viewed from deep inside the experience itself.




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Kay Redfield Jamison, award-winning professor and writer, changed the way we think about moods and madness. Now Jamison uses her characteristic honesty, wit and eloquence to look back at her relationship with her husband, Richard Wyatt, a renowned scientist who died of cancer. Nothing was the Same is a penetrating psychological study o...

Kay Redfield Jamison is the Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders and Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  She is co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center and a member of the governing board of the National Network of Depression Centers.  She is also Honorary Professor of English...

other books by Kay Redfield Jamison

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir Of Moods And Madness
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir Of Moods And Madness

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Touched with Fire
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Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide
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Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 7.95 × 5.18 × 0.65 inPublished:January 11, 2011Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307277895

ISBN - 13:9780307277893

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The love you gave me wasn't fresh and young,It didn't melt the sun or set the town aflame.But it was warm and wise as any street,Where hope and sorrow meet in bars without a name.I only know that one day was a drinkAnd then the next was you and nothing was the same.—STUART MACGREGORPrologueWhen I was young, I thought that fearlessness and an easy way with love would see me to the other side of anything. Madness taught me otherwise. In the wake of my first insanity I assumed less and doubted more. My mind was suspect; there was no arguing with the new reality. I had to learn to live with a brain that demanded more coddling than I would have liked and, because of this, I avoided perturbance as best I could. Needwise, I avoided love.I kept my mind on a short lead and my heart yet closer in; had I cared enough to look I doubt I would have recognized either of them. Before mania whipped through my brain I had been curious always to go to the far field, beyond what lay nearest by. After, I drew back from life and watered down my dreams. I retaught myself to think and to negotiate the world, and as the world measures things, I did well enough.I was content in my life and found purpose in academic and clinical work. I wrote and taught, saw patients, and kept my struggles with manic-depressive illness to myself. I worked hard, driven to understand the illness from which I suffered. I settled in, I settled down, I settled. In a slow and fitful way, predictability insinuated itself into my life, and with it came a certain peace I was not aware had been missing. Grateful for this, and because I had no reason to know otherwise, I assumed that peace was provisional upon an absence of passion or anything that could forcibly disturb my senses. I avoided love.This lasted for a while, although not perhaps as long as it seemed. Then I met a man who upended my cautious stance toward life. He did not believe, as I had for so long, that to control my mind I must first control my heart. He loved the woman he imagined I must have been before bowing to fear. He prodded my resistance with grace and undermined my wariness with laughter. He could say the unthinkable because he instinctively knew that his dry wit and gentle ways would win me over. They did. He was deft with my shifting moods and did not abuse our passion. He liked my fearlessness, and he brought it back as a gift to me. Far from findingthe intensity of my nature disturbing, he gravitated toward it. He induced me to risk much by assuming a portion of the risk himself, and he persuaded me to write from my heart. He loved in me what I had forgotten was there.We had nearly twenty years together. He was my husband, colleague, and friend; when he became ill and we knew he would die, he became my mentor in how to die with the grace by which he lived. What he could not teach me—no one could—was how to contend with the grief of losing him.It has been said that grief is a kind of madness. I disagree. There is a sanity to grief, in its just proportion of emotion to cause, that madness does not have. Grief, given to all, is a generative and human thing. It provides a path, albeit a broken one, by which those who grieve can find their way. Still, it is grief's fugitive nature that one does not know at the start that such a path exists. I knew madness well, but I understood little of grief, and I was not always certain which was grief and which was madness. Grief, as it transpires, has its own territory.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. How does the prologue set the stage for Jamison’s investigation into grief?  What does it convey about the narrative method she has chosen to employ? Does her expertise as a psychologist color her description of her immediate reaction to her husband’s death?2. What personality traits contributed to Wyatt’s ability to deal with dyslexia? How did the circumstances of his childhood affect not only his intellectual development but also his ambition and choice of career? Does his experience with dyslexia both as a child and an adult provide insight into learning disabilities and how they are generally perceived?3. Jamison writes, “We were temperamentally different in critical respects—his passion for work over people; my intensity and less settled ways—but at the start of our life together it was my manic-depressive (bipolar) illness that created the greatest misunderstanding and discord.”  To what extent does Jamison’s illness determine the nature of their relationship? What are the implications of her saying, “I could live with my mercurial moods, but it was not clear that someone else could, or should”?4. What emotional and intellectual factors play a role in Wyatt’s response to Jamison’s illness, as well as his mechanisms for dealing with troubling incidents? What does his decision to keep antipsychotic medication at hand demonstrate about the conflicting pulls of trust and uncertainty in their marriage? Are Jamison’s feelings of betrayal justified? Does Wyatt’s response—“I am imperfect. . . . You are imperfect. . . . Love is imperfect”—define the foundation of successful marriages and relationships? 5. Jamison writes,  “He kept fastidious notes on everything he could measure. . . . I clearly had become a project to him, one that was useful in figuring out patterns in my illness, as well as creating enough interest to keep his mind engaged.” Do scientists and doctors address serious illnesses differently from non-scientists? What are the benefits to both patient and caregiver of an objective approach like Wyatt’s? Is there a negative side as well?  What, for example, might be the unintended effects of regarding a patient as a “project”? 6. “My brain, as Richard explained it to himself and to me, was a delicate ecosystem . . . which was kept alive through a finely honed mix of lithium and love and sleep, or as he imagined it, 'water grasses and dragonflies, and a snail or two to tidy up.'” This is one of several metaphors for illness that appear throughout the book. What does the use of metaphors, analogies, humor (“[Richard] had, as he put it, the fine motor coordination of a clam”), and other devices reflect about the way we deal with disabilities or illness? 7. Jamison records Wyatt’s physical reaction to chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in graphic detail and also describes his emotional state, writing  “he remained imperturbable and wryly engaged with life. . . . He did what I had always known him to do when he was hurt or worried: he turned inward, to his imagination.” How do his experiences compare to that of cancer patients you have known? Why do some patients manage the effects of cancer treatments better than others?8. In writing about his impending death, Wyatt says, “Certainly there were many times I did things that hurt others or committed sins of omission, but by my accounting I stayed ahead and feel I am still ahead. For me, not being in debt means I do not have to be concerned about death.” Do you agree with the sentiments he expresses? What other aspects of a person’s life would you add?9. What do her trips to California represent to Jamison? In what ways do they reflect her inner journey and her acceptance of the inevitability of Wyatt’s death?10. “I realized that it was not that I didn’t want to go on without him. I did. It was just that I didn’t why I wanted to go on. It would have to be an act of faith.” Talk about how memories of Wyatt, the consolations of friends, and Jamison’s ability to imagine “a different way of being together” all help sustain her during the early days after Wyatt’s death. What other resources does she draw upon?11. In the chapter that takes its name from Freud’s famous essay, “Mourning and Melancholia,” Jamison explores the things that depression and grief have in common and those they do not.  What do you see as the most salient differences between the feelings of loss suffered in depression and in grief? How do the words of C. S. Lewis, Robert Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Graham Greene, Tennyson’s In Memoriam, and Freud himself help clarify the ways individuals and society have learned to deal with grief?12. Are Wyatt's and Jamison’s attitudes influenced by their ability to take advantage of medical advice and breakthroughs not available to others? What does their story demonstrate about America’s medical system? What does it reveal about the possibilities, as well as the limitations, of modern medicine?13. How much do Jamison's needs as a wife and a widow affect her descriptions of Wyatt? How does she enhance and expand upon her personal feelings to capture Wyatt as a beloved man and respected professional?14. If you have read An Unquiet Mind, in what respects is Nothing Was the Same a sequel? What themes or message emerge in both books? In what ways has Jamison changed in the years since An Unquiet Mind and what accounts for those changes?15. The book’s title comes from the poem by Stuart MacGregor that appears at the beginning of the book. What images and allusions in the poem make it particularly apposite to the story Jamison tells?16. Does Nothing Was the Same transcend Jamison’s personal story to illuminate the universal experience of grief? What practical guidance and emotional insights does the book offer to readers?(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Editorial Reviews

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year“A cleared-eyed view of illness and death, sanity and insanity, love and grief. . . . Spare. . . . Poetic. . . . Piercing. . . . The great gift Jamison offers here, beyond her honesty and the beauty of her writing, is perspective. . . . To write the truth with such passion and grace is remarkable enough. To do this in loving memory of a partner is tribute indeed.”—The Washington Post“In An Unquiet Mind, Kay Jamison wrote with exceptional bravery and grace about living through mania, paralyzing depressions, and a suicide attempt. Here, with the same strength of mind and sweetness of spirit, she writes about her husband’s [death] as well as her own struggles with loss and grief. . . . Because Jamison understands depression so well, she is able to make the distinctions between depression and grief with great precision and sensitivity.”—The Boston Globe“Fascinating. . . . Captivating. . . . As one who has experienced clinical depression, [Jamison] is in a singular position to compare it with grief . . . . In this slim, intense memoir Jamison shows us that mourning leads us back to life.”—Michael Greenberg, The New York Times Book Review “A meditation on grief as necessary and inevitable, and not to be confused with mental illness. . . . Insightful. . . . Elegantly written. . . . It’s a credit to the warmth and intimacy of Jamison’s voice that we connect with her underlying message: Tragedy doesn’t discriminate.”—Los Angeles Times“Elegiac and emotionally precise.”—O, The Oprah Magazine “A wonderful book. Jamison has the ability to make love seem so real and reachable; her writing always makes me happy to speak and write the English language. It contains great beauty.”—Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and South of Broad  “This is a finely told midlife love story, a romance as elegant as it is doomed. . . . What a couple she and her husband made! . . . Jamison writes simply and believably.”—AARP Magazine “A soul-baring love letter.”—Kirkus Reviews “Sober yet heartening. . . . Jamison is at her most insightful drawing distinctions between [mental illness] and mourning.”—The Washingtonian “A unique account, filled with exquisitely wrought nuances of emotion, of her husband’s death. . . . In her brilliant explication distinguishing between madness and grief, her battle to remain sane is as stirring as his to beat cancer.”—Booklist (starred review)