Friday, February 25, 2011

An Unquiet Mind

After discussing the possibility that my son may have bipolar disorder, our therapist suggested that I read  An Unquiet Mind by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. This is a national bestseller written by the Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who happens to have bipolar disorder herself. In this very poetic memoir, Dr. Jaminson shares her life from both the patient perspective and the healer perspective. She opens up about her illness, describing the energizing experience of mania and the deep hole of depression. Surprisingly, she also shares her personal struggles with resisting medication and her own suicide attempt.

I’m really glad I read this book and would highly recommend it to you. It’s a very intelligent perspective filled with deep emotions and raw honesty. I appreciated her openness about her decision to share her illness publicly and the risks she considered to her thriving career, as well as the intimate moments where she opened up to individuals closest to her. She tackles tough moral dilemmas about early testing of bipolar disorder and reveals her shock of a physician’s opinion about whether she herself should have children. She gives you the inside look of treating those with the illness as well as her own journey of finding the right balance with medication.

In one chapter she discusses that bipolar disorder “is not an illness that lends itself to easy empathy”. She explained that during rages or psychosis, it’s hard for those living with her to not believe that her behavior is “deliberate”. (Jamison, p. 174)

This really spoke to me. There are many times when I’m with my son during a rage and my body instinctually believes that my son is acting deliberate, being mean and vicious to hurt me. I’m challenged in those moments to believe that my son’s acts and words aren’t a strike against me, but an episode of his illness. As much as my mind knows that this is not true, my blood reacts as if it is. Reading Dr. Jamison validate this experience really helped me let go of the guilt that I have for these gut reaction feelings.

This book was also an eye opener for me. Reading about the war that one must fight to live with this disease made me realize how much I do not understand, how I could never really understand what our children are going through. To know that this accomplished, highly educated doctor whose life is dedicated to the research of bipolar disorder faced the same monstrous effects of this illness that ordinary patients have, made me realize just the beast that this disease is. It taught me that knowledge and experience alone can’t overcome this disorder and in her own words, “... one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable.”(Jamison, p. 174)

In her eloquent way, she shares that love can not cure this illness, but it can act like “strong medicine”. (Jamison, p. 175) 

That is the hope that I stand on, that along with medication and therapy, our love will make a difference.

Read this book for yourself, you won’t regret it!

Find it at Amazon:

Barnes & Noble:

* * *

An Unquiet Mind
By Kay Redfield Jamison


  1. My psychiatrist just now recommended this book to me. I do plan on reading it.

  2. I think one of my biggest obstacles is trying to come to terms with the fact that my daughter is not in control of her moods and outbursts. I'm ok w/ the fact that she's on strong meds and that she may have a life-long mental illness, but in the moment it's so difficult to stay calm and redirect at times, especially when her sibblings are the victims.
    I'm a work in progress as well.

  3. I agree with you Leigh about it being difficult to stay calm when the siblings are the victims, that’s when I’m the most challenged.

  4. This is the best book there is on bipolar disorder. Particularly with regard to Bipolar I, which my son has. It gives the best description of mania and psychosis that I have ever read. It's a must read.

  5. I read this book about a month ago--couldn't put it down! A must-read for anyone with a family member with bipolar disorder.