AN UNQUIET MIND by Kay Redfield Jamison


A Memoir of Moods and Madness
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 Mood-disorder specialist Jamison (Psychiatry/Johns Hopkins) comes clean about her own mood disorder: manic-depression. Less bitter and defensive than Kate Millett (The Loony-Bin Trip, 1990) in writing of this illness, Jamison has one thing in common with her: the reluctance to take lithium, despite her knowledge as a professional that it would control her extremes of mood. Why the refusal? Because, Jamison says, the periods of mild mania, or hypomania, are ``absolutely intoxicating states that gave rise to great personal pleasure, an incomparable flow of thoughts, and a ceaseless energy.'' Jamison now takes her lithium dutifully, however, after being hobbled for years by cycles of extreme mania (sleepless nights, mental chaos, shopping sprees with bills totaling over $30,000) and suicidal depression. The illness began to manifest itself after the delicate balance of her family life was disrupted. In a highly fluid, readable memoir, Jamison wonderfully describes her childhood as an Air Force brat, capturing both the ``romance and discipline'' of military life. But in 1961, when she was 15, Jamison's father retired from the Air Force and the family moved to California. Her father, an imaginative, playful, charismatic man, began displaying signs of manic- depression, and a few years later, so did Jamison. Always passionate, curious, independent-minded, she was now subject to crippling mood switches as she began a successful academic career and passed through a failed marriage, love affairs, and a new marriage. Jamison is convincing on the seductiveness of hypomania. But the author of Touched with Fire (1993), which claimed a link between the artistic temperament and manic-depression, goes too far here in claiming a superiority of experience for herself: that she has lived more truly and intensely than folks whose moods are better calibrated (``I have run faster, thought faster, loved faster than most''). But overall, a well-written, vivid depiction of a devastating mental illness. (First printing of 75,000; Literary Guild alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-44374-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1995


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