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Welcome to the April edition of the Bipolar Book Club. This month I am reviewing Kay Redfield Jamison’s iconic book, An Unquiet Mind.
If you are new to the Bipolar Book Club, here’s a little background information to catch you up:
If you do a simple Google search for books about bipolar disorder, the number of resources available is staggering. It would be natural to become overwhelmed by all the choices available.
That’s where I come in. I have made it my business to sift through the vast number of books about bipolar disorder and review one book each month on my blog, My Big Fat Bipolar Life. That way, it saves you the legwork, and you know at a glance if a particular book is worth the read.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into April’s Bipolar Book Club selection: An Unquiet Mind.
About An Unquiet Mind
Although An Unquiet Mind was published over 25 years ago, it remains a staple on lists of influential books about bipolar disorder. When I was diagnosed with bipolar in 1997, it was the first book I read when I searched for answers about my diagnosis.
The thing that separates this book from the crowd is that the author, Kay Redfield Jamison, is not only a psychiatry professor who has made the study of mood disorders her life’s work, she was diagnosed with manic depression (as bipolar disorder was called then) in 1974.
In An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison examines bipolar disorder from two perspectives: as a professor and as a patient.
About the Author
Kay Redfield Jamison is the Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders and Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorder Center. She is also an Honorary Professor of English at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
In addition to An Unquiet Mind, Jamison also authored four other bestsellers and was the coauthor of the standard medical text on manic-depressive illness.
Kay Redfield Jamison has been the recipient of numerous national and international literary and scientific honors.
What I Loved About An Unquiet Mind
The title, An Unquiet Mind, is an apt description of the bipolar mind.
An Unquiet Mind is such a simple but descriptive title. What the three words do is encapsulate the mind of those of us who live with bipolar disorder.
Even during periods of relative stability, my mind is always full of noise—on a myriad of subjects, some related directly to my diagnosis and some just the extension of having a mind that is wired differently than most minds.
The title succinctly articulates something that is difficult to put into words.
Kay Redfield Jamison beautifully describes the many moods of bipolar disorder.
Kay Redfield Jamison is a gifted author. Her descriptions of the ups and downs of bipolar disorder are candid and imaginative.
The combination of her insight and her beautiful way with words elevates what could easily have become a purely academic look at bipolar disorder.
Instead, we get a personal look at Jamison’s life laced with her expertise concerning bipolar disorder.
Jamison is candid about her reluctance to take medication in the early days of her diagnosis.
Kay Redfield Jamison was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1974. She grew up in a time when people not only didn’t talk about mental illness, but actually looked down at those who struggled with mental health concerns.
In An Unquiet Mind, Jamison was very open about her struggle to embrace taking medication as treatment for bipolar disorder. After several severe episodes—ranging from mania and psychosis to suicidal depression—she could no longer deny that lithium was effective for taming her mercurial moods and allowing her to pursue her academic endeavors at the highest levels.
What I Didn’t Love About An Unquiet Mind
The impact of Kay Redfield Jamison’s academic background on her writing created a disconnect between the reader and the vivid descriptions of her moods and personal experiences.
There is no question that Kay Redfield Jamison has a beautiful command of the English language and has a unique insight into bipolar disorder. She excels in describing her experience, that’s for sure.
As much as I loved her vivid descriptions of her many moods and struggles to embrace treatment, the influence of her academic background left an indelible stamp on her writing and created a disconnect.
Instead of feeling like I was walking alongside her as she navigated her life and disease, I felt as though I was on the outside looking in.
The language and terminology of An Unquiet Mind are very much of their time.
An Unquiet Mind was originally published in 1995, and the language used in the book is very much of that time.
Kay Redfield Jamison used the term manic depression or manic-depressive illness almost exclusively in her book, although she addressed the trend toward using the term bipolar disorder to help destigmatize the mood disorder.
She also used the phrase “committed suicide” instead of “died by suicide.” In her defense, at the time of publication, “committed suicide” was the politically correct phrase to use.
Kay Redfield Jamison’s use of the words madness and insanity to describe herself made me uncomfortable.
I can’t in good conscious say that the use of the words madness and insanity were inaccurate or misused. My response to their use is personal, and you may not even think twice about the use of such words to describe those who live with bipolar disorder.
When I hear the words madness and insanity used describe someone who has bipolar, I believe it evokes an image that perpetrates the misconceptions and stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and mental illness in general.
There is a reason that An Unquiet Mind continues to rank high on the most influential books about bipolar disorder. The book is beautifully written and shares insight few authors could provide.
The combination of Kay Redfield Jamison’s personal experience navigating bipolar disorder and her lifelong commitment to being on the forefront of mood disorder research makes for a compelling and informative read.
An Unquiet Mind remains the quintessential bipolar disorder go-to read, and I highly recommend that you add it to your reading list. There’s a lot to love about this book. Click here to get your copy of An Unquiet Mind.