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Book Review: “An Unquiet Mind – A Memoir of Moods and Madness” by Kay Redfield Jamison

Book Review: “An Unquiet Mind – A Memoir of Moods and Madness” by Kay Redfield Jamison

This book was recommended to me by one of my brothers. He was kind and purchased a license for the audiobook version. Sadly, I don’t get as much time as I’d like for listening to content. Fortunately, the local library had a copy I was able to borrow for free. Which these days is an attractive price.

This book is a memoir of many of the author’s experiences with manic-depressive or bipolar disorder. The thing that makes this book special is that she is also a psychiatrist. She aims to bring dignity and perspective to a perplexing condition.

It’s obvious that this was a very popular book. The edition I read had a new preface from the author to commemorate 15 years of the book being in circulation. This copy was released in 2011, which makes the book over 25 years old.

I read it in two days. She’s a gifted writer. The editing is superb.

The topic hits close to home for me, as there’s more than one case of manic-depressive on my father’s side of the family. It’s helpful to read someone’s experience in their struggle to process life through a mind that isn’t always trustworthy.

There are two themes that emerge from this book. One, is to have compassion for people that have a mental illness. She admits that this is difficult because so often, the behaviour that accompanies it is corrosive to relationships. She gives multiple examples. And, they are heartbreaking. She obviously treasured people that were kind and generous and understanding.

The second is for people to take their medicine. In her case, that is lithium, which she describes as nothing special, just an elemental salt. She hammers this point home. By the middle of the book, the reader is compelled to root for her to stay regular with her medicine despite the side effects. It becomes life and death.

Near the end of the book, the reader rejoices with her, when she lowers her daily dose, and describes how she’s able to better engage with her surroundings and increase her enjoyment of the simple things in life. Her descriptions are vivid.

This is a well written memoir. She and the team that she worked with did a superb job. It’s a helpful introduction into the experience of a loved one, or family member that struggles with this condition. For a person with a mental illness, it would be validating as it comes from a patient and a psychiatrist.

Because it was published 25 years ago, I do have two categories of questions.

First, Have there been any further developments in our understanding of treatments and causes? We do know that this has a tendency to travel in families and bloodlines. Is that genetic? Or, is that a result of the Microbiome? What role has diet, supplements, exercise and sleeping routines found to have with it?

The second set of questions come from the category of presuppositions. For instance, Is there a memoir out there that includes the realm of spirituality in it’s scope? The medical community in those days had adopted a view that completely discounted the influence of spirituality in the body and it’s processes. She makes passing reference to Christianity. It appears that it has no affect on her experiences.

Because of her worldview appears absent of spirituality, for me, it would be helpful to hear someone’s experience who wasn’t in as many intimate relationships as she was. She’s been married three times, and had significant romantic relationships outside of marriage.

These two dynamics, spirituality and sex would have a major influence on moods, emotions and feelings. I recognize that there are countless people that have struggled with mental illness that were both monogamous and spiritual, but I can’t readily recall a memoir of their experiences with mental illness.

As a dad, I can tell stories about what certain foods do to the moods and emotions and thinking of children. This is undeniable. I can’t imagine what adding alcohol to the mix would do.

Leaving my questions aside, this remains a very interesting book, from a very interesting person. It is a tremendously helpful book for anyone affected by mental illness. I would guess in western society that would be everyone. I’m grateful that my brother recommended that I read it.

What about you? Have you read this book? Do you know of other memoirs that are more recent? Or, include the items I have questions about?

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Posted by on June 6, 2022 in Book Review


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