Friday, September 30, 2011

An Unquiet Mind, Revisited

Just ran across this review of "An Unquiet Mind" that I wrote a couple of years ago. As I go back through blog posts, Twitter feeds, book reviews, etc., it amazes me how difficult a time *I* was having... and how I was paying NO attention to that whatsoever. It was all about someone else. And really, in this book, that's how Jamison seems to think it should be.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and MadnessAn Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I just had the opportunity to re-read this book when it was offered on the Kindle, and I was surprised. I seemed to remember it as being immensely insightful the first time I read it, but consider that that was immediately after my husband's initial bipolar 1 diagnosis. This was the first book everyone was recommending back then.

Now, several years of living with a bipolar spouse later, I read it and think, "Meh." I have tremendous respect for Jamison as a leader in this field of study, but I can't figure out what she was going for in this memoir. It seems to have been written more FOR herself than about herself, if that makes sense--it reads as very personal and cathartic.

Is it helpful for others, though? I'm not so sure. There are some wonderful passages in which she borrows from images in poetry and literature, and those, for me, make the book worth reading. But I don't get much of a sense of hope for those dealing with manic-depressive illness, because Jamison's resources were/are simply out of the reach of most of us.

If my husband had access to the level of care that Jamison has enjoyed throughout her life, he'd probably be doing much better. Who WOULDN'T thrive with near-daily psychiatric attention and round-the-clock home care (which, just by the way, is provided by friends/family/lovers, most of whom happen to be practicing psychiatrists)? Heck, I'd like to get in on some of that, myself. As it is, we receive financial assistance from our physicians, to lower our co-pay, so that he can see a therapist (not an MD, but a psychologist) once a week, and even that's a burden. Then there's couples therapy, because this disease puts a mighty strain on a marriage.

As someone in the "caretaker" role, to use Jamison's own terminology, I found the message of the memoir a bit burdensome. Yes, she shows great appreciation for her loved ones and their unflagging support. She also puts ENORMOUS weight on that support as being the key to her success. That only reads as a compliment the first few times, then it becomes a sledge-hammer of obligation and guilt.

I don't know--I'm conflicted this time around. It's a bit of "thank you for being there," and a bit of "but for you, I'd be dead." That's a lot of pressure, gratitude or no.

View all my reviews


  1. I remember when a good friend recommended this book to me, unfortunately, I can't remember "why" I wasn't all that impressed with it, but there were definitely things that influenced me. And this was over 5 years ago, so forgive me if my memory is flawed.

    There were so few books about bipolar disorder, especially written by someone with bipolar disorder, and it was unheard of if that someone happened to be a professional in the psychiatric field. In essence, it felt as though we'd finally been given a voice.
    I do recall not connecting with the author & 1 of the reasons (if I remember correctly) was that she tended to be more manic, whereas I tended to be more depressed. Also, I believe what you said is right on, the level of care she had access to is what, maybe 1/2 of 1% of mentally ill patients have? It's hard to empathize with someone when, for some reason, you feel resentment toward them.
    In hindsight, the book was groundbreaking, but in actuality, it did not, in fact, give us a voice. It didn't give us a damn thing. When I read the book, I remember hoping the stigma associated with mental illness would be gone, or minimized. That treatment would improve. That we'd be treated differently, not just in mental hospitals, but in medical hospitals as well... that still hasn't changed. But, this isn't the author's fault.

    What you wrote is SO important- the focus should be on the patients entire family unit, not just the patient. Like any other illness of the mind, there isn't just 1 person in need.

  2. Quick stalk from Facebook, I keep meaning to pop back here and see how you're doing. Ramble alert though..:

    As someone with The Diagnosis, I find a lot of stuff like that very self-indulgent, indulgent all round really, (look at all that stuff about how we're all geniuses, oy...) Hell of a lot of it absolves responsibility and accountability. Now I've not read this one, so I could be barking right up the wrong tree, but that's the kind of vibe I get. Great if you want insight into what we think of ourselves, which obviously comes with a helping of "You are kind of a dick."

    I'm kind of done with all that, I used to eat books like this, but it didn't lead to much insight, it's like, bully for you, but you're not me in any way. The illness informs my me-ness, but that's the only way I can relate to this kind of account. Glad it's out there though, it just bugs me when we use her stuff to glorify ourselves, which is obviously rife in the bipolar community.