10. An Unquiet Mind

“When its two o’clock in the morning, and you’re manic, even the UCLA Medical Center has certain appeal.”

An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison


As you may know (since you all know me personally), my brother has bipolar disorder.  I found this book, which is a memoir of the author’s struggles with bipolar disorder, laying around my house - presumably one of my parents was reading it and left it here.  And since I have been diligently trying to alternate fiction and non-fiction in my reading this year, I thought I’d give it a read.

Ok, for starters, this is a well-written memoir of one woman’s struggle with bipolar disorder.  Jamison is a scientist - a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, and a co-author of a standard medical text on bipolar.  She is also a life-long manic depressive.  The book describes her struggles with the disease, and how she has managed (with much, much help from her devoted family), to manage to learn to control it and live a happy and productive life.  

BUT (and there is always a but, lately), I found this book pretty basic.  Despite my personal history, I don’t claim to be any sort of bipolar expert - indeed, I think this the first book I’ve ever read about the disorder.  But everything in it seemed so familiar and obvious.  And I don’t think that’s due to my family’s personal experience of the disorder - I think it was obvious on a basic cultural level.  We all know this stuff - nothing here was really groundbreaking to me.  To be fair to Jamison, it was written more than 20 years ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this was one of the first books that really presented an insider’s view of the disorder.  Perhaps the ideas she posits have become mainstream in part from her writings. I don’t know enough about the literature to fairly comment on that.  And perhaps I am so biased by my personal awareness of the issues that there is stuff here that a general reader would find intriguing and new, and I’m judging her to an impossibly high standard.  

So what I will say is this - this is a very well written story of one woman’s struggle with bipolar disorder.  If you know nothing at all about manic-depressive disease and want to understand what it is, this is very well done.  But if you have even a pop-culture understanding of this disorder, you won’t find anything new here.  You will find a heartfelt, personal exploration of human suffering and growth.  Normally I think that would have moved me more and I would have recommended it on those grounds.  But I think, given my personal involvement, I wanted some sort of new insight that this book doesn’t provide.  

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017