Listening RoomThe Author Speaks

An Unquiet Mind



Reading I:

(From Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament ):

“It seems counterintuitive that severe depression or melancholy could be associated with artistic inspiration and productivity. The milder manic states and their fiery energies would seem at first thought to be more obviously linked. The extreme pain of the deeper melancholies and the gentler more reflective and solitary sides of the milder ones can be extremely important in the creative process, however. Hypomania and mania, those high energy, high voltage states characterized by elated or irritable mood, sleeping far less than usual, extremely reckless, impulsive behaviors, grandiosity, expansiveness; these hypomanic or mild manic moods often generate ideas and associations, propel contact with life and other people, induce frenzied energies and enthusiasms and cast an ecstatic, rather cosmic hue over life.

“Melancholy, on the other hand, tends to force a slower pace, cools the ardor, and puts into perspective the thoughts, observations, and feelings generated during more enthusiastic moments. Mild depression can act as a ballast. It can also serve a critical editorial role for work produced in more fevered states. Depression prunes and sculpts, it also ruminates and ponders and ultimately subdues and focuses thoughts. It allows structuring at a detailed level of the more expansive patterns woven during mania.

“The slightly melancholic perspective, of course, is meaningful in its own right. The sensitivity and compassion afforded by depression are for the most part entirely absent in the unbridled, self-assurance, and hectic pace of mania. The tendency to gaze inward, to ask why and of what avail is, on the other hand, deeply embedded in the depressive view. ”

Reading II:

“I thought I would describe a little bit about my experience when I first sought psychiatric care, which was three months after becoming a professor. It gives, perhaps, at least some idea of what difference a good doctor can make:

(from An Unquiet Mind)

“I was not only very ill when I first called for an appointment, I was also terrified and deeply embarrassed. I had never been to a psychiatrist or a psychologist before. I had no choice. I had completely, but completely, lost my mind; if I didn’t get professional help, I was quite likely to lose my job, my already precarious marriage, and my life as well . . . . ”

“I realized that I was on the receiving end of a very thorough psychiatric history and examination; the questions were familiar, I had asked them of others a hundred times, but I found it unnerving to have to answer them, unnerving not to know where it was all going, and unnerving to realize how confusing it was to be a patient . . . .

“Gradually, his experience as a physician, and self-confidence as a person, began to take effect, much in the same way that medications gradually begin to take hold and calm the turmoil of mania. He made it unambivalently clear that he thought I had manic-depressive illness and that I was going to need to be on lithium, probably indefinitely. The thought was very frightening to me–much less was known then than is known now about the illness and its prognosis–but all the same I was relieved: relieved to hear a diagnosis that I knew in my mind of mind to be true. Still, I flailed against the sentence I felt had been handed me. He listened patiently. He listened to all of my convoluted, alternative explanations for my breakdown–the stress of a stressed marriage, the stress of joining the psychiatry faculty, the stress of overwork–and he remained firm in his diagnosis and recommendations for treatment. I was bitterly resentful, but somehow greatly relieved. . . .

“Although I went to him to be treated for an illness, he taught me, by example, for my own patients, the total beholdenness of brain to mind and mind to brain.”

Reading III:

(From An Unquiet Mind; Epilogue):

“The countless hypomanias, and mania itself, all have brought into my life a different level of sensing and feeling and thinking. Even when I have been most psychotic–delusional, hallucinating, frenzied–I have been aware of finding new corners in my mind and heart. Some of those corners were incredible and beautiful and took my breath away and made me feel as though I could die right then and the images would sustain me. Some of them were grotesque and ugly and I never wanted to know they were there or to see them again. But, always, there were those new corners and–when feeling my normal self, beholden for that self to medicine and love–I cannot imagine becoming jaded to life, because I know of those limitless corners, with their limitless views.”

Author’s Commentary:

Commentary I:

“I deeply believe that learning from the lives and works of others is one of the most powerful ways of learning. . . . I believe that doctors, like artists, need to draw upon the pain they see in the lives of others and in their own experiences. They need to observe, understand and then transform the experience of suffering into a more general understanding that can, in turn, help patients and their families deal with what has been dealt them.”

Commentary II:

“Artistic expression can be the beneficiary of either visionary and ecstatic or, painful, frightening, and melancholic experiences. Even more important, however, it can derive great strength from the struggle to come to terms with such emotional extremes and from the attempt to derive from them some redemptive value.”

*From AN UNQUIET MIND by Kay Redfield Jamison. Copyright (c) 1995 by Kay Redfield Jamison. Used by permission of the author and Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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