An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness An Unquiet Mind question

Love and protection around Dr. Kay Jamison
Daniel Daniel Mar 16, 2013 05:08AM
Kay takes us through her manic depression back to her childhood days, recollecting at a very young age, when everything around her made her feel loved and protected. She was very aware of the protection and love around her with full control as is expected from people with the same condition and situation. She felt out of the ordinary about the things that hurt her emotions, a mixer of highlighted protection and love.
Throughout her teen years, she became more aware of her connection with her father and older sister’s darkening moods. Kay Redfield book “An Unquiet Mind” is her experiences with manic-depressive disorder and, how she felt unprotected when she was not taking her lithium or had the support she needed which, risked her losing her license and job (Jamison 1995: 130). Sharing her own experiences and how she goes about dealing with her unbalanced emotions with others, she risks what she calls the Mouseheart factor (Jamison 1995: 199), colleagues outright and rudely told her, upon finding of her illness, how deeply disappointed they were, questioning her publications and judgment in her profession. They questioned if she was all there, or if she was in her manic depressive state or if she moves through life in an emotional manic phase. Dr. Kay Jamison is a professor of Psychiatry at John Hopkins School of Medicine, fortunate to have been born in a middle class family with well off parents. Her energy, unproblematic well-being and confidence at times showed the mania brought about by the over-the-edge mood swigs and occasionally gave in to the unprotected terrified world of bloodied hallucinations.
The obsession lead Kay to think of death even to a point of attempted suicide, Kay says “ . . . for many months [she] went to the 8th floor of the stairwell of the UCLA hospital and, repeatedly, only just resisted throwing [her self] off the ledge . . ..” and nearly succeeded (Jamison 1995: 199). She writes, she dreaded the fact her suicide attempt and depressions [would be seen] by some as an act of weakness or as ‘neurotic’…[she was] deeply wary that by speaking publicly or writing about such intensively private aspects of [her] life, [she would] return to them one day and find them bleached of meaning and feeling” (Jamison 1995: 202). Dr. Kay Jamison details the pressures and the rational reasoning for getting away with a suicidal attempt leading to her ultimate collapse to the world of unprotected manic depression.
The first noticeable attack of Manic-Depressive was at seventeen, as a high school senior. She experienced loss of control, tells how she protected herself, “I was used to my mind being my best friend; of carrying on endless conversations within my head; of having a built-in source of laughter or analytic thought to rescue me from boring or painful surroundings” (Jamison 1995: 37, 38). Kay was protected by the love and unity provided by friends, colleagues, family and romantic companions. Love had a very powerful efficient and most of the time stabilized her condition especially when the people involved knew her condition. The brother helped with the aftermath of her manic phases by stepping in to protect her financially or she would have been bankrupt and broke. Her mother “She cooked meal after meal for [her] during [her] long bouts of depression, helped [her] with [her] laundry, and helped [paying her] medical bills…without her [mother, she] never could have survived” (Jamison 1995: 118-9). Kay always had people who loved her and cared for her, like her first husband’s friendship and her second who was her psychiatrist and would be husband who died before they tied the knot.
She always had people to keep an eye on her and help, protect her whether she asked for it or not. The amount of love and protection around her, helped through the manic depression and from committing suicide, although lithium helped manage the illness. She need the support, the understanding of all this people to remind her she was loved and checked on her if she needed any medical attention. Although she was doing, fine there was always the fear of rejection and criticism that eventually she was able to rise above. These experiences taught her how to control her illness and protect it from the trials of her profession. She was able to deal with her denial stage by taking lithium, although the medication worked, she failed to take it for fear of losing the euphoric feeling. Kay found it difficult to share with her colleagues for the reason that she knew that some saw her illness negatively.
She eventually realizes that she needs serious help especially if she still wants to be a part of UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry during that time. She was able to find a psychiatrist whom she was comfortable with, in sharing her feelings, inhibitions and problems. Her doctor persuaded her to put in more time and be more loyal in taking her medications; he insisted that she should regularly follow the schedule and sessions.
When she went for her undergraduate and graduate studies her illness provided her with overwhelming energy to do her school work and at the same times a foray of depression that lasts all night long during study session. Her greatest worry during this time was the feeling of not being able to control her manic depression lead to her psychosis. Lithium eased the manic depression that allowed Kay to go back to her sanity. Kay was compliant and strong-minded in making herself well again which made her quiet but missed the thrill of familiarity that she was accustomed. What others believe as normal became unpleasant for her; she had to tell a new story how she had to keep her problems to herself. She puts it in her book: “ my family and friends expected that I would welcome being “normal,” be appreciative of lithium, and take in stride having normal energy and sleep.” What seemed normal to other people to her normal meant being far removed from being lively, productive, intense, outgoing and effervescent which allowed her to be herself (Jamison 1995: 92). The rapid outpour of thoughts and insights is unbelievable which astonishes her colleagues and even herself. She was very productive answered questions at a very fast pace, came up with new ideas and was still able to interpret flawlessly a poem that she remembered having read in the past. Although its meaning was still fuzzy but with her manic situation, she was able to discover its mystery and association.
The super high to the extreme low comes with frequent changes in moods, financial troubles and even losing her “clinical privileges”. The mood swings ended her first marriage in spite of all the love and support she received, it still was not enough to protect her from the situation at hand, then two other lovers came her way, but the relationships ended the same way. In all this relationships, love was one common factor that protected her from committing suicide, as all this men really loved her and understood her manic depression.
When she was on lithium, it was difficult for her to handle her state of mind, it impaired her concentration and attention span, at times came to a point her thoughts were clouded with attempting suicide several times, thinking that it was the only way out of her insanity. While restoration to normalcy is quite easy to manage with lithium, the right support and the feeling of protection and love is still key. She outlines the advantages of making one’s colleagues aware of what one is going through. This is not only to seek their understanding and acceptance but also to protect one[s] self and the patients against any lapse of judgment” as she puts it in her story. The real dangers [are] those clinicians... who-because of the stigma or fear of suspension of their privileges or expulsion from medical school... are hesitant to seek out psychiatric treatment. Left untreated, or unsupervised, many become ill, endangering not only their own lives, but those of others."

What is your question?

Hi, there. I'd like to ask anyone who's read the book how Kay managed to deal with the side effects of lithium and the mild cognitive impairment it may have caused her. Did it get better? Could she go back to writing, reading, etc, with a certain degree of clarity and togetherness? I guess she wrote Touched by fire whilst on lithium. That book is complex, literary and rich in both words and concepts. It's hard for anybody, but it would be truly incapacitating for a writer to be unable to write due to the side effects of bipolar medication. Thanks!

I don't believe the meds could have impaired her too much. She managed to function in a very competitive environment quite well. Everyone has a different reaction to the meds.

Paloma Etienne You are quite right, Janis. Cheers
Jun 06, 2014 05:58PM

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