An Unquiet Mind: In the Grip of a Manic Bipolar Episode

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Redfield Jamison. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does it feel like to experience mania? How does one feel and behave during a manic bipolar episode?

Kay Redfield Jamison suffered from bipolar mania depression for most of her life. When in the grip of a manic bipolar episode, she threw herself into all kinds of activities and made elaborate plans for the future.

Read about Kay Redfield Jamison’s manic bipolar episode experience, as she recounts in her memoir An Unquiet Mind.

The Experience of a Manic Bipolar Episode

Jamison’s bipolar mania depression became her way of life in her senior year of high school. This is when she experienced her first manic bipolar episode. She felt amazing during this period, throwing herself into all kinds of activities and making elaborate plans for her future. She was like a wind-up doll that never had to be rewound. Her mind took in information quickly and deciphered it even faster. Math came easily, her mind was clear and focused, and the world made sense. 

Much like the way her father used to command the family’s attention, Jamison now commanded the attention of her friends. She thrust her insights and observations of the wonders of the world at them with a frantic zeal. Her friends frequently asked her to slow down or commented on how exhausting it was to listen to her.

The Highs and Lows of Bipolar Mania Depression

In her adult years, Jamison’s swings between manic and depressive states became more frenetic and dangerous. Her mania burned bright and hot for a brief period before fizzling into depression. The clarity and genius she experienced when she was in the grip of a manic bipolar episode vanished when depression took over. She couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t take in information, and couldn’t make sense of the world around her. Her mind, once a trusted companion filled with wit, humor, and knowledge, became her enemy. 

When Jamison was depressed, all of the thoughts and observations she had about life became silly notions of a stupid girl. She no longer found comfort in friends and often couldn’t muster the energy to engage with the world. She struggled to get out of bed. She wore the same clothes for days in a row because deciding what to wear was too big a task. Worse, her inspired thoughts now turned almost entirely to death. 

Jamison obsessed over death. Living seemed unnecessary, even unreasonable, when everything alive eventually died anyway. She wandered cemeteries and wrote bleak poems about her decaying mind and body. She started adding vodka to her morning juice and became infatuated with the thought of suicide. Yet somehow she was able to hide this internal turmoil from the outside world. Only a handful of people ever noticed a disturbing change in her behavior, and she always assured them she was fine. 

Inside, she was aware that something was terrifyingly wrong with her, but the idea of a mental illness never occurred to her. All she knew was that the darkness was tearing seams into the fabric of her mind and soul. She felt herself slipping away and death around each corner, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

An Unquiet Mind: In the Grip of a Manic Bipolar Episode

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Kay Redfield Jamison's "An Unquiet Mind" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full An Unquiet Mind summary:

  • How Kay Redfield Jamison first experienced a manic episode at the age of 17
  • How her illness made Jamison buy taxidermied animals and multiple Rolexes
  • Why Jamison believes there are positives to her manic episodes

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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