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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 is life for Kay Redfield Jamison like with a manic depressive illness? How does it manifest in day-to-day life?

K.R. Jamison, a clinical psychologist living with bipolar disorder, attempted to bring awareness to her experiences in her memoir An Unquiet Mind. By recounting her experience with manic depressive illness, Kay Redfield Jamison hoped to evoke empathy for those who struggle to exist in the normal world because of the affliction.

Read about manic depressive illness and Kay Redfield Jamison’s story.

Kay Redfield Jamison and Manic Depressive Illness

Kay Redfield Jamison experienced her first manic episode at seventeen years old. Throughout the next 30 years, she rode a roller coaster of mania and depression that made her either insane or suicidal. Throughout this time, she struggled to build a career as a professor of psychology and clinician. After a life of suffering, she finally decided to write this book to reduce the shame and stigma surrounding a life of manic depressive illness. Kay Redfield Jamison presents a deeply personal account of her experience with manic depression.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Manic Depressive Illness for Kay Redfield Jamison

After Jamison dropped into her first major depressive state, she started to hallucinate. The images she saw all related to death and decay. She became frightened and finally decided to seek treatment. 

Jamison started seeing a psychiatrist she knew from her doctoral program. He listened to Jamison’s excuses about her behavior, then very politely informed her she had manic-depressive disorder. He prescribed lithium to help. 

Jamison took the lithium at first, but the dosage was too high, and she felt as though the drug dulled the edges of both her heightened mind and the shadows of depression. This made Jamison stop and start her medication many times. The consequence was an 18-month battle with suicidal depression. Somewhere in the middle of those months, she decided to end her suffering by overdosing on lithium.

Suicide Attempt

Once Jamison decided to kill herself, she started to work out the details. She got a prescription for anti-nausea medication to keep from throwing up the lithium. She took the telephone out of her room to stop herself from using it or answering it. Then, she took a handful of lithium pills and waited to die. 

Despite her efforts to cover all possible intrusions, Jamison didn’t anticipate that the lithium would affect her brain while killing her. When the phone rang, she instinctively crawled to it in the next room in her drugged-out stupor. It was her brother checking in, and when he heard her slurred speech, he called her psychiatrist. 

Jamison recovered in the hospital after days of going in and out of a coma.

Love in the Time of Madness

After her suicide attempt, love entered Jamison’s life. David was a visiting professor at UCLA from London. His kindness and care for her after learning about her disease made her realize that tolerance was possible. Even with a manic depressive illness, Kay Redfield Jamison found that love was possible. A year after she started dating David, he died from a heart attack.

Years later, she met her second husband, Richard, a prominent researcher in schizophrenia and the Chief of Neurosurgery at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, D.C. Richard was vastly different in personality and interests than Jamison, but he always provided a solid foundation of love. His unwavering unconditional love taught Jamison that a predictable life was far more enriching than a life of reckless passion.

Manic Depressive Illness and Kay Redfield Jamison

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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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