If one had to guess who my celebrity of choice was when I was a college student, they’d probably say Miley Cyrus or Lana Del Rey. I mean, look at the above picture of the Lana mural hanging in my sophomore year dorm room (yikes). Surprisingly, the person whom I was dying to meet wasn’t a former Disney star or a moody singer; instead, it was a famous psychologist.
As a health psychology major, I became fascinated by bipolar disorder, an interest that began when reading about Kay Redfield Jamison’s experience with the condition. I recently stumbled across my review of the book that piqued my interest in the disorder and wanted to share it. Even if you aren’t normally drawn to psychology books, I highly recommend this one. And if you don’t feel like reading an entire book right now, you can use the following as CliffsNotes (Most Boring Person edition, of course).
In the impressively transparent book An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison takes the reader on a look back at her journey through the ups and downs associated with her bipolar diagnosis. From the beginning paragraph describing her experience of running around a medical center parking lot at 2:00 AM to the last few chapters in which she describes how she has learned to live with her disorder, Dr. Jamison paints a detailed picture of what one’s life might look like if they suffer from bipolar disorder.
Dr. Jamison details her family’s move from Washington to California, which is when her life began to unravel. The adjustments of leaving the home that she loved, saying goodbye to her close friends and boyfriend, and having to adjust to the completely foreign culture of her new home caused her to sink into depression. It was during her time at this new school that she began experiencing the effects of her disorder.
Throughout high school, she would experience mild mania followed by dark depression, but it was not until she was enrolled in her undergraduate studies that she experienced full-blown mania. The periods of mania that she experienced in college involved her buying excessive amounts of things that she did not need, dressing more provocatively, and enrolling in more classes than she could handle when she was not manic. She felt an invincibility while under the spell of her mania, but once she had come off of her “highs” and fell into depression, she had to piece back together the parts of her life that had been shattered by her moods. However, even with the extreme highs and lows of her moods, her life was not in complete shambles.
She was asked by a professor to assist him with his research, and this afforded her the opportunity to experience a part of academia that she found both exhilarating and fascinating. Following graduate school, she was hired as an assistant professor in the UCLA psychiatry department. The excitement did not last long, because within three months of this new job beginning she had become completely psychotic.
The manic episodes that plagued Dr. Jamison after she had begun her job as an assistant professor at UCLA were more intense than any episode that she had experienced before. She spent more than thirty thousand dollars on items that included multiple snakebite kits, expensive watches, and an abundance of clothing. She explains how the depression following a manic episode would be even deeper because she would have to deal with all of the havoc that she had wreaked when she had been flying high on mania. She resisted seeking help for quite some time, but following an intense manic episode that involved horrifying hallucinations, she finally decided that she needed to seek professional help.
A psychiatrist helped her by prescribing lithium to treat her disorder, and with the help of the medication, she was finally able to start facing her illness. However, everything was not made better once she began her medication. It helped to keep her moods from fluctuating dangerously, but she missed experiencing the high that she felt when she was manic. She writes, “If you…are used to staying up all night for days and weeks in a row and now cannot, it is a real adjustment to blend into a three-piece-suit schedule.” Lithium is the medicine that ultimately saved her, but it was also the substance that she used when she tried to end her life. Thankfully, her life was spared when a friend discovered her suicide attempt and got her medical help.
In the years following the suicide attempt, she became a tenured professor at UCLA, opened a mood disorder clinic, and went on to become a world-renowned speaker on the subject of mood disorders. It has not been an easy road for Dr. Jamison, but when asked if she would choose to live without her disorder if possible, she replied, “As a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely…and slowly learned the values of caring, loyalty, and seeing things through.” She recognizes that the disorder that has caused her so much pain throughout her life has also been an integral part in making her who she is today.
Dr. Jamison’s book resonated with me for a couple of different reasons. First, I was blown away by how open and honest it is about her life. To write with such detail about her struggles with bipolar disorder and the problems associated with her condition shows how brave she is. Additionally, reading this book caused me to be more aware of the words that I casually throw around in everyday language.
I am certainly guilty of having seen someone who is happy one minute and angry the next and saying that they are “so bipolar.” This attitude was not one that I had with the intention of being insensitive; instead, it came from a place of ignorance. By reading the account of Dr. Jamison, I gained a better understanding of what the term “bipolar” actually refers to, and that has caused me to think more carefully about how I use that term, along with other medical terms, in my everyday language.
The book report originally ended with an assignment-specific paragraph, which I have omitted for this post.