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Kay Redfield Jamison: A different take-away

Everyone loves a good story, especially if there’s a meaningful take-away. I was introduced to Kay Redfield Jamison’s life when I read her book, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, several years ago.

What an inspiration it was for a guy who’d experienced his own emotional and mental health struggles, and was embarking upon his journey to a graduate degree in counseling.

Now to the story…

After completing her undergrad and doctoral work at UCLA, Dr. Jamison accepted a UCLA professorship. She went on to establish UCLAs Affective Disorder Clinic. She’s now a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. And she has an Honorary Professorship at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Dr. Jamison is one of the world’s leading experts on bipolar disorder.

Nice bio, right? Well, there’s just a smidge more to the story…

Kay Redfield Jamison endures bipolar disorder, being diagnosed during her undergrad years at UCLA. And her illness created a powerful and complex life dynamic for her. Bipolar disorder led Dr. Jamison to her life’s passion and work; and it almost cost her her life after a lithium overdose. In fact, the only reason she’s alive is she miscalculated a lethal dose.

Though a rehash of Dr. Jamison’s case history and symptomatology isn’t at all the intent of this piece, I want to share some of her very moving feelings and thoughts from An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces.

There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist. It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and color to one’s loves and friendships.

Dang, I wish I could write like that.

So now to my point. Certainly, Kay Redfield Jamison’s bipolar history is breathtaking, and her survival amazing and inspirational. However, these are my take-aways from her story…

  • Dr. Jamison, of course, still endures bipolar disorder; and I’m betting she takes a lot of meds to manage it. I’d also imagine as rewarding as her life is, it’s very difficult to navigate. Yet, she manages her circumstances and moves forward.
  • The suicide attempt I mentioned earlier took place while she was employed by the department of psychiatry at UCLA. What a super example of insight, compassion, and loyalty on the part of an employer.
  • Dr. Jamison didn’t run from her disorder – and passion. She stepped up to the plate and still uses it to help others in the same boat.

In my mind, those are the things that make Kay Redfield Jamison – and UCLA – extraordinary. As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say those three things stand-out for me more than her endurance and survival of some intensely frightening symptoms.

Do some research on Kay Redfield Jamison, won’t you? She’s an easy find on any search engine. And you’ll find all sorts of goodies, including some don’t-miss video. By the way, amongst many, here are some of her titles…

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Nothing Was the Same, Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Exurberance: The Passion for Life, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

So what’s your take on Kay Redfield Jamison’s story, chipur readers? Did you enjoy it? What’s your take-away? Sharing a comment (or two) would be great!

image credit news.cornell.edu

  • Donna

    what a great book and what an amazing woman! while a memoir of manic-depression doesn’t initially sound like the cheeriest or easiest of books, this book left me with a real feeling of hope and encouragement. that someone could go through so much and not only get through it, but to also dedicate herself to understanding and supporting others experiencing the same illness – just incredible!
    thanks for the recommendation Bill!

    • Hi Donna! Thanks for your comment. No doubt, she’s definitely the goods. What a life! And to know she’s been giving back for all these years is truly inspirational. I loved the book, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it – better yet, derived hope and encouragement from it. Bill