Of Moods and Madness

One in five Americans are affected my mental illness in a given year.

I knew nothing about mental illness until ten years ago. I’m still skiing on the beginner slopes, but thanks to Kay Redfield Jamison, I am making up for being late to the game.

Her “memoir of moods and madness”, Unquiet Mind, is incredibly illuminating and highly recommended. In addition to being a preeminent scientist, Jamison writes exceedingly well. Of her memoir, Oliver Sacks wrote, “It stands alone in the literature of manic-depression for its bravery, brilliance and beauty.”

A few take-aways.

  • No one chooses bipolar illness, it’s inherited. It’s also treatable with a combination of medication (typically lithium) and psychotherapy. Things do not turn out well for patients who choose not to take lithium. In Jamison’s case, small doses worked better than medium ones.
  • With a combo of meds and psychotherapy, people with bipolar disorder live life as fully and “successfully” as any other cross-section of people. Jamison has done okay.
  • Jamison enjoys numerous, positive friendships. Being mentally ill doesn’t have to limit one interpersonally.
  • Jamison was fortunate to be surrounded by highly educated  and caring scientists who were, with one notable exception, incredibly supportive of her upon learning of her condition.

Jamison’s colleagues and friends, with their unconditional positive regard for her, provide a model for the rest of us to help acquaintances, friends, and family with bipolar and other mental illnesses thrive.

 

 

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