An Unquiet Mind: Why I wouldn’t recommend it

275mg – I’m too scared to touch it at this point (I will fill you in soon).

It’s always a little frightening to present a view that others are very likely to vehemently disagree with.  But what you will learn about me, if you keep on reading, is that I am incredibly opinionated. You will also learn that I am very accepting of other people’s perspectives. My opinion is based entirely on my perception of the world, by the very essence of me. So, I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, and I don’t expect to agree with everyone. I do, however, value and make a definite effort to seek others perspectives. I feel strongly that we as human beings have a responsibility to at least try and understand and appreciate where others are coming from. With that in mind, this is my opinion on Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind.  Please share yours with me in the comments.

I first read this book in 2008 when I was at my worst. Several months after my diagnosis, my therapist recommended it to me. How I actually managed to read the book, I do not know. Whether I liked it, I can’t remember. For that reason, I decided to read it again.

In short, An Unquiet Mind terrified me. It wasn’t the severity of Jamison’s episodes, the dangerousness, the drama. It was the distinct impression I got that when you have Bipolar Disorder:

You Will Never Be Normal

Your Illness is Serious

 Life-Threatening

Dangerous

You Will Always Experience Episodes

 It Will Never End

I’m not an idiot. I know those things. But I’m not one for drama, I’m not one for running around like a headless chicken. I do on occasion catastrophise but generally only in relation to potential physical illnesses I may have (seriously, I’m a hypochondriac…in a sub-clinical sense). I tend to downplay my struggles, downplay my bipolar disorder and quite frankly, this works well for me. If I readily thought about the dangerousness of the condition, about the seriousness, and the fact my life will never be free of it, I would be one seriously unhappy, and consequently, obese woman (I eat when I’m depressed). I take Bipolar seriously, which is why I am so anal about self-care. But I’m not dramatic about it, and I struggle to identify with those who are.

When I finished the book sometime last week, I put it down and turned to my Mum who was reading on the couch opposite me. I could feel the fear on my face, and she most certainly saw it. “I’m scared” I said. “Will I ever be able to be a clinical psychologist?” She listened while I questioned my capability to live a “normal” life, to pursue my passions, my desired career, and my wish to be medication free. She replied by saying when she read it, she was pretty freaked out too.

Aside from the doom and gloom, I found it difficult to connect with Jamison. An Unquiet Mind was cold, clinical and detached. For me, a memoir is about being welcomed into the life of another. In an Unquiet Mind I felt I was always kept at arms length. I was told a story, but never included. I didn’t feel her in there. I didn’t see her in there. I saw words on a page, and a story in my mind, but not in my heart.

Maybe my difficulty in connecting with Jamison rests on the fact that her and I are very different people. Her entirely medical approach to Bipolar Disorder left a bad taste in my mouth (sort of like Quetiapine dissolving on my tongue before I’ve swallowed it – ew!), and her focus on the negative aspects of her illness weighed me down in a way depression only could.

Jamison’s narrative also raised some ethical concerns for me regarding her clinical practice. At one point she stated she crawled across her room in the mornings, and wore the same clothes to bed she had worn that day. Evidently, she was severely depressed. Ethically, I believe that in such a severe depression, one should neither be responsible for supervising other clinician’s, nor should one actually be working with clients. The best interests of the client must always be put first. If you cannot care for yourself, should you be entrusted to care for others?

I thought (mistakenly) because of Jamison’s success professionally, that hers would be a story of hope, recovery and inspiration. In reality, it seemed Jamison was intent on letting the world know just how serious Bipolar Disorder is, while down-playing the positives and successes in her life. I agree we need the world to know just how serious Bipolar is. But I wanted to know more about how she managed to get through.

I feel an unbalanced and dramatic approach is unhelpful for those who are in a fragile mental and physical state.

 I want to feel, and help others to feel hope and inspiration and a sense that in spite of all of this, life can be good. That there is hope! 

For those reasons, and the fact this book totally freaked me out, I would not recommend An Unquiet Mind to someone recently diagnosed, or to already-frightened family members. In such instances, I am concerned it would do more harm than good.

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