by Kay Redfield Jamison
Random House, 1995
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Nov 3rd 1999
Although Jamison has written several books, this memoir remains her best. She tells the story of her life: her focus is on her struggle with manic depression, but she puts it in a larger context. The author is an accomplished writer, and reading this book leads the reader through a range of powerful emotions. For me, the most interesting themes in the book were to do with creativity, medication, and the place of people with manic depression in society. Jamison has written elsewhere of the link between mania and creativity, but it is here that she writes most personally and most convincingly about it. As with almost all people who take lithium, she often wishes that she didn't have to take it. There have been times in her life when she did not take it consistently, and she found that doing so let to crisis. Yet at the same time, the feeling of well-being and her productivity are at their height when she is slightly manic. So she takes her medication with some regret. She emphasizes too how important it is for treatment to be a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Finally, she also confronts the stigma that accompanies severe mental illness. This issue was particularly painful when she met some people who automatically assumed that the fact that there is some genetic component to manic depression meant that she should not have children. Jamison writes movingly of her response to such stigma. Since the publication of this book, Jamison has also talked of the responses of her colleagues and friends to her "coming out" as a person with mental illness. Since she is a psychiatric researcher at Johns Hopkins Medical School, this revelation had a major impact on her career. She has had to give up her medical practice and she misses treating patients. Yet the fact she has written such a powerful book that has helped so many people means she does not regret telling her story.