I love that more healthcare workers are talking about depression these days. It’s something I did not see while I was studying, and that meant that I felt very alone. You might even have seen (or participated in) #crazysocks4docs, which was meant to highlight the high rates of depression in the medical profession. (Some took exception to the term “crazy” – but I’m not going to discuss that right now.)
Anyway, more and more HCWs are doing their part to delegitimise stigma by sharing stories of their own depression. But some mental illnesses are still “off limits” – bipolar mood disorder and schizophrenia, for example; and it’s not hard to know why. For a doctor to get sad and burnt out? Most people can wrap their heads around that. But few are comfortable with the idea of an “unstable” doctor. Society hasn’t become comfortable talking about those disorders that may lead to losing touch with reality.
It was on this background that I started reading Kay Redfield-Jamison’s “memoir of moods and madness”: An Unquiet Mind. What I like about it is that, although Kay is considered an expert in the field of BMD, this is not an academic text. Academic matters are mentioned only in passing; this is a tale of an academic with bipolar mood disorder.
The author traces her illness back to the first glimpses of it in her childhood – where, of course, she was not diagnosed. She was just very much like her father: mercurial, brilliant, curious, creative. It was not strange in her world, especially because she had an emotionally stable constant, namely her neurotypical mother.
“I have no idea how I managed to pass as normal in school, except that other people are generally caught up in their own lives and seldom notice despair in others if those despairing make an effort to disguise the pain.”
The benefit of reading Redfield-Jamison’s first-hand experience is in seeing how she fought, first against her diagnosis, and then against her treatment. How eye-opening to see that even an expert railed against her own mental illness.
Redfield-Jamison writes with such intricate self-awareness. It is as though she delicately unfolds her mind, displays its secrets, and then looks toward the reader, prompting, “Now, you.”
For a doctor with mental illness myself, An Unquiet Mind was a seminal read. The relatability is astounding – comforting, even. I want to give this book to everyone – those who have mental illness, and those who do not. Because people without mental illness do not understand. Many may try, but trying has its limits. I think An Unquiet Mind aides the understanding, just a bit more.
The writing is special in that it is simple. Unlike many memoirs, this reads smoothly, and is relatively short. It doesn’t try to be art. It just tells a story.
“People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.”
Suffer from BMD? Read this book.
Suffer from any mental illness? Read this book.
Love someone with mental illness? Read the damn book! (Please and thank you)
An Unquiet Mind :I am glad you found this book useful. I did too, as I was able to look at some of my own shameful puzzling secrets with more perspective and acceptance. I am grateful to Kay Redfield-Jamison for writing about her own history. I admire her self respect and candor. The information she shared about her clinical experience was valuable to me.