Pages 3-40 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Prologue (3-7)

The prologue begins with Kay running, literally “on the run” (Jamison 3).  She is darting furiously back and forth, her nervous system “exquisitely alert” (Jamison 3).  The man she is with is a colleague from the medical school (UCLA) and had stopped running an hour earlier because he was exhausted.   A police car pulls up and the policeman asks what she is doing running around the parking lot.  Her colleague tells the policeman that they are both on staff in the psychiatry department.  The policeman seemed to understand and drove away with a smile. 

Within a month of becoming an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA in1974, she is “well on her way to madness” (Jamison 4).  After three months she is extremely manic and is beginning a war with a medication.  She explains that as a child she was “beholden to moods” (Jamison 4).  She also explains how she is trying to turn her illness into a beautiful thing, and is tired of hiding her illness from the world. 

Chapter 1 "Into the Sun" (11-40)

As a second grader, Kay is playing in the playground when the military jet roars overhead.  It crashes into a row of trees where the pilot is burned to death.  All the moms are reassuring their children that it was not their father in the plane and that their father is safe at home.  Her father shows signs of manic-depression, at times elevating the energy level of the entire family and other times so depressed he cannot get out of bed.  He becomes sullen and uncommunicative, leading to bouts of anger and screaming.  She volunteers as a candy striper at a hospital where she makes friends with the doctors who allow her to watch surgeries being performed. At 15, she visits St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital with her fellow students and is appalled by the shabby conditions.  She does, however, identify with the patients’ pain and suffering.

Kay moves to California with her family where she begins to drink vodka before she goes to school every day.  She feels that she has been violently torn out of her safe world of military and government families.  In California she meets her boyfriend, a pre-med student at UCLA who provides an escape from her difficult home life. By the age of 16, she begins to notice that her mood swings are exhausting her friends and at 17 she has her first manic episode.  When her mania comes to a sudden halt, she becomes enveloped by the darkness of a deep depression.

Reflection:

When I first read about the plane crash she witnessed as a child, I couldn’t help but wonder if that had something to do with her mental illness.  I would certainly be traumatized for life if that were me. Throughout the first chapter it became increasingly clearer as to why she developed the illness. In addition to the crash, her father’s bipolar behavior shows that she possibly learned the behavior or she received it by genetics. When she arrives in California, the culture shock is also a traumatizing experience. Coming from a completely different background as your classmates can be more than troublesome. All of these factors make it not surprising that she developed such a mental disorder. 

There are things in this book that ring true to my life.  For example, I understand exactly how she feels during her bouts of depression.  I too have suffered from a mental disorder and can relate to her suffering.  In addition, feeling like an outsider in school is something that hits close to home.  I come from a very different background compared to most of my classmates and when I enrolled at my high school I knew a total of 5 people, one of whom transferred schools after her freshman year.  It proved difficult to make new friends and to conform myself to fit in with the student body.  After nearly four years of high school, however, I have finally begun to accept that I’m different and that I can’t live my life pretending to be something I’m not.  Although I don’t drink vodka with my orange juice every morning, I understand how it feels to wake up with absolutely no motivation to get out of bed.  The lack of energy severely affected my home life as well as my school life, just like Kay.

Pages 41-63 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 2 "An Education for Life" (41-63)

Kay graduates from high school and, much to her disappointment, attends UCLA.  She had hoped to attend the University of Chicago but, because her father lost his job, the family is in financial turmoil and cannot afford tuition there.  After a while she begins to realize that UCLA was a good fit for her, though her illness worsens. During one of her manic episodes, she is reminded of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and is seized with a desire to have it.  She rushes to the bookstore and buys not only Tennyson, but about a dozen books that are all related to it in some way.  When she calms down and snaps back to reality she realizes she cannot afford that kind of spending, for she is literally broke.  She is later offered to do laboratory work for a professor who is intrigued by her fascinating responses to Rorschach cards.  She finds the work enriching and financially beneficial. 

After two years at UCLA, she receives a federal grant to spend a year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.  Her brother and cousin are both studying at English universities, and she hopes to visit them.  She is excited to escape her father’s black moods and LA in general.  She enrolls in a Zoology class where she realizes she is in way over her head being among students who have been studying zoology for several years.  When she returns home the next year, she realizes that her strongest interest is psychology.  She lacks the patience and discipline for medical school so she decides to pursue a PhD in psychology.  She begins working with another professor, one who suffers from the same changing moods.  The two realize they are keeping track of their shifting moods with their own devices, and that they are both manic-depressives.  Kay decides to buy a horse instead of going to a psychiatrist for her illness which proves to be another bad decision given her financial instability.

She spends a few months in London where she studies psychiatry.  When she returns home she decides to pursue that field and begins to work with a second professor on the effects of mood-altering drugs.  She also marries a French artist named Alain Moreau, whom she describes as talented, kind, steady, and dependable; a pleasant compliment to her unsteady, undependable demeanor.  Kay writes her doctoral dissertation on heroin addiction which she describes as mediocre and insufficient.  After her oral exam and presentation of the dissertation, however, she is declared Doctor Jamison.    

Reflection:

The thing that struck me the most was her manic episode of buying an array of books.  This stood out to me the most because this happens to me often—all of the sudden needing to buy something right then and there.  I go to a book store and I get an overwhelming urge to sit down and read every single book on every single shelf.  I once had to be literally dragged out of the book store by my friend, kicking and screaming.  It’s safe to say I avoid bookstores nowadays. 

What I still fail to understand is why Kay felt the need to buy a horse.  How on earth could purchasing a horse solve any of her problems?  I understand that it was during her manic cycle, but it just seems completely psychotic and irresponsible.  What I do comprehend, however, is that she married an artist.  Knowing her taste for the arts, it is only fitting that she marry the epitome of her male alter-ego.  When Jamison got her PhD in psychiatry, I was overcome with pride.  After her many years of constant struggle, to finally achieve her goal of becoming a doctor seemed like a huge accomplishment to me.  It also gave me hope; hope that one day I too can fulfill my lifetime goal of becoming a doctor.  Seeing someone with similar struggles with mental illness reach her destination makes me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to, as long as I put in the effort.  At times it feels as if Jamison is living out my dreams of traveling to Europe (especially England) and receiving her PhD, and I felt myself almost living vicariously through her.  Throughout this chapter I wanted my name to be written on those pages, I wanted this chapter to be a portrayal of what my future will be like. 

Pages (67-89) Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 3 “Flights of the Mind” (67-89)

In July 1974, Kay joins the UCLA staff and her mind races faster. She seems to need less sleep and works intensely. At the manic extreme, she feels self-confident and filled with well-being; everything seems exciting, even the most boring people. But gradually the exhilaration becomes too much and feelings come to fast, producing confusion and memory loss. She can’t quite remember what happened and she discovers that her marriage and friendships are either threatened or gone. She begins to wonder which thoughts are real, the manic ones or the depressive ones. 

Jamison recalls a party for new faculty members, one in which she found herself to be charming, sexy, and witty. She learns from a fellow staff member, who later becomes her psychiatrist, that she acted like a person in a manic episode. Her mind soon directs her to behave oddly: making 40 copies of a poem and a paper on the absurdity of conferences which she passes out to her colleagues, running madly through aisles of a drugstore, and buying every snake bite kit in stock for the remote possibility of a rattlesnake bite. In addition, she buys some expensive jewelry, as well as unnecessary furniture. She suspects that she stole a blouse, too, because she was too impatient to wait in line at the cash register. Once she returns to reality, she figures she spent at least $30,000 in two major manic cycles and her credit is destroyed. This exacerbates the depression that follows. Craving excitement, she separates from her husband, rebelling against his kindness and stability. When her brother comes to visit, he takes Kay under his wing, uses a line of credit to help pay off her debt, and tries to put things back in order.   

Music becomes too emotional and too beautiful for her to handle, and fragments of music and sentences start to circle in her head without making any sense. While looking at the sunset, she is visited by a dark figure that fills a centrifuge inside her head with a tube of blood. As the machine spins, it moves outside her body and gets faster and faster, until it shatters and spills blood everywhere. She screams in horror and calls the colleague whom she has been dating since her split with her husband. She starts to see a psychiatrist who tells her she is manic-depressive and prescribes lithium. Beginning to stabilize, she makes friends with her psychiatrist and credits him with saving her life on several different occasions.  She recognizes the problem with getting patients to stay on their medication, learning from personal experience how costly it is being off of it. 

Reflection:

After reading this chapter, I realized just how dangerous a manic episode can be. Spending almost $30,000 without noticing is financially detrimental, especially to people with such a poor economic background like Kay’s. It’s sad to think that had she went to a psychiatrist just a few months earlier, all of her strife could have been avoided. The fact that she couldn't listen to music is fascinating, for music was always a blessing for me when I felt down or depressed. Without music, I don’t believe I would have overcome my mental illness like I did. Like Jamison, I also had unpleasant experiences with being off my medication. For a period of time I believed I didn't need my medication; they were utterly useless and unnecessary.  I was in complete denial of my illness until I had a rude awakening. Sharp pains in my head would cloud my eyesight, and I felt chronically fatigued and dizzy.  After that scarring experience, I now recognize the importance of taking my medication regularly. 

I was so happy that she had a support system in her life, namely her brother. It was nice to hear that she had someone to put back together the broken fragments of her life. Her episode with the black figure truly worried me and I believe that was her rock bottom, the moment where she recognized that she needed help. The psychiatrist, in my opinion, was truly a blessing for her. Everyone needs someone they can trust and tell all their secrets too, and I’m glad she found that person.   

Pages 90-109 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 4 “Missing Saturn” (90-109)

Kay’s struggle with lithium came one year after she started taking it, when her initial manic episode cleared. She begins to justify not taking lithium for familial reasons and personal reasons.  In fact, the times when she needs her medication most are the times when her mind is telling her she needs it least.  In retrospect, she also attributes her dosage level to her refusal to take lithium. Dosage levels in lithium’s early years were much higher than later years, and the dosage level she took for the first 10 years was close to toxic. Subtle changes in hormones or diet could send her into violent fits of nausea in which she sleeps curled up on her bathroom floor. The lithium also causes her difficulty in reading and prevents her from reading as much as she used to.  She finds that children’s books are equally nourishing, however, and reads and re-reads The Wind in the Willows, weeping over passages that remind her of her condition.

She draws up a list of 13 rules to live with lithium, and her resistance to taking the medicine is reinforced by her sister, claiming that Kay has lost her personality due to the drug. Thus, she convinces herself that she is an exception to every study on manic-depressive illness which indicates that patients who do not regularly take lithium suffer worse bouts of depression and mania. Her psychiatrist insists that she continue to take her medication and she is grateful for that. She declares that it is malpractice not to treat psychiatric illness like you would medical illness. Jamison is called to the UCLA emergency room to see one of her manic-depressive patients who is acutely psychotic. The psychiatry resident on-call injects the patient with an anti-psychotic drug, halperidol. She is shocked to realize that this was the same man who once held a knife to her throat, and who had been released from a locked psychiatric ward. As the drug begins to calm him, he cries and pleads with her not to leave.  Soon after, the patient takes his own life and she realizes the gravity of her own situation.

Reflection:

Kay’s biggest mistake was thinking she was cured once her initial manic episode went away. I too, however, made the same mistake. When I got my mood under control, I was convinced that I no longer needed my medication and was capable of independence. Boy, was I wrong.  I truly sympathize with those who are undergoing treatment for their medication, especially those who are stopping their medication. Trying to wean myself off of the medication has been an increasingly difficult task. With each lower dosage I go through a mild withdrawal.  My dependence on the drugs take over my senses, and it gets difficult to see, hear, think, speak, or do any strenuous physical activity. Thus, I know what it feels like to suddenly quit a medication and to feel your body rebel against you; I know what Kay was experiencing.

Jamison’s statement that mental illness should be treated equally to medical illness was very insightful, and also wise of her. When I arrived at my first psychology appointment, I was embarrassed to talk about my depression/anxiety. I was ashamed of my illness and was afraid of what others would think of me. There was something that my therapist told me, however, that changed my thinking. He asked me: “Why should you be ashamed of a mental illness? Would you be ashamed of having diabetes?” This gave me a brand new perspective on my depression/anxiety and I began to think of it as an actual medical illness, similar to what Kay experienced. In addition, I too believed for a period of time that I was an exception to the rule and that I needed no medication in order to properly function.  I was convinced that I defied all studies of treatment and medication. I was invincible. Later on in my attempt at recovery I began to accept my illness for what it was and succumbed to the treatment, for I realized that I was no exception. I was just like every other mentally ill.

Pages 110-135 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 5 “The Charnel House” (110-123)


Still, Jamison refuses to take her lithium regularly. She becomes death-obsessed, and her depression slows her to the point that washing her hair takes hours. She resists hospitalization and has an altercation with her lover during which she lunges for his throat. Determined to have a successful suicide, she overdoses on her lithium and waits in bed, prepared to die. Her brother calls, notices her slurred speech, and alerts her psychiatrist. Kay is in and out of coma for a few days.

Before her suicide, Jamison made friends with an “offbeat” psychiatrist who showed interest in her welfare. This unnamed friend later becomes a liaison and watchdog for her. She credits her psychiatrist, her psychiatrist friend, and her family with saving her life. She contrasts the image of her young self in Washington D.C. wearing elbow-length white gloves at a cotillion, with that of the same woman a few years older running wildly through the streets and violently smashing prized possessions. With references to an American poet and Welsh poet, Jamison compares the manic aspects of her disease to “a strange and driving force, a destroyer, a fire in the blood” (Jamison 123). She states that “fire, by its nature, both creates and destroys” (Jamison 123).  On a positive note, Kay feels that manic-depressives give the gifts of imagination and new artistic expression to the world.

Chapter 6 “Tenure” (124-135)

With the help of two colleagues, Jamison establishes the UCLA Affective Disorders Clinic to provide a clinical rotation for third-year psychiatric residents. Although she encounters resistance from the medical school, she receives support from the medical director of the clinic, the chairman of the psychiatry department, and the chief of staff of the Neuropsychiatry Institute. In just a few years, the clinic becomes a center for research and teaches residents and psychologists how to identify and treat mood disorders. She arranges a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic of works by composers who suffered from manic-depression to emphasize that manic-depressive illness is linked with great creativity. She is left with a $25,000 bill but is quickly reimbursed by a sold-out concert which instigates a series of concerts around the country. It also becomes the basis for a television series on manic-depression and the arts.

Only after several years of lithium does her mood begin to level out. Because the drug affects her coordination, she gives up beloved athletic activities such as horseback riding and squash. She meets an onerous male chauvinist professor who is condescending toward women and she enjoys exposing his lack of charm or wit to her colleagues when they are in meetings. Finally, she rejoices that the “tenure” process seems fair when she is appointed associate professor, a step down from the position of full professor. However, her friends remind her that she has now entered into the dominantly-male faculty club.

Reflection:

In the beginning of chapter five, I sobbed for hours, remembering the debilitating heartbreak I felt during my days of deep depression. The worthlessness I felt came flooding back as I reminisced in those life-altering, dark times. Her story rang ever too true in my life, on two occasions having over-dosed on my xanax and waking up in the emergency room. The scariest part was being informed that, because I was unresponsive, I was transferred via ambulance to a different hospital where better treatment was accessible. I, too, was saved when I received a phone call from a friend who, noticing my slurred speech, contacted my parents. It is to my friend that I credit with saving my life.

I was overcome with intense pride and joy when I read that she had finally turned her beast of an illness into a beauty, celebrating the art creativity that accompanies manic-depression. Remembering that this was her ultimate goal, I again felt empowered to set seemingly unattainable goals for myself. Having something to reach for seems like a good way to push through my illness all while being blissfully distracted by busy work. It was a true inspiration witnessing her transformation from dangerously suicidal to increasingly successful.

Pages 139-162 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 7 “An Officer and a Gentleman” (139-152)

During her first year as associate professor, Jamison meets Dr. David Laurie, a handsome English psychiatrist. They are immediately drawn to each other, sharing similar interests and a desire to heal the mentally ill. She repeatedly declines his efforts to take her out dinner because, although separated, she is still married to her husband. After he returns to London, they keep in touch via mail; but Jamison is immersed in her own life. She tries to reconcile once more with her husband, but fails. She notifies David of her official break-up and impending divorce, but still cannot bring herself to tell him about her manic-depression. About a year and a half later, she walks into her office to find David sitting at her desk and smiling. They finally go out to dinner before he leaves again for England, and invites her to visit him. She feels herself healing in his presence while in England.  While visiting Canterbury Cathedral, she drops her lithium tablets on the dirty stone floor and realizes she’ll have to ask David to write her a prescription. Once she has told him her entire life story and the incident with the pills, he shrugs and says she has just had “rotten luck” (Jamison 144). She grows even more comfortable with him and they grow closer and closer. He one day invites British military officers who are also bipolar to dinner with him and Jamison. She enjoys seeing that it’s possible to function well when the disease is well managed.

David visits her in LA again and she returns to England in the spring. He is assigned to the British Army Hospital in Hong Kong, and tells her of his plans for her to come with him. They make plans to meet his friends in Hong Kong and visit nearby islands. While working on a textbook chapter, Kay receives news that David has died of a massive heart attack in Katmandu at the age of 44. On the plane to his funeral, she reads several un-opened letters from David and breaks down sobbing. She finds compassion and caring in David’s fellow officers and in English friends.

Chapter 8 “They Tell Me It Rained” (153-162)

Jamison immerses herself in her work and takes lithium regularly, experiencing a more stable and predictable life. Still not emotionally healed, she decides to take a one-year sabbatical leave to study manic-depressive illness among British artists and writers at Oxford University and at St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London. She slips comfortably into her new academic routine between the hospital and university. Experiencing this new stimulating atmosphere, she becomes aware of how much she has simply been surviving and not living to the fullest extent.

Jamison visits David’s grave, remembering the times they had together. She is overcome with sadness at what he would miss having died so young. Shortly after, she meets another charming Englishman at a dinner party and succumbs to love at first sight. He is sympathetic and supportive when she tells him about her disease and struggles with lithium. After a weekend alone together, he gives her a book of writings about love, with a tag on one page that says: “Thank you for a lovely weekend. They tell me it rained.” After consulting with her psychiatrist in LA and her physician in London, she decides to gradually decrease her dosage. She finds that her senses are sharper and becomes more engaged with the business of being alive. Finally, she is able to listen to music again and feel a range of emotion.

Reflection:

Jamison exhibits great strength in these two chapters. Her healthy coping with the grief of David’s death shows just how much progress she has made in her recovery. I know that if my beloved died while I was still so young, I would not be able to function for a lengthy period of time or even ever again, at all. I desire to one day be as strong as she, but one can only hope that such unfortunate circumstances never  become his or her reality. I was happy to find out that she found love again among such anguish and sorrow. It gives hope to all; hope that love is never dead and that anyone can find love. When I read that she had chosen to slowly wean herself off of lithium, I felt an overwhelming dread. Having had my own unfavorable experiences, I was sure that this would be another grand fiasco. However, I was proved otherwise and was elated when she got back both the spring in her step and the ability to listen to music.

Pages 163-184 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 9 “Love Watching Madness” (163-175)

Jamison returns to LA and dreads the academic routine and stress of managing the clinic. She doubts she can even remember how to conduct a psychiatric evaluation. To her surprise, however, she enjoys a new energy and works on a manic-depressive textbook with another professor. This joy was the result of a new, carefully adjusted dosage of lithium. The new dosage allows her to experience her emotions more clearly and fully. She feels like someone has revealed an aspect of reality she never knew was there. Despite her marked improvement, her emotional turmoil still lingers within her, at times causing her a restless irritability.

As she begins to realize what a genuine, lasting love requires, Jamison meets Dr. Richard Wyatt, a schizophrenia researcher and chief of neuropsychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Illness. Down to earth and low-key, he is quite the emotional opposite of Kay who is still emotionally intense. She eventually finds she can hardly imagine life without him and, after a short but decisive courtship, she moves in with him in the Georgetown are of Washington D.C. They are both fascinated with each other’s lives, having such different interests and passions. But considering their differences, she realizes there is room for the both of them to cultivate their own interests and freedom to be independent individuals. When her black moods cause her to retaliate against Richard, he is taken aback but remains steady and devoted.

Chapter 10 “Speaking of Madness” (179-184)

Pondering the influence of language on the perception of the mentally ill, she recalls having once received an angry letter from someone offended at her use of the word “madness” in a presentation. Kay notes that she prefers the term “manic-depressive illness” over the coldly clinical term “bipolar disorder” when referring to her illness. In addition, she claims that there must be a change in descriptions when defining the mentally ill to encourage diverse ways of perceiving the issue. Most important in improving conditions for those with mental illness, she believes, is a push in the legislature to ensure nondiscrimination in the workplace

Reflection:

Finding a suitable partner in life is certainly desirable, but I agree with Jamison when she says that love alone cannot cure her illness. Many people believe love will solve all their problems and will cause all worries and fears to disappear. However, contrary to popular belief, love really cannot solve any issues in one’s life. In order to have a healthy, nurturing relationship, one must first solve his or her problem by him/herself; only then can one put aside his/her needs for the welfare of another.

While reading Jamison’s memoir, I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't heard the term “bipolar disorder” in any context. The explanation of her feelings toward this not only answered my question, but changed my outlook on the illness. I have never noticed it until now, but the term “bipolar” actually is, in its own way, mildly offensive. Her statement that it seems to “obscure and minimize the illness it is supposed to represent” (Jamison 181) actually makes sense. I understand her qualms about the term implying that there is a distinction between depression and manic-depressive illness. It completely disregards the idea that perhaps mania is simply an extreme form of depression. Starting now I will indeed refer to the regularly used term “bipolar disorder” as manic-depressive illness.

Pages 185-209 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 11 “The Troubled Helix” (185-198)

Jamison attends a medical conference with James Watson, one of the co-discoverers of the DNA double helix, to discuss what genes can tell about how to diagnose manic-depressive illness early and treat it better. She recalls her father’s behavior and the prevalence of the disease in her family. Because the disease is inherited, a psychiatrist once told her to never have children. Jamison says she would have had children, but her husband, Richard, has three from a previous marriage. Nevertheless, she says that not having children was one of the biggest regrets of her life. At the conference, a presentation is made about the discovery of watery deposits in the brain tissue of manic-depressives, which interests her.

Chapter 12 “Clinical Privileges” (199-209)

Jamison ponders her previous qualms about discussing her illness. She calls into focus the issues concerning her own embarrassment, cruelty from her colleagues and friends, and protecting her own family members (given that the illness is genetically based). In addition, she worries that, being a teacher of psychiatry at John Hopkins University, her students may have reservations about asking her certain questions regarding her illness. After filling out an application for clinical privileges at the university, she invites the department chairman out to lunch to discuss her illness and ask for guidance. He smiles and tells her he has known she is ill for quite some time and he suggests that if having a psychiatric issue prevented people from clinical privileges, there wouldn’t be enough qualified physicians on staff.

Reflection:

I was shocked when reading that a psychiatrist advised her not to have children because of her manic-depression. It seems absurd to deny someone the most human right of procreation. If someone had convinced my parents not to have me because they suffered from a mental disorder, I wouldn’t have ever been born. Who’s to say the child will be affected by the illness in the same way as the parent? Furthermore, having an illness myself has never for a second made me think that reproducing is a bad idea.

What interested me about the passage was the discovery of watery patches in manic-depressives’ brain tissue. This reiterated for me the fact that mental illness truly is a physical handicap as well as a mental handicap. Mental illness is a disease of both the mind and body, proving itself to be one of the most oppressive illnesses in the world today. Disorders of the mind and the crippling effects they have on people are leading causes of death in the world, suicide being the tenth most common. Moreover, one cannot discount the consequences of irrational thinking that arises from mental illness. For example, a manic-depressive in his or her manic stage may run for hours on end in the middle of the night, as did Kay, and be hit by a car. There are endless traumatic possibilities and it is scary to think that so many disorders go unnoticed.

Pages 210-219 Summary & Reflection

Summary:

Chapter 13 “A Life in Moods” (210-216)

Jamison recounts with bittersweet nostalgia her intense feelings and moods prior to achieving stability through lithium. She is grateful for a more balanced life but still feels great sorrow for the drama that her illness caused. Certain triggers still cause her to relive her manic days for just a moment, and she remembers the high-energy life she had which was soiled by severe bouts of depression. Altogether, Kay achieves a form of equilibrium in her life and gains some control over her illness. When she feels herself craving the passion that manic-depression once gave her, she quickly pulls herself back to reality and remains adamant that she continue her regular dosage of lithium. She is aware of the danger that the slightest mania may turn into wild insanity that can lead to death. She feels herself a survivor, but it is her good fortune to experience life without the wild mood swings. This gives her the greatest pleasure and makes life, with all its heartache, tolerable.

Epilogue (217-219)

Kay poses the hypothetical question whether or not she would choose to have manic-depressive illness, if given the choice. If lithium was not readily available to her and if she did not respond well to it, her answer would be a terrified no. She never again wants to experience the crippling effects of the illness, both mental and physical. She goes on to describe the true effects and the true meaning of depression, that many people believe they have experienced it before due to divorce or loss. Depression, she says, is much more intolerable. “It is tiresome. People cannot abide being around you . . . No reassurance is ever enough” (Jamison 218). However, her peaks of awareness and intensity of feelings during her manic episodes raised her to astounding heights of consciousness; and she still appreciates the glorious pleasure it brought her. With that being said, she would, strangely enough, choose to have it.  She says that, due to her illness, she experienced everything with greater intensity and passion; it has made her test the limits of her mind. Thus, because she knows the limitless corners and limitless views, she cannot imagine ever becoming jaded to life.

Reflection:

These passages in the memoir flooded me with a savage array of emotions. I went from a state of joyous pride, reading about her final recovery, to an overwhelming state of sadness from recollections of my past experiences with depression. Jamison steals the words out of my mouth when she describes the internal destruction of true depression. I honestly could not have put it any better. I felt as if she had unlocked the secret filing cabinets of my brain and released my darkest memories. As strange as it sounds, it was almost euphoric to hear (or rather read) those words aloud; I realized I was never actually alone in my struggles like I thought I was, and someone felt the exact same emotions as I had not too long ago. This book unleashed so many memories and emotions that I had stored away in the deep recesses of my brain, never to be touched again. I never planned on responding the way I did to this book—before reading I was actually rather cynical. Clearly, I was wrong in my presumptions and I will always remember to keep an open mind.
10/2/2013 07:02:34 pm

Clearly, I was wrong in my presumptions and I will always remember to keep an open mind.

Reply
ray
1/26/2014 04:19:37 pm

wow, really good summary. it really helped shed some light.
you are also cute too!
good luck with college!

Ray Campos

Reply
2/5/2014 03:45:43 pm

I teach psychology-related courses at the University of Texas and use this book as a case study. It is a vivid memoir. My former wife was bi-polar and also stopped taking lithium. She ultimately killed herself, and this book provided many important insights.

Reply
Kay Sowers
4/30/2014 08:59:05 am

It saddened me deeply to have to leave a relationship with someone who suffers greatly with untreated manic-depressive illness and stays in denial about it. It has stolen his life and was stealing mine. Thank you for posting your project - YOU give hope that people can see, understand and address what is going on with them when manic-depressive illness is wreaking havoc. Blessings.

Reply
6/4/2014 02:00:18 am

I'm a journalism student but my elective course is about mental health. I'm currently reading this book for the class, and found this website while I was searching for study notes on this book. It has been incredibly helpful to me, and has also made me understand things in a whole new way. This assignment was done incredibly well. I'm glad I found this blog! Carly, good luck to you wherever you go in life :)

Reply
K
9/8/2016 09:20:02 pm

Nice work! This is helping me understand the story more clearly. Thank you for this blog, it has been very useful. I am currently doing a project on this book.

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    My name is Carly and I am a senior in high school. This blog is being used as my "journal" for my final project in Psychology. Enjoy!

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