The Mercurial Mind

Kay Redfield Jamison is a courageous woman and a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. She is also a manic depressive. One of her early books, An Unquiet Mind, reveals her madness, attempted suicide and mental illness.

Her latest book, Nothing Was the Same, is the story of losing her beloved husband, Richard, to cancer and her survival beyond his death. It is also much more. She teaches us about mental illness, depression, grief and loss, and points out the disturbing gap between what scientists and doctors know about mental illness and what most people believe.

"Moods are contagious; they spread from those afflicted to those who are not. It is rare for even an experienced clinician to remain unaffected by a manic or depressed patient. For those who do not have the protective cloak of professional training, or who are personally involved, it is next to impossible to maintain equanimity."

"Brevity [in manic/depressive episodes] in itself buys no protection. Graham Greene observed that a Mediterranean storm may be over in a few hours, but while it lasts, it is savage enough to drown a ship full of men."

Kay and Richard have a special and wonderful relationship.
"[He] was clinically and scientifically knowledgeable about manic depression, and was aware of its genetic basis; he was not inclined to attribute to character what he knew to be disease. He was curious by nature, in the habit of careful observation and he possessed a charitable slant on odd behavior. He was able to make me laugh in the midst of truly awful situations, and he loved me in a way I never questioned."

When Kay decided to reveal her manic depression in her book, An Unquiet Mind, she was wary of being labeled by her colleagues as a manic-depressive psychologist, rather than being seen as a  psychologist who happened to have manic-depressive illness.

Richard supports her all the way and in his own inimitable style arranges one of his treasure hunts in their hotel room in Rome. He fills the tub with rose petals and lilacs flowers, hiding among them a small pill bottle with a note inside: "check the bed".

"It was a hunt. Richard was in his element. After a prolonged search of our exceedingly large bed. I found a small red box. It was from a jeweler in Rome and inside, on silk, was an antique gold ring. Underneath one of the pillows was a note. "Thank you for the happiest year of my life," Richard had scratched in his dyslexic hand. "I know that talking and writing about your illness has been hard. I am very proud of you -- not only as your husband, but as your colleague."

In these pages is hope for the depressed and for their families.
"When I talk to students, so many of whom have tried to kill themselves,. I tell them that it is hard to get well and that it is hard to stay well, but that it can be done. I find myself using Richard's words: Take your medication. Learn about you illness. Question your doctor. Watch your sleep. Use common sense about recreational drugs and alcohol. Reach out to others…"

I dare you to read Nothing Was the Same without shedding a tear or falling in love with Richard, beloved husband of Kay.

Kay Redfield Jamison speaks in Portland on "The Mercurial Mind: Bipolar Disorder and Creativity" on February 22, 2010 as part of the OHSU Brain Institute lecture series.