Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Split Psyche: An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc. 1995.

Kay Redfield Jamison is an American writer and professor of psychiatry. She is one of the foremost experts on manic-depressive illness. As detailed in her memoir, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Jamison grew fascinated with manic-depressive illness because she is diagnosed with it. Her confusion over her mood swings and suicidal tendencies lead her to tirelessly research the subject and write numerous texts on it. Due to her work, she has been named one of the best doctors in the United States and was chosen by Time Magazine as a Hero of Medicine. In An Unquiet Mind, Jamison describes her elevated and depressed moods. She also writes about the contradictions between being a psychiatrist and a patient, including that she consistently stopped taking lithium, even though professionally she knew that it was saving her life.

The mix between the professional and the personal pepper many sentences throughout the book.

“Perhaps it was not surprising that, as a meteorologist’s daughter, I found myself, in that glorious illusion of high summer days, gliding, flying, now and again lurching through cloud banks and ethers, past stars, and across fields of ice crystals.” (Jamison 90)

Even though the above passage takes up nearly five lines in the book, it is only one sentence. The two sentences in the middle of the paragraph are both run-ons. By making long sentences that pause at punctuation then spring forward, free of complete stops, Jamison patterns these sentences on the elevated mania of manic-depressives. The giddiness of these sentences is felt by the reader as their eye flows freely along the descriptions.

The above-quoted sentence starts in an analytical tone: “Perhaps it was not surprising that, as a meteorologist’s daughter…” The word “perhaps” signifies ambivalence and passivity, so the narrator seems to be non-judgmentally watching herself. This is the psychiatrist side of her examining her emotional self. The wording in this first part of the sentence is banal, like using “was” as the verb and “surprising” as an adjective.

Then Jamison bridges her two selves by coupling the words “glorious” and “illusion.” While the term “illusion” is a practical definition of what she experienced, she prefaces it with “glorious,” which is a very subjective adjective. This lets the reader know that these feelings are exquisite. Throughout the book, the narrator tries to get off lithium because she misses these highs. The word “glorious” shows the reader that her illusion is welcome and not frightening.

After the transition between Jamison’s two selves, the sentence takes off, like the emotional Jamison on her flight through space. The verbs and adjectives become more colorful (ie: “gliding,” “lurching”), so the reader feels the elegancy of gliding and the powerful pull of lurching. In the middle of these two verbs, Jamison throws in “flying,” which tells the reader, in a straightforward way, what is happening in Jamison’s mind. Not only is she flying in her illusion, but her mind is also flying upward in an allusion to the “highs” of manic-depressives.

Likewise, the nouns invoke powerful pictures for the reader. Instead of clouds and ice crystals, Jamison writes about cloud banks and fields of ice crystals. This gives the atmosphere the quality of a landscape, an area that is expansive. She further makes the descriptions expansive by using cloud banks and fields of ice as bookends to ethers and stars, which already entail the vastness of the solar system. This immense space also characterizes the highs that manic-depressives feel. Throughout the book, Jamison writes that, while in an elevated state, manic-depressives feel they can do anything and that the world and their potential is unlimited. They feel like they can, literally and figuratively, touch the skies.

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