An Unquiet Mind Book Summary, by Kay Redfield Jamison

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1-Page Summary of An Unquiet Mind

In An Unquiet Mind, Dr. Kay Jamison tells the story of her struggle with manic-depressive illness. She uses her clinical knowledge to analyze how the disease influenced and impacted decisions she made in her life. Her memoir begins with a summary of her early life, focusing on growing up in a military family and living on Air Force bases for most of it. She discusses how both the disorder and genetics played into her own moods as well as those around her—especially that of her father’s who also suffered from bipolar disorder.

Jamison discusses her childhood and how she was raised by parents who were both educators. She talks about her time in undergraduate school, where she struggled with depression and had to deal with the stigma of mental illness. Jamison also mentions that while attending graduate school, she learned to control her mood swings by using therapy and medication. At 28 years old, Jamison experiences a psychotic breakdown which causes her to finally accept her bipolar disorder.

Jamison’s healing process is ongoing, but she hopes to regain control of herself and her mood swings. She believes that love can help with this. The purpose of this memoir is to show how Jamison studies mood disorders so that people who are manic-depressives or mental health professionals might learn from her experiences. She also hopes to show the devastating effects of medication non-compliance in order to save a life.

Full Summary of An Unquiet Mind

Overall Summary

In An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, renowned psychiatrist Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison describes her lifelong struggle with manic-depressive illness. The memoir tells the story of how she came to understand herself better through love, academia, and introspection. It begins by describing Jamison’s childhood near an Air Force base in Washington D.C., as well as her early interest in medicine demonstrated by volunteering as a candy striper at a local hospital when she was young. As a teenager, however, her moods became more difficult to manage—but after visiting a nearby psychiatric institution for the first time when she was fifteen years old, she grew too afraid to admit what was happening to herself or anybody else. At eighteen years old, after experiencing her first true manic episode while attending UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), where she studied psychology on scholarship while working part-time as a research assistant in one of her professor’s laboratories, Jamison enrolled in the university’s doctoral program in psychology. After graduating from UCLA with two master’s degrees and marrying a sensitive French artist whom she met there, though still struggling with symptoms that mirrored those associated with bipolar disorder, such as cycling between depression and mania, which often distracted her from schoolwork but were attributed instead to other factors like stress or anxiety about relationships or work problems, Jamison decided it would be best if they moved back home.

In Part Two, Kay describes her descent into madness while she was an assistant professor at UCLA. She experienced increased productivity, confidence, sexual desire and joy during mania but suffered from mental breakdowns that were debilitating. Her brother helped her financially and one of her colleagues also knew about the situation and suggested she see a psychiatrist. After a particularly violent episode of mania, she began seeing a psychiatrist at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute although she feared losing her job if anyone found out about it.

Kay struggled with lithium and didn’t take it as prescribed. She experienced strong side effects, felt rebellious, and was told that she should be able to manage her moods on her own by her sister. Eventually, Kay attempted suicide by ingesting an entire bottle of lithium pills but recovered after being admitted to the hospital.

Kay tried to kill herself, but she survived. Her mother came to help her recover. Kay had a long road ahead of her, and it was difficult for her, but with the help of friends, family members, colleagues and doctors she began to heal. She sought a tenured position at UCLA because she wanted security and stability in life. To get tenure she worked hard over several years by proving that she could handle clinical work even while suffering from mental illness. Eventually Jamison got tenure and felt like a great triumph not just over the sexist academic system that made it so hard for women to succeed in getting tenure but also over parts of herself which were holding back progress towards success

In Part Three, Jamison writes about a relationship she had with David Laurie. He was the psychiatrist for British Royal Army Medical Corps and he helped her through her depression. They became very close and fell in love, but when she told him about her manic-depressive illness, he reacted kindly to it. She dreamt of living happily ever after with him but then he died suddenly from a heart attack. This caused Kay to retreat into work and push herself too hard until she decided to take a sabbatical to focus on healing herself.

After her first trip to England, Kay traveled back to Los Angeles and started working on a textbook about mood disorders. She was reluctant at first to include any personal experiences in the book because she didn’t want people thinking that she was insane. At a party in Washington D.C., Kay met Richard Wyatt—the Chief of Neuropsychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health. The two fell in love right away, and Kay resigned from UCLA to take up a position at Johns Hopkins where they both worked together for several years as husband and wife before Richard’s death in 1996.

Kay found his personality polar opposite hers but nevertheless, he acted as an inspiration for her work on mental illness by providing support which helped her recover from depression over time.

In Part Four, Jamison discusses the stigmas associated with being mentally ill. She talks about how her illness has affected her and unpacks why she was so afraid to share that information at first. Eventually, however, a combination of social responsibility and personal rejuvenation inspired her to tell the truth. She writes about working with prominent psychiatrists like Jim Watson and Mogens Schou as well as exploring research that suggests mental illness is based in genetics. In addition, she raises difficult questions such as whether or not she would choose to be mentally ill if given the choice. Ultimately though, Jamison concludes that while living with this disease has been difficult at times it’s ultimately helped her become more compassionate towards others and appreciate how fragile we all are.


In a brief prologue, Kay Redfield Jamison describes running around the UCLA Medical Center parking lot at two in the morning during her residency. A colleague who initially joined her now sits on the curb watching Kay run back and forth. When a police officer pulls up and asks what they are doing, Kay’s colleague tells him that they both teach psychiatry at UCLA. The officer leaves without further questioning because being professors of psychiatry explains everything.

In 1974, Kay Redfield Jamison was a new assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA. She had just signed the contract and had experienced mania in her first few months as an assistant professor. At that time, she decided to study her own condition by becoming a psychiatrist herself. Now, she has transformed her manic-depressive illness into something she can understand and conquer through her life’s journey.

Jamison had a problem with her mental health for years. She refused to take the medications that would help her remain stable, and she suffered as a result. Many patients have the same problem, but they don’t seek treatment because of stigma or fear. Jamison was fortunate enough to recover from manic-depressive illness, so now she’s dedicating her life to helping others understand it by using science and biology in combination with personal experience.

Jamison writes that she has been nervous to write a book about her experiences with manic depression, but she is ready to go public about it. She states that even if it means losing some of the respect and prestige in her professional life, she wants to be honest about what happened.

Chapter 1

One day, a young Kay Redfield Jamison was playing outside at school and noticed a plane flying overhead. The plane flew lower than usual and crashed into the trees beyond the playground. She learned that the pilot chose to crash the plane rather than bailing out of it so he wouldn’t hit her school below. From then on, she could never look at planes or the sky in quite the same way again.

Kay’s family moved around a lot because of her father’s job. She had to change schools several times by the fifth grade. Her brother was her role model, and he was always there for her; however, she didn’t have the same relationship with her older sister who hated moving so much. Things changed when Kay got older and started to suffer from depression.

Kay’s parents were fun people. Her father was a very funny man who loved to tell stories about the world and brought home extravagant gifts from his travels. He enrolled his children in Russian lessons and bought them copies of rare books, too. Kay says her father had an excess of traits, but there was something contagious about that quality of his that made him charismatic and charming with everyone he met.

Kay’s mother was more pragmatic and wanted to be kind and fair. She had been popular in high school, held tea parties for the Daughters of the American Revolution, and focused on homemaking. Kay believes that her mother’s calmness is what made her capable of dealing with all of the family strife that came along with “the madness.”

The author’s parents were very encouraging of her interests, especially medicine. She started volunteering at the Andrews Air Force Base hospital as a candy striper and helped with rounds and even minor surgical procedures. She always had endless questions for doctors and nurses, which helped her to focus on what was in front of her instead of getting overwhelmed by repulsive or difficult situations like autopsies. The scientific side of her mind has always been helpful in these situations.

At fifteen, Kay and her co-workers volunteered at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C., a psychiatric hospital. This experience was horrifying to her because she found the grounds pleasant but not what was inside the building, which she described as understaffed with 90 patients for every orderly. She also said that when patients got too unruly, they were simply hosed down by orderlies. Because of this experience, she never thought that one day she would look into a mirror and see herself become like those women who had been institutionalized at the hospital.

Kay grew up in a military family. She was taught to be polite, and she had a lot of fun at social events with her friends. However, when she became a teenager, Kay started having mood swings and would sometimes lash out at people for no apparent reason. Her father helped her come up with ways to deal with this issue that made sense for both of them. Soon after that period in her life ended, however, Kay developed schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts.

When Kay was 15, her family moved to Los Angeles. She attended a different high school and found herself in competition with the other students for grades. They were more advanced than she was socially and sexually as well.

Kay adjusted to life in California. She volunteered at UCLA and met a new boyfriend who she loved, but things were still hard for her. Her relationship with her sister became more combative, as did her parents’ relationship. Her father’s moods would soar and blacken without warning, so Kay no longer recognized the man who’d been a friend and ally throughout most of her childhood. Kay’s own moods began to exhaust those around her—for weeks she’d be “flying high” only to crash into a depression that felt sudden and all-consuming.

During her senior year of college, Kay experienced the first manic episode of bipolar disorder. She felt invincible and confident for a while before crashing into a deep depression that made it hard to think clearly and caused severe fatigue.

Kay believes that she was able to hide her despair because people don’t notice it in others unless they are really suffering. She also says that if she had been honest about her feelings, she would have never gotten through the ordeal. Looking back at what happened, Kay is amazed that she didn’t lose herself during those terrible times but feels like something was lost forever.

Chapter 2

At eighteen, Kay enrolled at UCLA. She had hoped to attend the University of Chicago, but her father’s alcoholism prevented him from supporting her financially. She soon found herself enjoying life in Los Angeles and began battling against the mood swings that plagued her mind. During manic episodes she became sensual, outspoken, obsessed with drawing unlikely connections between many subjects she was studying and compelled to spend money irresponsibly until overdrafting her bank account.

Kay, a high school student at the time of her first manic episode, experienced periods of mania and depression. During these times, Kay was unable to focus in class or connect with friends. Her thoughts raced but instead of being “exuberant and cosmic,” they were horrific, graphic, and violent. She felt like she couldn’t ask for help because she didn’t even understand that she had an illness.

Kay Jamison had a tough time during her first year of college. She was diagnosed with manic depression and struggled to keep up in school while dealing with the illness. One day, she took an upper-level psychology course that required students to interpret images from the Rorschach test, which is used by psychiatrists to help determine a patient’s mindset and associations. Kay filled “page after page” with strange responses to the inkblots on the test—and when it came time for class discussion, her professor asked that she stay behind.

Kay was terrified that her professor had seen something wrong with her responses in class. However, the professor brought Kay back to his office after class and told her that he liked how she thought outside of the box. This was Kay’s first lesson on recognizing what is weird versus what is original. The professor, impressed by Kay’s rebelliousness in taking a senior-level course as a freshman, invited her to help him in his lab studies on human personality structure by coding data and designing experiments for him. Although she loved working as a research assistant, it started affecting her academics because of the cycling moods caused by bipolar disorder. She began feeling stifled and frustrated at being unable to do anything about it because of this condition which affected many aspects of her life including relationships with friends and family members who didn’t understand why she couldn’t just “snap out” of it like they did when they were sad or depressed.

At the age of 20, Kay took a year off from her studies at UCLA to study in St. Andrews, Scotland. The federal grant she received allowed her to focus on studying rather than working part-time jobs or doing an apprenticeship while in school. She was able to live there full-time and learn about zoology as well as make friends with other students who were also studying abroad. It was a very fulfilling experience for her despite the harsh weather conditions. Jamison describes this time fondly and says that it had a profound impact on who she is today and how she views life itself.

When she was twenty-one, Jamison returned to UCLA. Her life had changed and it took some time to adjust again. She also struggled with her moods as a result of returning to school. She decided that instead of taking medication, she would study psychology further so that she could better understand the effect of moods on people’s lives.

In 1971, Jamison began her doctoral studies in psychology at UCLA. She was having a hard time controlling her moods and she decided to buy a horse. The horse was stubborn, neurotic and prone to lameness but she spent money on him anyway until realizing that he wasn’t worth the trouble and sold him off.

Jamison enjoyed graduate school more than college. She was in remission from manic-depressive illness, and she got married to a kind Frenchman who was passionate about art. Although Jamison was still an intense person, her first husband’s steadiness helped balance out their relationship. He made her feel “harbored.”

Jamison soon chose to specialize in clinical psychology, which allowed her to see patients and learn how to make diagnoses. Even then, however, she writes that she was unable to connect the illnesses of her patients with her own manic-depressive illness. Looking back now, she writes that this denial seems incomprehensible.

Jamison writes that, at the time of her internship, there was a heavy emphasis on talk therapy and understanding dreams. She adds that medication hadn’t become popular yet. Jamison is grateful for her background in psychoanalysis because she believes it’s important to treat severe mood disorders with medications. However, she says it would be malpractice not to use medications when treating these diseases.

Jamison was not pleased with the use of psychological tests, like the Rorschach test and the WAIS. She found that her husband’s results were “sociopathic” and “disturbed.” However, she threw herself into her work as a professor to help lessen this disappointment. After earning her Ph.D., she became an assistant professor at Harvard University shortly before becoming psychotic for three months.

Chapter 3

In this passage, the author describes a manic episode. She says that it feels like shooting stars at first, followed by confusion and terror as one’s thoughts pile up. The sufferer is unable to recall what they said or did during their mania because there’s so much wreckage left behind for them to sift through afterwards.

Jamison writes that she didn’t wake up one morning and realize she was manic. Rather, it happened gradually. She had just joined the faculty at UCLA in July of 1974 when her mood changed from a normal state to a manic phase. She loved how much time she had for both personal and professional projects, but didn’t notice how much sleep she lost until later on in her life.

A new professor was invited to a garden party. She felt charismatic and charming as she mingled with her colleagues, teachers, and acquaintances. She talked to the chancellor of the university and the chairman of her department for a while, thinking that they liked her as well. Months later, when she saw him again at an event he would tell her that she seemed manic during their conversation at the garden party.

Kay noticed that she was having difficulty keeping up with her thoughts. She was connecting strange, disparate research materials and making hundreds of copies of poems and academic articles to share with colleagues. Although she now realizes these materials were unrelated, at the time they seemed relevant to one another. As her strange behavior continued at work, her marriage fell apart as well because she spent too much money on furniture.

Kay talks about how her mania caused her to spend too much money. She recalls one time when she bought twelve snakebite kits, and other times when she bought multiple Rolexes. Mania can be very damaging for people who suffer from it because they often end up spending more than they have, making them feel isolated and hopeless once the manic stage is over.

Kay’s brother, a Harvard economist, visited California once and found himself confronted with a financial disaster. Kay was newly-medicated and feeling dreary when she helped her brother sort through receipts. However, she could not understand the purchases on those receipts—one of which was for a taxidermized fox. Her brother remained committed to helping her sort through the disarray despite that fact. He took out a loan to pay off her debt while she worked hard to pay him back over time—but she will never be able to repay his “love” or kindness.”

Kay’s brother:

Kay worked hard and stayed up late to keep herself from getting overtaken by her mania. She bought clothes and books, even though she had no room for them in her apartment. Eventually, Kay started writing incoherent poems on scraps of paper that she left around the house. Everything felt more intense; Kay couldn’t listen to music without becoming disoriented. Darkness began invading her mind, so Kay hallucinated a bloody figure coming into the house and spraying blood everywhere. At last, she called a colleague to help get medication because it was too much for her to handle anymore.

Kay’s colleague told her that she had to take medication for a mental illness. Kay thought he was lying, but after reading about the treatment options and researching lithium, a mood stabilizer that had been approved in 1970, she agreed to try it. Her colleague helped her fill out the prescription and informed her family of what was going on. He also made sure someone would look after Kay when she wasn’t at work.

Kay was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness by a psychiatrist after she visited his office. He told her that she needed to start taking lithium right away and would likely have to take it for the rest of her life because it is an effective medication for treating bipolar disorder. However, Kay tried to blame her condition on stress from work and divorce, but he did not waver in his diagnosis.

Kay Jamison writes about how grateful she is for her psychiatrist’s treatment of her manic-depressive illness. She had weekly sessions with him, and he helped keep her alive by treating mania, depression, madness and despair. She learned from the combination of lithium (a drug used to treat bipolar disorder) and self-awareness that she needed to fight the disease.

Jamison writes that she is now dependent on lithium and psychotherapy to manage her bipolar disorder. Both have helped, but offer different things: lithium attends to the chemical aspect of her illness, while psychotherapy provides a safe space for learning more about herself. Jamison initially thought pills were evil, but over time learned how important they are for managing her condition.

Chapter 4

Kay Redfield Jamison writes about her experience with bipolar disorder. She was fascinated by the stars and space all throughout her childhood, which made it sad to lose that interest when she began feeling depressed as a young adult. During manic episodes, she felt like she could fly past Saturn itself. After those symptoms subsided and medications leveled her out, Jamison became overcome with longing for what had been lost.

For many years, Jamison writes that she failed to take her medications as prescribed. Even though she knew the devastating effects of not taking them, it took a long time for her to admit that she needed them. She had to go through manic episodes and depression before giving up on those highs was a threat to her sense of self.

Once Kay started taking lithium, her friends and family assumed that she would be happy to finally be “normal”—but Kay could not stop comparing herself with who she had been before the medication. She kept thinking back on how good it felt to have manic episodes.

Kay was prescribed lithium in the fall of 1974, but by the spring of 1975, she’d stopped taking it. She did this because she had psychological reasons and side effects from the medication. The author also said that if one takes too much lithium they can experience toxicity. Kay often felt sick or even violently ill when she took her medicine in public which made her embarrassed to take it at all times.

However, the physical side effects of lithium were nothing compared to what it did to Kay’s attention span and memory. She could barely focus long enough to get through a single paragraph. As an avid reader, she turned to poems and children’s books but was unable to enjoy them as much as she used to.

Kay was embarrassed by her diagnosis and the lithium prescription that came with it. She tried to hide this from friends, family, and lovers by clearing out her medicine cabinet before they visited and making a joke of any tremors she had. She even read the Book of Job in an attempt to be philosophical about her situation. Eventually Kay stopped taking lithium because she didn’t want to believe she needed it anymore. Instead, she sacrificed everything for another manic episode so that she could experience ecstasy again.

Kay’s sister, as well as other people in Kay’s life, thought she could get by without taking medication. They didn’t think it was necessary for her to rely on drugs and ridiculed her for doing so. When Kay’s sister said that she had become a shell of who she once was, Kay believed the worst about herself and stopped taking lithium altogether.

In 1975, Kay continued to see her psychiatrist but cycled through manias and severe depressions. She went on and off of lithium medication, thinking that she could handle the illness by herself. Her stubbornness made it difficult for her to take the medication as prescribed. However, she knew from a scientific standpoint that lithium was effective treatment for bipolar disorder; however, she also knew that taking it regularly was necessary because if not taken consistently would not work effectively.

Years later, a psychiatrist was giving a talk about the psychological and medical aspects of lithium treatment. She quoted one of her patients who suffered from manic depression. However, she wasn’t able to reveal that it was actually herself because she had been afraid to share that with the audience gathered before her. As people reacted both to the humor and gravity in this anecdote, she felt sad for many other patients who also suffer from manic depression but fail to take their medication due to fear or stigma.

Jamison recalls a patient who used to threaten her with knives but she continued treating him because of his mental illness. She empathized with the man and tried to make him feel better, telling him everything would be fine despite knowing he was not going to stay well for long.

Eventually, the patient died. No amount of psychotherapy could help him stay on his medication. He refused to take it and doctors couldn’t convince him otherwise. Jamison admits that there are limits to what psychology can do for a person suffering from this illness.

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Chapter 5

Kay Redfield Jamison continues to describe the “bitter harvest” she reaped after failing to take lithium for over a year and a half. She was miserable each day whether experiencing mania or depression, but she couldn’t commit to taking the medication. Her thoughts became dark, desolate, and hopeless; her fatigue prevented her from doing simple tasks like showering.

Eventually, Kay resumed taking lithium. She continued seeing her psychiatrist several times a week to no avail. Her suicidal thoughts wouldn’t subside, and California’s laws only allowed for commitment if she posed an immediate danger to herself or others. Since her psychiatrist didn’t think that was the case, he couldn’t have her hospitalized against her will; however, in his notes he wrote that she was definitely at risk of suicide. Kay refused to go into the hospital because she feared losing clinical privileges and being unable to finish school due to a public revelation about manic-depression disorder (which is what led her down this path). Feeling as if there were nowhere else left for help, she decided it would be best for everyone involved if she killed herself—but hid those intentions from her doctor so it would look like everything was okay on paper.

In an essay, Kay Jamison describes a time when she was suicidal. She had lost control of her life and was in a crazed state. In order to scare off the person who came to check on her, she threw furniture around and acted like a maniac. Once that person left, she got even more upset and took too much lithium.

Jamison writes that she felt suicide was the only way out of her depression. She took pills to keep herself from vomiting them back up, and took an entire bottle of lithium. When she woke up, she had a phone call with her brother on the other end who called her psychiatrist. She was hospitalized for several days in a coma.

While in the hospital, Kay overdosed on a variety of drugs. She was sent to rehab and her psychiatrist helped her through it. He also got help from a close male friend who had been checking up on her for an extended period of time. The two men worked together to nurse Kay back to health as she struggled with depression and addiction. They were able to lead her down the “cold and colder” road toward recovery by helping temper the illness that she inherited from her father—manic-depressive disorder (MDD).

Jamison describes her experience with the violence that manias and depressions have inspired in her. She admits to having been physically assaultive as well as verbally abusive during these times. However, she feels grateful for those who stuck by her side despite this behavior. Having gained some distance from it, she now experiences mostly gratitude towards them.

Kay Jamison writes that people with bipolar disorder experience two extremes: depression and mania. Mania is characterized by a feeling of extreme happiness, while depression is characterized by feelings of intense sadness. She also states that manic episodes are more accepted in society than depressive ones because they’re associated with men’s behavior. The fire she felt from her illness was both what enabled her to do great things as well as what caused problems for her later on in life.

Chapter 6

To be tenured is a competitive process. One needs to have a PhD and prove that they are worthy of the position. It’s hard for women and those with mental illnesses to get tenure, but Kay Jamison did it anyway in spite of her illness. She wanted stability in her life as well as recognition for all she’d accomplished despite her circumstances.

Jamison became a specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders, as well as manic depressive illness. She worked at UCLA to help people who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. The job was stressful because many of these patients were reluctant to take medication for their condition, but Jamison helped them manage their symptoms by combining medications with psychotherapy. She also drew on her own experiences with the disease to help her colleagues understand what it’s like for sufferers and how they can benefit from it sometimes.

Despite all the work and outreach, Jamison still had concerns about discussing her illness with her colleagues. She’d seen many other students and residents denied permission to practice due to their own psychiatric illnesses. She was often out sick for days at a time, even on a steady dose of lithium, which made it difficult for her to maintain an active social life. However, she found that most people accepted her “loopy but intense” personality as long as she wasn’t too disruptive.

There were few women in Jamison’s social circle, and there weren’t many other women working in the adult psychiatry division. Some men in the department (such as The Oyster) still believed that women shouldn’t be academics or work with patients. He was protected from any repercussions for his inappropriate comments to female colleagues because he had a lot of power within the department and so they couldn’t do anything about him.

After years of trying to get tenure, Jamison finally got promoted. She had joined the all-male club and was happy for her efforts to be recognized. However, she had been struggling with mental illness while doing so.

Chapter 7

Jamison writes that she used to think there was a limit on the amount of suffering one had to endure in life. She believed that her illness would be kinder to her in other areas, but now she knows better. Just months earlier, she thought it would be possible for her to reach Saturn’s rings.

Early in 1975, after Jamison’s psychotic episode and suicide attempt, she was still fragile. She met a psychiatrist named David Laurie at the UCLA psychiatric hospital where she lived. They liked one another immediately and bonded over their shared interests of music, poetry, and psychiatry. Although they found themselves drawn to each other romantically, Jamison decided not to pursue anything with him because she was still married at the time. A few months later he returned to London while Jamison continued living with her husband until eventually they separated for good.

After a year, Jamison and David were able to meet again. They went out for dinner and spent several days together. When David had to go back home, Jamison went with him. The passion she felt during this time made her remember how important love can be in the scope of one’s life. She hadn’t told her lover that she was struggling with manic-depressive illness though because they were so close already.

One day, Kay went to Canterbury alone and prayed in the cathedral. She realized that she had forgotten her lithium pills at home and was going to have to tell David about her illness. Instead of reacting with fear or cruelty, David embraced Kay when she told him the truth and said “Rotten luck.” They laughed together and Kay felt like someone understood her for once. She answered all of his questions about her illness. When she told him that lithium interfered with attention span, he read a book aloud to her because it made it easier for them both.

Kay returned to the United States for work and later met David in London. They had a wonderful time together, but Kay noticed that David was out of breath one morning while climbing up a hill. He reassured her that he was fine and didn’t bring it up again.

Kay went back to California and waited for David to come home from his post in Hong Kong. One day, she was at her apartment when someone knocked on the door. When she answered it, a courier handed her a letter from David’s commanding officer saying that he had died of a heart attack. Kay felt numb and disoriented as days passed by and plans for David’s funeral got underway. She spoke with his parents and commanding officers, booked a flight to London, and traveled across the sea in shock. In London, she tried reading through some of their old love letters but couldn’t—to this day Jamison hasn’t read them again either.

When Kay visited London for David’s funeral, she was met with kindness and compassion from his colleagues in the British army. They gave her details of the autopsy report to shock her into accepting that he had died, as well as to point out that it was a massive heart attack and nothing could have been done about it. At the funeral itself, his friends stayed by Kay’s side and comforted her.

After David’s death, Kay stayed in England to visit with friends. She mourned not just the loss of David, but also of what their life could have been like together. Still, she never considered taking her own life because of this tragedy. She owes this fact to the support from her loved ones and friends—but also to the love that David showed for Kay during their time together. It took a long time but eventually she overcame this pain and felt relief from it all.

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Chapter 8

After David’s death, Kay retreated into herself and “shut her heart.” She focused on work to keep her mind off of the pain she experienced. She was also determined not to let the recent emotional turmoil affect her professional life. Despite this, she still suffered from mood swings that were intense and brought about periods of depression. Her life had a more even keel because of lithium, but eventually Kay found herself exhausted by having to focus so much on controlling her emotions at work. To help with this exhaustion, she decided to take a yearlong sabbatical in England where she could study British artists and writers who suffer from mood disorders like hers—she would be taking time away from UCLA for the first time in eight years.

In England, Kay visited St. Andrews and was reminded of her time there. She also enjoyed a luxurious life in Oxford with sumptuous dinners and trips to the city’s parks and museums every day. This experience helped her realize that she’d been just surviving in California without living life to its fullest potential. She left England with renewed faith in love and peace within herself.

During her year in England, Kay visited David’s grave once. She felt sad and overwhelmed by the experience, but she also felt grateful for all of the ways that he had loved and accepted her. It was four years later when she met John while on sabbatical in England.

A moody, charming Englishman swept Kay off her feet at a party. They were introduced by mutual friends and hit it off immediately. The man was understanding of Kay’s struggles with bipolar disorder, like David had been. When she told him about feeling scared to go on a lower dose of lithium, he encouraged her to try it because he promised to watch out for her and take care of her no matter what happened. She tried the lower dosage and found that all the colors in life looked brighter again; she could focus better, concentrate more easily, feel joy again as well as sadness—all signs that things were getting better for Kay after years of struggling with depression.

Kay talks about the Englishman who gave her an anthology of poems after spending several days alone with him. One poem read, “Thank you for a lovely weekend. They tell me it rained.”

Chapter 9

When she had to go back to California, Kay was afraid of leaving England. She liked the slower pace and healthier lifestyle in London. However, upon returning to her old life in California, she found that it wasn’t as bad as she remembered it being.

Kay resumed work on her book about manic-depressive illness. She was able to focus for long periods of time and make important connections between the disease and some other factors. Because she had experienced the disease herself, as well as with many patients, she was able to describe it accurately in a way that appealed to readers who did not have the condition.

When she lowered her lithium dose in England, Jamison found that she was able to experience the world more intensely. Her moods were more pronounced but also positive, and they helped her understand what most people took for granted: an evenness of life.

To illustrate her point, Jamison tells a story about tutoring a blind student in statistics. She had to learn how to communicate with him effectively and realized that she couldn’t understand what he was going through. One day, when she went into the library’s reading room for the blind, which is dark and silent so that students can read in peace, Jamison saw students quietly reading by themselves. That moment made her realize that it wasn’t just the blind who were strangers to normal life but also herself as well.

Kay, who was always restless and unstable, believed that she would never experience the evenness of her colleagues’ lives. She also believed that in love, she needed to find a partner whose passions matched hers. The man who became her second husband taught her more about steadiness than she thought possible.

Kay met a man named Richard Wyatt at a Christmas party in Washington D.C. He was quiet and shy, but they ended up spending the night together. She didn’t think that he would be interested in her because she had an outgoing personality and he was more reserved, however, soon after their first encounter they started dating for about a year before Kay moved to Washington DC to be near him.

Richard and Kay moved in together after leaving California. They were both professors at Georgetown, but their personalities clashed. Richard was laid back while Kay was intense and passionate about art, music, and poetry. Nevertheless, they loved each other very much despite the differences between them.

Though Jamison and her husband have been together for a long time, they still don’t fully understand each other’s experiences with mania or depression. Sometimes she can’t explain to him what she’s going through, and sometimes he doesn’t know how to help her. However, his love has given her hope that even in the worst moments of madness, there is serenity. His presence is a very strong medicine for her condition.

Chapter 10

Just before leaving Los Angeles for Washington, Jamison received a letter from a woman who was upset by Kay’s use of the word “madness” in her lecture. The woman felt that Kay didn’t know what it was like to suffer from mental illness and that she was just trying to get ahead academically by using the bodies of mentally ill people as stepping stones. This made Jamison realize how even she had contributed to harmful language around mental illness through her own writing.

Jamison believes that words such as “bat”, “loon”, “wacko” and “fruitcake” can be damaging to those with mental illness. They can cause emotional pain, but they also contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness. This is because these words represent a negative view of individuals who suffer from mental illnesses. However, simply removing these words will not fix this problem in society because there needs to be more than just a linguistic change; there needs to be an attitude change towards people with mental illnesses.

In this essay, Jamison discusses the use of the term “bipolar disorder” to describe manic-depressive illness and how she feels about it. She is personally offended by the word “bipolar,” as she feels that it minimizes her experience with a mood disorder. She questions whether or not bipolar disorder is even a valid medical diagnosis, since there are more than two states of mind associated with mood disorders.

Ultimately, Jamison suggests that the stigma associated with mental illness will not be eliminated by changing the language society uses to refer to conditions and illnesses. She celebrates advocacy groups such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) for their efforts in educating people about mental health issues and destigmatizing them.

Chapter 11

Jamison writes about a meeting with Jim Watson, who co-discovered the structure of DNA. She wondered what he was thinking as she watched him twitch and yawn in the meeting. He is an intense person who has been her colleague for many years.

Jamison states that they have worked together for a long time, so she knows him well. He also has untamable energy and is blunt when it comes to his opinions.

Recently, Jamison’s career has become more focused on molecular biology. She and her colleagues have sought to understand manic depression scientifically, which is a field that she has been interested in for years.

Jamison returned to the meeting, where her colleagues were sharing their family trees. They indicated that it was a scientific breakthrough in the study of depression and manic-depressive illness, which could help millions around the world.

After the presentation ended, Jamison remembered a conversation she had with Mogens Schou at an annual meeting of the APA in New Orleans. They discussed their reasons for studying mood disorders and how they were driven by personal reasons to do so.

Kay felt relieved when Schou told her about his mental illness and then drew out their family trees on napkins. The visualizations allowed Kay to realize that all of the instances of manic-depressive illness in her family were located on her father’s side. She credits this moment with Schou for allowing her to feel free to use her own experiences in writing novels.

Jamison discusses the complex feelings she has had about her manic-depressive illness. She recounts a time when she went to see a doctor, and he asked whether or not she wanted children. When Jamison said yes, the doctor told her that if she did have kids, there was a good chance they would inherit her condition as well. The way Jamison felt at that moment—sick and humiliated—shocked her because it made her question herself as an individual who could be a good mother. Jamison says one of her biggest regrets in life is not having any children of her own; however, Richard has three from his previous marriage, so now she gets to enjoy being their aunt instead of having them call someone else ‘mom.’

Jamison admits that she’s a little worried about locating the genes responsible for manic-depressive illness. Better and earlier diagnoses would certainly help patients, but there are dangers in prenatal testing, such as parents choosing abortion if they learn their child has those genes. She worries that this could lead to making the world “blander” by preventing people from being born with certain traits related to manic-depressive illness.

Jamison recalls how she once attended a lecture at a psychiatry conference where the speaker discussed new research on brain abnormalities in sufferers of manic-depressive illness. She found it interesting because she had never heard about focus signal hyperintensities, which suggested abnormal tissue similar to dementia and multiple sclerosis. Jamison was excited by this breakthrough but also disturbed because it raised questions about what it could mean for her and other people with manic depression.

Upon returning to Johns Hopkins, Jamison began reading articles on new brain scans that show structural abnormalities in sufferers of bipolar affective disorder. However, she found there were “far more questions than answers” in the literature available at the time. Many things could explain these areas of abnormal tissue and she hoped scientists would develop new insights into “the concept of losing one’s mind”.

Chapter 12

Jamison writes that although she’s never had an easy time telling someone about her mental illness, there are one or two experiences that stand out to her as having been particularly difficult and painful. She has always wanted to keep a gap between her personal life and professional life, but it was hard for some people who were close friends with Jamison to know about the details of her illness.

Kay recalls a time when she told her friend, Mouseheart, that she had attempted suicide. She thought they were friends and felt strange about not having shared this information with him before. However, he was upset with her for attempting suicide because it was selfish. He asked invasive questions about Kay’s mental illness and whether or not it would affect her ability to work in the future. After being hurt by his words and actions, he apologized but nothing could make up for what he said.

Jamison has been reluctant to discuss her mental illness because she is afraid of how others will perceive her. She is afraid that people will think less of her or not want to work with her if they knew about it. However, she has recently started discussing this more openly in order to help students who might be dealing with similar issues and also so that people don’t think there’s something wrong with them when they’re struggling as well.

Still, Jamison has had her doubts about whether she should be a doctor. In 1986, when she started working at Johns Hopkins University, she filled out an application for clinical privileges and was extremely worried about the outcome. She knew that if they found out about her mental illness, it would affect their decision on letting her practice medicine there. So she met with the chairman of the department to tell him all about her struggles with manic-depressive disorder and how UCLA colleagues promised to step in if necessary.

Jamison believes that practicing medicine is a privilege and questions about hospital privileges are neither unfair nor irrelevant. At the same time, she warns that doctors often don’t disclose their illnesses or disabilities to their colleagues for fear of being stigmatized or sidelined—which then puts patients at risk as well. She thinks that patients should never have to pay for their doctor’s problems, but systems within which they practice need to be more open and accommodating so as not to dissuade them from seeking treatment when necessary.

Jamison writes that her boss at Hopkins told her after she confessed to him about being manic-depressive, that he already knew about it. He also said if he got rid of all the people who suffered from this illness, his hospital would be less inspiring and interesting.

Chapter 13

Kay Redfield Jamison, a person who’s had manic-depressive disorder all her life, describes what she has learned from living with the condition. She explains that although it is depressing and can make you feel like your childhood self—the one who dreamed of dancing on Saturn’s rings—you shouldn’t go off medication because it helps to control the depression.

Jamison still feels the effects of her moods, even though she’s been on lithium for a long time. She is well now, but she often thinks about when she won’t be. Still, Jamison thinks that having these cycles has made her more philosophical and able to understand others better. She can see life’s seasons and cycles more clearly because of this experience, which has allowed her to live in the moment more fully and appreciate what she already has right now.

Love and medicine are the two things that allow Jamison to distract herself from sadness. Love has allowed her to create hope time and time again, even in her darkest moments.

Jamison’s illness has taught her that there are no perfect people. She is proof of this, as well as the hardships she has faced in life. Jamison now appreciates these storms because they have made her a stronger person and given meaning to her experiences and relationships with others.


In the end, Jamison says that she would choose to have manic-depressive illness because there are medications that can treat it. She has learned a lot about her own character and strength from having this illness. It helped her to better understand herself and learn more about caring for others. The ups and downs of this mental disorder have taught her how fragile life is but also how resilient we all can be in times of crisis.

An Unquiet Mind Book Summary, by Kay Redfield Jamison

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