I suppose it’s all the rage to write novels and memoirs describing and narrating one’s own descent into madness. I have talked before how I generally think that novels that deal with insanity are usually pretty bad and offensive because they’re artless and silly a lot of times. Memoirs are 50/50. In some cases the writing is really good, but the understanding is not. Or in some cases, neither is particularly good. The writing for this memoir is perfectly good, but the analysis is so strong.
What comes out of this one especially is that Kay Redfield Jamison is a clinical psychologists who battled bipolar disorder (though she refers to it constantly as manic-depressive disorder) throughout her childhood, her education, and her career. I think what’s really valuable about this journey then is that as she studied, she developed an understanding of her own condition more and more, and while she’s dealing with it as a patient, she’s better able to understand the impulses and motives of other patients. So the reticence to take medication, to experience suicide ideation, to have deep darkness, and to experience intoxicating manic highs. She has it all and struggles all the same. And unlike her patients, she has the clinical understanding to process it outside her experiences.
So the result is a memoir that understands its limits and its purpose clearly, one that has a self-justifying center, and one that comes to a reasonable conclusion. Its downsides are not fully its fault; the terminology and medication is out of date, but the spirit is not. She’s a huge proponent for lithium, and it’s not because of the drug itself, so much as the particular idea of chemical treatment for what therapy won’t touch.