Written by Katie Wang.
I was introduced to the challenges faced by individuals struggling with mental health conditions during my undergraduate Abnormal Psychology class. Having grown up in a culture where mental illnesses are rarely discussed, I was deeply touched by the numerous real-life stories featured in my textbook, in which individuals traverse the journey of living with mental health challenges with impressive courage and resilience. One of the stories that stood out to me was that of Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, who eloquently wrote about her life experiences with bipolar disorder in the memoir An Unquiet Mind. I eagerly sought out the book that summer, and it not only became one of my favorite non-fiction titles but also strengthened my conviction as a mental health advocate.
What strikes me the most about Jamison’s book is her ability to present an honest portrait of her struggles with bipolar disorder while illustrating, in so many ways, that she is able to live a rich, fulfilling life despite her struggles. Throughout the book, Jamison provides an unflinching description of her mania and depressive episodes, her suicide attempt, and the long emotional journey she had to go through before she came to terms with her illness and the reality that she had to remain on medication in order to stay well. She makes it clear that the consequences of bipolar disorder can be devastating. Yet the story is also about so much more. Jamison describes how her personal experiences have informed her research in mood disorders, which led to a remarkably successful academic career in clinical psychology and psychiatry (she is currently a professor at John Hopkins University). She is happily married, has enjoyed many wonderful friendships over the years, and sees love “as sustainer, as renewer, and as protector” during the darker seasons of her life.
Since my initial reading of An Unquiet Mind, I have read other memoirs and on-line personal stories written by people dealing with a wide range of mental health conditions. I appreciate the opportunity to learn about the complex reality of living with mental illnesses from these first-hand accounts. I am also deeply inspired by the courage of these individuals, including many who have written for our blog, for sharing their stories so openly with the goal of combating stigma and raising mental health awareness.
I encourage you to visit the Resources section of our website, where we include a list of memoirs, novels, and movies that feature characters who navigate mental health conditions with hope and grace. Many of us are uncomfortable with thinking and talking about mental illnesses because they are so poorly understood. Hearing directly from people with mental illnesses through their writing can help us see beyond the psychiatric diagnoses and enable us to treat those who are struggling, including ourselves, with the compassion and understanding that everyone deserves.