This Quicksilver Illness: Moods, Stigma, and Creativity Essay

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This Quicksilver Illness: Moods, Stigma, and Creativity

A review of An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

Kay Jamison is one of the faces of manic depression (or in more sterile terms, bipolar disorder). She is currently the face of one of the renowned researchers of manic depression and topics relating to the disease, ranging from suicide to creativity. She is a tenured professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, author of a best-selling memoir and one of the standard medical texts on the subject. She has also been the face of madness and despair, a mercurial young woman whose life became controlled by moods, a sufferer of "this quicksilver illness." Her memoir An Unquiet Mind is an honest and moving account
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It is important to consider a life like Kay Jamison's when thinking about the questions of this course: does brain equal behavior? Hers was a life that revolved around moods that controlled her behavior and how she functioned in the world around her. The moods were the result of an illness that affects many individuals (1). If the brain is indeed the cause of the "sickness" of moods, then can it be argued that moods are created biologically? As mental illnesses, like manic depression, are further understood, society is moving intellectually away from seeing them as anything other than organic. Scientific research of mental illness receives more funding now than it ever has (2). Jamison's story points to this yet again. For her, moods are wrapped up in biology, her genetics, images of her brain from an MRI or PET scan.

I find the idea of leading a life of "moods" to be intriguing, how the ups and downs that one goes through can spin so far out of control, at the mercy of a witches' brew of neurotransmitters. Jamison has felt extremes that most of the population will never reach: euphoric, albeit manic, highs to be followed by black, pit of despair, lows. These responses are part of her self. She, in fact, would not trade her illness for a smoother ride: "I have seen the breadth and depth and width of my mind and heart and seen how frail they both are, and how ultimately unknowable they both are." If moods are a part of behavior as an integral
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