Introduction

After reading Dr. Kay Jamison’s memoir, An Unquiet Mind, I have become intrigued with the connection between creativity and madness. In her memoir, Dr. Kay Jamison details what it is like to live with manic-depressive disorder, also known as bipolar disorder, which is characterized by extreme mood swings ranging from suicidal and depressed to completely manic. The age of onset for this illness is usually in the mid to late twenties and most patients experience a few mood episodes each year. This disorder takes two forms: Bipolar I disorder and Bipolar II disorder. Bipolar I is when “the patients have had at least one full manic or mixed episode during the course of the disorder, and may have had one or more depressive episodes” (Quality of Life Research). Bipolar II disorder is when the patient has severe depressive episodes and some hypomanic episodes. During manic episodes, patients endure symptoms such as being so talkative to the point where he/she almost does not make sense, feeling restless, having constant racing thoughts and ideas, and having a very high sense of self worth (Bipolar Disorder). During the depressed episodes, patients experience feeling worthless, hopeless, and tired. Depending on the patient, manic and depressed episodes can last from a few days to a few months.

I believe it is during the episodes of mania that provide artists, musicians, politicians, etc. with creative and innovative ideas, and it is the depressions that provide them with the focus to complete and edit their work. However, managing these extreme moods is an ongoing struggle throughout many patients’ lives because some people, including Dr. Kay Jamison, are at first unwilling to give up their periods of extreme mania and creativity in order to have stable moods and a more normal life. Dr. Kay Jamison describes her life living with manic-depression as “a loopy but intense life: marvelous, ghastly, dreadful, indescribably difficult, gloriously and unexpectedly easy, complicated, great fun and a no-exit nightmare” (An Unquiet Mind 132). Thus, after reading Dr. Jamison’s memoir I am left with the question of whether to consider manic-depressive disorder a gift or a curse.