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Entertaining, engagingly written but short of the mark.
on 21 April 2002
I found this book to be readable and vivid in parts but did not feel that it described the essence of her subjective experience of manic depression. I would not say that Kay Jamison was particularly 'brave' in going public with her illness as she had already 'come out' to many of her academic and professional colleagues, the people whose reassurance and acceptance she seemed to seek most. In a sense I think this has buffeted her during the course of her illness and it was interesting to note there was no description of any hospitalisation for her illness, and how she said that she had a fear of ending up in hospital. Most members of the public suffering from this illness will undergo some form of hospital treatment and she showed no more particular insight in to the illness than many other sufferers. I had the impression that there was a lack of honesty, a tendency to glamorise her experiences, often compensating for the sinister and painful aspects of the illness with long forays in to her wonderful family and wonderful colleagues and wonderful partners and wonderful erudition in general. For instance she briefly glances on her spending sprees, verbal attacks and bouts of rage during the manic phases but instead of describing these, we are left with her wonderful and successful brother coming to her rescue with unpaid bills and debts with a tray of champagne. I would like to know what she did and how she was feeling at the time, not that her brother has a winning way and is a master of accounts. There was less about the actual experience of the illness as an ordinary person and more about her extraordinariness. There was no examination of causes and prevention but, as to be expected for her training and profession, the usual discussion of medication and genes. I suspect that they are no further along with discovering the genes for mental illness as they were. I found some of the text rather condescending and narcissistic, although the story was sad and quite resonant in ways. She described her depression and suicide attempts quite frankly and beautifully but overall I found it hard to empathise through lack of relevant detail. As a professional she seemed to have a distancing from her own patients and a lack of empathy despite her own experiences, other than 'they should really learn to take their Lithium you know, poor things.' This may reflect her own lack of insight.
I enjoyed the book and gave it three stars for this but I felt voyeuristic and at points irritated...