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Taking Jamison's Advice...

An Active Mind's picture

My past few days have been anxiety ridden and I’ve found myself just wanting it to all go away, angry at myself for not trying hard enough to break out of old habits, old ways of thinking.   But when things get rough I’ve been finding myself returning to Jamison’s epilogue in her memoir, An Unquiet Mind. She reminds me to both reflect on what my OCD has taken away from me, but to also be thankful for what it’s given me in return (and maybe, too, how it can enlighten my own work despite how hard it is to meet the demands of the academic structure when going through a rocky time). Jamison strives to accept who she is, what she’s struggled with, and she “no longer makes attempts to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces” (218). Try telling an obsessive-compulsive to relinquish control! …but it’s something I need to work on. I have to let the roller coaster take me where it may, to all “those limitless corners, with their limitless views” (219), both frightening and wonderful.  


For inspiration and a little enlightenment/encouragement, I've included some of my favorite quotations from Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind (along with a few questions, comments):

“Which of my feelings are real? Which of the me’s is me? The wild, impulsive, chaotic, energetic, and crazy one? Or the shy, withdrawn, desperate, suicidal, doomed, and tired one? Probably a bit of both, hopefully such that is neither. Virginia Woolf, in her dives and climbs said it all: ‘How far do our feelings take their colour from the dive underground? I mean, what is the reality of any feeling?’” (68). 

“Psychotherapy is a sanctuary; it is a battleground; it is a place I have been psychotic, neurotic, elated, confused, and despairingly beyond belief. But, always, it is where I have believed—or have learned to believe—that I might someday be able to contend with a all of this” (89)

“…how marvelously the mind can heal, given half a change, and how patience and gentleness can put back together the pieces of a horribly shattered world” (104)

“But, as I well knew, an understanding at an abstract level does not necessarily translate into an understanding at a day-to-day level. I have become fundamentally and deeply skeptical that anyone who does not have this illness can truly understand it. And, ultimately, it is probably unreasonable to expect the kind of acceptance of it that one so desperately desires. It is not an illness that lends itself to easy empathy. Once a restless or frayed mood has turned to anger, or violence, or psychosis, Richard, like most, finds it difficult to see it as illness, rather than as being willful, angry, irrational, or simply tiresome” (174). à how does this particular quotation relate to the epigraph of my page “Seeing Stigma”, where Woolf says, “Always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable?”; do we need to be both understood and misunderstood?; how might Woolf’s quotation relate to one of my recent posts in which I suggested that I might be thankful for stigma, or this failure to understand to which Woolf refers? 

“Madness… most certainly can, and often does, kill love through its mistrustfulness, unrelenting pessimism, discontents, erratic behavior, and, especially, through its savage moods” (174)

“Attitudes about mental illness are changing, however glacially, and it is in large measure due to a combination of these things—successful treatment, advocacy, and legislation” (183)

“There is no easy way to tell other people that you have manic-depressive illness; if there is, I haven’t found it. So despite the fact that most people that I have told have been very understanding—some remarkably so—I remain haunted by those occasions when the response was unkind, condescending, or lacking in even a semblance of empathy. The thought of discussion my illness in a more public forum has been, until quite recently, almost inconceivable. Much of this reluctance has been for professional reasons, but some has resulted from the cruelty, intentional or otherwise, that I have now and again experienced form colleagues or friends that I have chosen to confide in” (199)

“I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces. There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist. It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and color to one’s loves and friendships” (218)

“There is nothing good to be said for it except that it gives you the experience of how it must be to be old, to be old and sick, to be dying; to be slow of mind; to be lacking in grace, polish, and coordination; to be ugly; to have no belief in the possibilities of life, the pleasures of sex, and the exquisiteness of music, or the ability to make yourself and others laugh” (217) à I love how Jamison talks about how her illness has allowed her to feel old; how might this relate to “crip time”, or—as I mentioned in one of my posts about Lady Gaga—the notion that the disabled occupy multiple temporalities at once (the past, present, and future—feeling both old and youthful)?   

“So why would I want anything to do with this illness? Because I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; loved more, and been more loved; laughed more often for having cried more often; appreciated more the springs, for all the winters; worn death ‘as close as dungarees,’ appreciated it—and life—more; seen the finest and the most terrible in people, and slowly learned the values of caring, loyalty, and seeing things through. 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…But, normal, or manic, I have run faster, thought faster, and loved faster than most I know.  And I think much of this is related to my illness—the intensity it gives to things and the perspective it forces on me” (218)


Anne Dalke's picture

on neurotypicality, and control

Are you familiar w/ the  Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical ?(I just love this page!...) and the 2004 NYTimes piece on Neurodiversity Forever? I think both might interest you. And it might be fun to administer @ Bryn Mawr (and instructive to tally the results of) the neurotypical screening test included on the web site: how many of the folks here think of themselves as "neurotypical"?

I'm also struck by Jamison's description of the "grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces." We're reading Albert Camus's The Plague just now in the evolution course; it ends, "the bacillus never dies... it bides its time... and perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city."

In other words: random bad things will always be happening. We can't predict, can't control...and so??

In A Feminist Ethic of Risk, Sharon Welch writes compellingly about the ways in which middle class Americans equate "control" with "responsibility." She offers an alternative form of responsibility that doesn't presume to control outcomes. Probably not bad advice for anyone with OCD, or for any of us.