November 06, 1995 12:00 PM

by Kay Redfield Jamison

This first sustained wave of mild mania was a light, lovely tincture of true mania,” writes Jamison, 49, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in her piercingly honest account of living with manic-depressive illness. “Like hundreds of subsequent periods of high enthusiasms, it was short-lived and quickly burned itself out.”

Born into a family-suspected of suffering from manic depression (both her father and sister were known to have “very black and passing moods”), Jamison—now one of the leading international experts on the subject—has been a prisoner of this cruel, relentless disease since she was a high school senior. Jamison wrestled with her euphoric highs and incapacitating lows through college and graduate school, through love—both sweet and tortured—and traumatic loss, and even through an attempted suicide.

Jamison’s literary coming-out is a mark of courage. Although she spent her entire career in fear of her illness being discovered by colleagues and her professional credibility being destroyed, Jamison never lost her appreciation for the beauty of her madness. “I honestly believe,” she writes, “that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply.”

Jamison delivers an intimate account of what it’s like to confront the fears that haunt you, rein them in and finally master them. An Unquiet Mind packs an emotional punch that you feel long after you’ve put it aside. (Knopf, $22)

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