8 Enlightening Quotes about Bipolar from Kay Redfield Jamison

Last Updated: 30 Oct 2019

Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leading expert on mood disorders in artists, is a best-selling author, was named a “Hero of Medicine” by Time magazine, and lectures widely on the topic of bipolar disorder. Here are some of the best samples of her wise words:

#1 On imagination and curiosity

“I believe that curiosity, wonder, and passion are defining qualities of imaginative minds and great teachers,” Jamison said in an interview with bp Magazine. She continued, “… that restlessness and discontent are vital things…. It is important to value intellect and discipline, of course, but it is also important to recognize the power of irrationality, enthusiasm, and vast energy.”

#2 On being manic

“I tend to compare my current self with the best I have been, which is when I have been mildly manic. When I am my present ‘normal’ self, I am far removed from when I have been my liveliest, most productive, most intense, most outgoing and effervescent,” she writes in An Unquiet Mind. “… I am a hard act to follow.” 

#3 On being depressed

“Depression is awful beyond words or sounds or images,” Jamison said during a BigThink interview. “It bleeds relationships through suspicion, lack of confidence and self-respect, the inability to enjoy life, to walk or talk or think normally, the exhaustion, the night terrors, the day terrors…. There is nothing good to be said for it.”

#4 On more accurate terminology

Jamison told bp Magazine that manic-depression is a more appropriate and scientifically accurate term than bipolar, which she says minimizes the illness. “[Bipolar implies] that they are on opposite poles. [But] the ancients made the argument years ago that, in fact, mania was just a severe form of depression.… [The term] bipolar is way too tidy.”

#5 On contemplating her moods

“I decided early in graduate school that I needed to do something about my moods. It quickly came down to a choice between seeing a psychiatrist or buying a horse,” she writes. “Since almost everyone I knew was seeing a psychiatrist, and since I had an absolute belief that I should be able to handle my own problems, I naturally bought a horse.” 

#6 On the powerful effects on relationships

“Moods are by nature compelling, contagious, and profoundly interpersonal, and alter the perceptions and behaviors not only of those who have them but also of those who are related or closely associated,” she writes. “Manic-depressive illness—marked as it is by extraordinary and confusing fluctuations in mood, personality, thinking, and behavior—inevitably has powerful and often painful effects on relationships.” 

#7 On psychiatry innovation

“In general, the combination of genetics and neuroimaging [is having the most significant impact on psychiatry]. I think within my own field of mood disorders, genetics is clipping along at a tremendous pace,” she said in an interview with the Atlantic. “Also neuroimaging—ultimately, the combination of neuroimaging and genetics—is having an enormous impact on early diagnosis, more accurate diagnosis, more specific treatments.”

#8 On the grief of losing her second husband, Richard

“What I had not been aware of and what I was interested in writing about was how extraordinary grief is. I mean, people talk about grief as if it’s kind of an unremittingly awful thing—and it is,” she said. “It is painful. But it’s a very interesting sort of thing to go through, and it really helps you out.”

  1. I was diagnosed bi-polar almost fifty years ago. How they diagnosed bi polar back then, I really don’t know. I remember their putting a cap on my head but more than that I don’t recall.
    I’ve been on lithium all this time, which works nicely for me in that very few outbursts. On the other hand I find that it blocks my creative side. I recently had a bout with lithium. Hadn’t been tested for lithium level for months and months (stupidly) and found myself at a 3.0 level when it should have been at a 1. level. I was unable to talk and barely walk. My hands shook something terribly. It was scary, to say the least. My psychiatrist (the one who never asked for blood tests to check the level) took me off of the lithium immediately and within a week I was feeling somewhat improved. Now, a month later, I’m feeling well and on a very small amount of lithium. I am going to a new psychiatrist in January!

    1. Judith I am horrified for you when reading your comment. I was on lithium for 30 years and felt it also limited my creativity but it controlled my moods and that’s what mattered but unlike yours, my doctor made me get lithium levels. In 2003 it was determined that lithium was not working well for me anymore and my doctor put me on Depakote and I feel like a different person. My head is much clearer as well as my thought process. I wish you much luck in finding a new psychiatrist!

      1. Hi Pammey and Judith,

        A couple of decades ago after being diagnosed with Bipolar 1 I was put on Depakote also. Didn’t much care for the weight gain side effect. About 4 years ago I started Lithium and the mood swings became much less severe and I did feel more “stable”. I would offer a few observations regarding Lithium and my experience. I did feel it lowered my desire to engage in my more creative hobbies such as playing music and writing. I did have routine blood work done to make sure the levels were appropriate. I was never informed about hydration however. I recall working in the yard on a very warm summer day. I tend to sweat easily and quite a bit when working like this. I made the mistake of not staying hydrated however and soon found it hard to speak and stand. I went to the emergency room and waited about 4 hours. I ended up leaving without being seen. I had looked up my symptoms on my phone and decided to stop and buy several bottles of a sport drink. I drank until I was uncomfortably full and did start to feel better after a short while. Finally and of most concern was when I started to experience sensations in the muscles in my neck, shoulders and wrists. The sensation caused me to “stress” the muscle to a point of it being painful before releasing the tension. This could go on for hours and it often lasted much of my work days while sitting at a desk. It went away when I laid down or was up walking. Driving was also difficult. Eventually I went off lithium after several discussions with doctors. It did subside greatly and I feel much better. I still have it at times. It seems it may also be related to caffeine. Wishing you all the best!

  2. Dr. Redfield truly is a hero for what she’s given the world of manic depression (I also believe there is benefit in describing it for what it is.) “I’m a hard act to follow” too! My high energy self can’t make heads or tails of my “polar opposite” wanting to hide in a closet…that isn’t a shower God forbid. I look back at some of the notions and crusades of my manic self and want to crawl under a rock. Then I remember “Snake bite kits for all my friends!” like I’m gesturing to the bartender for another round. That is a reference to “Touched by Fire” that brings me an odd sense of comfort-that someone so accomplished could have been in the exact same brain space my illness so often drags me to. But there is beauty in that…what is it that drags me “back” is the actual person I am, aside from my illness. The person I am, apart from my illness has the courage to face the fire, write the apologies, and more importantly, show gratitude and give credit. Thank you Dr. Redfield and bp.hope for all that you continue to do. For me, hope is the miracle I know will always be coaxing me out of the dark, and waiting, arms wide open for my return.

  3. I can be the life of the party when I am hypomanic. Then when I crash back down to earth I have to ask who am I. I am but a simple clerk. When high I have walked down Astor Avenue, the most expensive residential street in Chicago and had a photographer take my picture because I looked so distinguished. In the same vain I was once stopped by a professional shopper of custom suits and such to see their trunk sale. I ended up buying some Ethan Allan shoes because I thought the shoes would help my feet. The shoes did not help but what the sales lady really wanted to sell was their custom tailored suits.

    When hypomanic the ability to socialize is phenomenal. When I am hypomanic I can be the life of the party. When depressed I just try to survive. When I am asymptotic I just wonder where my hypomanic self went and thank G-d I am not depressed. So I can see why this mental illness is called bipolar. The words manic depression actually don’t make sense. Better is bouts with mania and depression as the case may be.

    I graduated college with good grades so I know I am book smart. I also have been known to carry an important conversation and there have been days I have been so depressed that I barely get up.I was in a deep depression and my pysch doctor said you know what you are going to get better. And you know what? I did. Like make many times before. The will to survive prevailed once again.


  4. I have come to the conclusion that I have a bipolar constitution. This I like very much. It fits considering the positive and very negative world views & moods that existed in my family, back to my grandparents & great grandparents. Genetics or not I am sensitive to the dissonance of emotional extremes. After living with bipolar for 30 yrs. i choose to say “constitution” rather than illness or disorder.

  5. I recognize that grief happens to me for many things. When I got sober and clean, there was a grief for my old way of treating my brain, my problems. When I had to get used to a new normal and the requirements of medication compliance, again there was a grief ( that I refused to deal with) I refused grief for normal things like death or my sexual assault or my traumatic childhood. Until I faced those AND grieved for that child or time etc, I couldn’t move forward successfully

    As for the early comments, something bothered me, bc it sounded like we should enjoy being wildly unpredictable and creative etc. by being off meds

    I am those things ( unpredictable and creative and sometimes wild unfortunately) while medicated. (23 years now)

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