In ‘Fires in the Dark,’ Kay Redfield Jamison Turns to Healers

Kay Redfield Jamison arrives on time in front of the towering marble statue of Jesus Christ at the entrance to the old hospital building at Johns Hopkins University Medical Campus. Next to it, two guestbooks are left open to receive the wishes and prayers of those who pass through this hall. “Dear God, please help our daughter feel better….” “Dear Lord, please heal my grandfather and let him live happily…”

The building is adorned with historical oil paintings of Hopkins doctors and nurses, a reminder of the healing history. A desperate, uncertain, even heroic attempt to heal is at the heart of Jamison’s new book, Fires in the Dark: Healing the Unquiet Mind, out May 23 by Knopp. there is

“If I could have subtitled this piece ‘Love Song to Psychotherapy,’ I would,” she said.

Jamison, 76, has her blonde hair cut into a bob and wears a colorful floral dress as she navigates a hallway filled with people in scrubs. Into the quiet hallway dedicated to psychiatry. She is co-director of the Center for Mood Disorders and a professor of psychiatry. Her bookshelf showcases many of her publications, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated psychobiography of poet Robert Lowell and her books on suicide, madness, and the relationship between mania and artistic genius. . And, of course, her most famous work, Unquiet Mind, is a memoir she published in 1995, in which she describes her own manic depression at considerable personal expense. declared illness.

Jamison was an energetic, athletic senior in high school in the Pacific Palisades area of ​​Los Angeles, when he suddenly fell into a mild manic state and fell into a deep depression. “She couldn’t expect her heart to be on her side,” she said. She was embarrassed by what she was going through. Her high school English teacher handed her a collection of poems by Robert Lowell, who had battled her manic depression throughout her life, and she felt an immediate connection with him. That same teacher also gave her Sherston’s Progress by the English poet Siegfried Sassoon. More than 50 years later, Sassoon’s book became her one of the central inspirations for “Fires in the Dark.”

Jamison’s symptoms subsided, she graduated from college, and received her doctorate. program in clinical psychology. By the time she was fully out of mania, she was 28 and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. This time she had no choice but to ask for help. In her insanity, she was tens of thousands of dollars in debt, buying her ultra-modern furniture and items such as her lifelong snakebite kit.

When she first entered psychiatrist Daniel Auerbach’s office, she was trembling with fear. “She had no idea if she would ever be able to work again,” she said.

He diagnosed her with manic depression (she still prefers that term to the latest “bipolar disorder”), prescribed her lithium, and a long-running collaboration began. He never claimed their mission would be easy, she said. The hard-to-recover condition is one of Jamison’s current healing principles.

“That’s the interesting part about saying to someone, ‘Look, that’s going to be difficult,'” she says. “Because at the end of it you will have survived something, created something, and been stronger for the rest of your life because of it.”

Years after her diagnosis, by now a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, she decided to talk about manic depression. She says it was a difficult decision, partly because “I was raised very WASP-ish.” “You didn’t talk about your problem.” Jamison also knew that going public meant stopping treating patients. “I felt very strongly that patients had the right to come to your office and deal with their problems and problems, not what they perceive to be your problems and problems.” said.

Her book will be a turning point.

“There have been many scientific books on bipolar disorder, and memoirs of people who have written about it, but no one has put it all together like she did,” the author said. rice field. Andrew Solomon was influenced by Jamison’s approach to writing about his own depression in “Devil in the Midday.” She was “the first person in the field of psychiatry to write about her own illness and its depths,” he said.

She, too, faced many rejections. When she went on a reading trip, she said she received hundreds of letters that spelled out her feelings, such as “You can die tomorrow” and “Don’t have children, don’t leave your genes behind.”

“There are a lot of people who really hate mentally ill people,” she says. “It’s built into many species to be acutely aware of differences.”

Yet Unquiet Mind resonated with countless readers who struggled with the same disease. Jamison’s niece, author Leslie Jamison, remembers when her aunt came to speak to a freshman class at Harvard University. “She was a bright and witty person and everyone adored her, but what I remember most vividly was this man who was cleaning her building.” she said. “He immediately came to her and said, ‘I just want to tell you that your book has changed my life.’

She added, “It still gives me chills when I think about it. I feel behind her fame and accolades is a really powerful urge for human healing.”

“Unquiet Mind” unlocked Kay Jamison’s life as a writer. Since then, she has painted a clear picture from her own experience. For example, in her book The Night Comes Earlier, she describes a suicide attempt during a particularly rough time in her twenties.

Now, in Fires in the Dark, she focuses on what British psychiatrist WH Rivers calls “the oldest form of medicine”: “psychotherapy.” “I wanted to get back into psychotherapy. I wanted to think about it and be emotionally involved,” Jamison said.

In a sunny farmhouse in the countryside outside Baltimore, she shares lunch with her husband, cardiologist Thomas A. Trail, and Harriet, a basset hound (named after Robert Lowell’s daughter). The conversation turns to Rivers.

Born in the late 19th century, he trained and worked as an anthropologist before serving as a military doctor during World War I, treating “shocked” soldiers. He didn’t like the word. He later claimed that the problem was trauma, not concussive shock. Over time, the diagnosis became known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Rivers believed that “to become a healer was to make a patient’s ‘unbearable memories’ bearable, to share in the darkness of the patient’s heart,” Jamison writes.

Rivers’ most famous patient was a poet Siegfried SassoonEver since his high school teacher gave him Sassoon’s book, Jamison had vivid memories of their sessions together. When Sassoon first met Rivers in July 1917, the young poet had been diagnosed with “shell shock” after months of trench warfare and had been sent to the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh to recover. He met Rivers five minutes after he arrived.

“He put me at ease immediately and seemed to know everything about me,” Sassoon wrote. “I knew right away what he didn’t know.” Rivers’ job as a military doctor was to treat him and send him back into battle.

Their sessions were aimed at “autonomy,” or “knowing yourself,” as Rivers puts it. Sassoon returned to action in November of the same year. The following year he was shot in the head but survived. Rivers came to visit me at the hospital. Quiet, alert, purposeful, and unhesitating, he seemed to have emptied the room of all that needed an exorcism,” Sassoon later wrote in his semi-autobiographical book Sherston’s Progress. ]wrote. “This was the beginning of a new life in which he showed me the way.”

To Jamison, Rivers was a model healer and a doctor who knew instinctively that “psychotherapy is about exploring who a patient is and how they got there.” rice field. She encourages Hopkins residents to take the time to ask patients questions about specific symptoms and understand the meaning behind them, rather than simply ticking a box. If the patient has an intense thought, ask, “What does it feel like?” What do you experience? These are questions for a larger study, she said. “Where have you been? What can I do for you? How can I find out more about you?”

In addition to Rivers, Jamison has a swirl of other healers, both professional and informal, including Dr. William Osler, singer Paul Robeson and King Arthur. This is a kaleidoscopic vision of healing and recovery that reflects her own passionately varied intellectual life. But one consistent line in her book is that loss, pain, and suffering are always near.

Jamison knows and depicts her own suffering and loss, but above all, her work is filled with the kindness she’s encountered in her long experience of struggling with and thinking about mental illness. I’m here. She still remembers a conversation she had with the dean of UCLA not long after her manic leave when she first began her life as a patient.

According to her recollection, his advice helped shape her conception of healing and the rest of her career. “Learn from it.” I will teach you from there.write from there.

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