Kay Jamison is the first-person narrator of this autobiographical book. Dr. Jamison has lived her entire life with bipolar disorder. In An Unquiet Mind, she relates how the disorder has influenced her life, and the good and bad that comes with manic-depressive illness.
Dr. Marshall Verdine Jamison
Dr. Marshall Verdine Jamison is Jamison's father. A colonel in the Air Force, he raised her with a sense of duty and rigidity. Dr. Marshall Jamison is a meteorologist who strongly encouraged his daughter's love of medicine. He is credited with laying the basis for Jaison's love of literature, science, and the sky. Also manic-depressive, Colonel Jamison's mental illness slowly emerged over the course of Jamison's life. The disease progressively strained his relationship with his family. During her early childhood, he was a big personality beloved by the neighborhood children. Susceptible to grand moods and ideas, he would spend large amounts of time lecturing his children on literature, linguistics, and the meaning of life. Later, his moods took a turn for the worse. As Jamison aged, her father developed a drinking habit and became more prone to depression and violent outbursts.
Jamison's older brother is an important figure in her early development. Three years older than her, he acted as a role model and protector to his younger sister. The steadiest of the three children, Dean is the one that Jamison turns to in moments of distress. He is smart, fair and self-confident.
Later in Jamison's life, when manic episodes have propelled her deep into debt, her brother helps her manage her finances and takes out a personal loan in order to help her pay all of her bills. She pays this loan back to her brother slowly, over many years, but notes that she can never "pay back the love, kindness, and understanding" (78).
Dr. Richard Wyatt
Jamison's second husband, who she married in 1994. He is a schizophrenia researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington DC. Jamison describes him as quiet, unassuming and charming. She follows him across the country soon after receiving tenure at UCLA.
He is a stabilizing force in Jamison's life, unindulgent and interested in different things as her. But he offers her an opportunity to have both freedom and safety. He gives her hope.
Mary Dell Temple Jamison
Jamison's mother was a source of strength and stability throughout her life. In Jamison's childhood, her mother brought stability to a life defined by her father's unstable moods and constant change due to relocation through the Air Force. During Jamison's childhood and early adulthood, her mother took the reins of the house as her father dedicated himself completely to science. Along with looking after her three children, Jamison's mother taught and pursued a graduate degree. Later in Jamison's life, it is to her mother that she turns when she reaches rock bottom.
She is credited with keeping Jamison's life as secure as possible and is credited with great steadiness of character. A conservative woman from a privileged background, she had no idea how to confront the illness she would soon see emerge from her husband and two daughters, but handled it with perseverance, empathy, and intelligence.
Dr. Daniel Auerbach
Jamison's colleague at UCLA and psychiatrist. A tall, good-looking man of strong opinions. Auerbach inspires faith in Jamison by being tough and disciplined and having enough intelligence and quick wit to keep up with her. She meets him in a professional role first, as he was the supervisor of her predoctoral clinical psychology internship. When she became unmanageably ill, he was the only one she trusted enough to turn to for help. He is an easy-going man who demonstrates genuine care for his patients and performance as a doctor.
Jamison married her first husband as a graduate student at UCLA. He is handsome, dark-haired and brown-eyed. A French artist who goes unnamed, the man is a talented painter and kind and gentle person. He is described as being apolitical, "intelligent but not intellectual," and as devoted to the arts as Jamison is. They shared a passion for painting, the natural world, and music. His consistency aptly matched his wife's variability, and he brought stability in a very unstable time in Jamison's life.
Jamison's first marriage devolves before she is able to get adequate help for her manic-depressive illness. Her intense, variable state succeeded in driving a wedge in the relationship, although the two remained good friends and continued to care for each other.
Jamison's older sister is also left unnamed in the memoir. She is beautiful, with dark hair and distinct eyes. She is described as being charismatic, with a fierce temper and variable moods. Also inheriting manic-depressive illness from her father, Jamison's sister chose a different path in the wake of her own emotional problems. Their relationship was difficult in childhood and only grew more so. As a girl, Jamison's sister rebelled against their strict, Puritan upbringing, and found the militaristic community they grew up in to be stifling and infuriating. Defiant, she would break out whenever possible, often skipping school to drink and smoke with her friends. She resented Jamison's intellect and athleticism and thought that life came too easily to her little sister.
When it came time for Jamison and her sister to face their mental illness, they chose different lenses through which to look at it: while Jamison views her sickness as a strange, external force that must be contended with, Jamison's sister saw her own sickness as an extension of the darkness within herself. Later in life, this contributed to differing stances on medication and led to a large argument between the two. One of the few people in Jamison's life that encouraged her medication non-compliance, Jamison's sister was adamant that the use of drugs in order to lighten one's burden would cause one to wither. She believed that the darkness that emerged from within herself had to be faced head-on, not numbed by medication. This disagreement eventually led to Jamison's distancing herself from her sister.
Jamison mentions many colleagues throughout her memoir. She never mentions them by name but takes time to note the ways that they have helped, or hurt, her on her journey.
Some colleagues of note are:
The colleague that keeps her company in the middle of the night during her deep depressions.
The colleague she runs with in the UCLA parking lot.
The colleague that reacts poorly to her diagnosis and encourages her to keep it a secret.
Colleague/Lover from Part Two
One colleague, in particular, comes to mean a lot to Jamison. He and Jamison are dating when she has her first hallucinations, and he is the one she calls for help once it clears. He is the first doctor to tell Jamison they think she has manic-depressive illness and prescribes her first dosage of lithium. He helps her family cope with this new diagnosis and sticks around in order to help Jamison through this trying time.
An Unquiet Mind Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for An Unquiet Mind is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.