Throughout her memoir, Jamison presents manic-depressive illness as an animal. She uses this metaphor in order to emphasize the fact that her mental illness often seems to have its own, untameable will—a wild, gruesome, and uncontrollable being. The metaphor begins with an invocation of a Chinese proverbial belief on page 5, and it continues throughout the rest of the book. The proverb goes as follows: "The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful" (5). The animal of Jamison's illness, like a wild animal, must be tamed. Before that can happen, however, it must be understood.
Self as an Animal (Metaphor)
In times of mania or depression, Jamison often compares her behavior to that of different animals in order to show the dehumanizing effect of illness. Of her first manic episode, for example, she writes: "At first, everything seemed so easy. I raced about like a crazed weasel, bubbling with plans and enthusiasms..." (36). This discussion of her self as an animal helps highlight how unnatural her behavior is. Later, when Jamison discusses her motives for attempting suicide, she compares herself to an animal, writing "One would put an animal to death for far less suffering" (114). It is clear that she turns to the animal world often in order to come to terms with her illness, which often denies her the autonomy and free will we so often associate with being human.
Body as Uninhabitable (Metaphor)
Jamison uses the metaphor of an uninhabitable body on page 114. This depersonalization of the physical corpus in which she has lived leads to a second and inextricable metaphor, which helps her maintain peace with the medicine she must take to maintain her body's now-literally inhabitable status. Jamison's metaphor of her body as fundamentally uninhabitable bookends her illustration of suicide.
Sanctuary & Battleground (Metaphor)
Pills make psychotherapy possible, but it is psychotherapy that heals. Jamison makes this distinction explicit in the following passage: "Pills cannot, do not, ease one back into reality; they only bring one back headlong, careening, and faster than can be endured at times. Psychotherapy is a sanctuary; it is a battleground; it is a place I have been psychotic, neurotic, elated, confused, and despairing beyond belief. But, always, it is where I have believed—or have learned to believe—that I might someday be able to contend with all of this" (89). By invoking the imagery of both a sanctuary and a battleground, Jamison is able to convey the very particular role that psychotherapy plays in the life of a patient—one that puts them on defense, but only so that it might protect them from themselves.
"Like gamblers who sacrifice everything for the fleeting but ecstatic moments of winning, or cocaine addicts who risk their families, careers, and lives for brief interludes of high energy and moods, I found my milder manic states powerfully inebriating and very conducive to productivity. I couldn't give them up" (98).
When discussing her relationship with her manic states, Jamison compares her inability to sacrifice them in the name of a medication to addiction. In doing so, she highlights the inherent conflict in her relationship with her mania: the way it feels so good and satisfies some primal need of hers, but also slowly destroys her.
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.