In An Unquiet Mind, Dr. Kay Jamison tells the story of her struggle with manic-depressive illness. A rumination on how the illness both influenced and impacted the decisions she made, Jamison's memoir uses the author's clinical knowledge of the illness in order to analyze her own past. She begins with a summary of her early life, focusing in particular on her military-family upbringing on Air Force bases. She discusses her family, which included a mother, father, sister, and brother, and examines their moods within the context of her own. Jamison's childhood is as defined by her father's unstable moods as it is by her own, and An Unquiet Mind is as much a story of the consequences of the genetically inheritable nature of the disease.
Jamison then tells of her time at UCLA, where she attended both undergraduate and graduate school. On the way to tenure, Jamison does not seek help for her illness but lives powerless to its terrible highs and lows. While an undergraduate, her academic transcript and personal finances suffer due to the unmanageable nature of her moods. Jamison is able to find in graduate school both the loose structure and understanding mentors necessary for her academic success. At 28, Jamison has a psychotic break and must finally accept her manic-depressive illness. She begins psychotherapy and a regimen of lithium. Stigma causes her to war against the medication for many years, and soon unchecked mania leads to the darkest depression of her life and a suicide attempt.
Jamison's healing process is slow and ongoing, but she is able to regain control over herself and her moods through, among other things, the healing power of love. The purpose of this memoir is to show her motivation for studying mood disorders. She hopes that with the publication of this memoir, manic-depressives and mental health professionals both might learn what it means to be on the other side of the relationship. She also hopes to show the devastating effects of medication non-compliance, in the hope that she may save a life.