An Unquiet Mind

An Unquiet Mind Summary and Analysis of Part One: The Wild Blue Yonder, 2


In the second chapter of Part 1, Jamison recounts her undergraduate and graduate education at the University of California, Los Angeles. This time is an immensely formative one in which Jamison battles with her illness and its growing effect on her daily life. It is characterized by intellectual passion and pursuit, important mentors, but also a deep denial about her mental state and need for professional assistance.

Jamison describes her time as an undergraduate as one of discontent. While she has periods of intoxicating mania, much of the rigid structure of college life is incompatible with the lifestyle her illness demands from her. She reluctantly starts her education at UCLA when she is 18 years old, upset that her family's financial troubles have gotten in the way of her attending her dream school. Her father's unpredictability has finally taken its toll on his career, and he lost his job at the Rand Corporation in California. As a result, Jamison is forced to stay close to home and to work her way through school. In retrospect, Jamison concedes that UCLA turned out to be the best possible place for her to pursue her degree, as it provided her with "an excellent and idiosyncratic education, and opportunity to do independent research, and the wide berth that perhaps only a large university can afford a tempestuous temperament" (41). At the time, however, it proves to be a difficult setting made worse by unpredictable moods. The structure of the university did not protect her against the "terrible agitation and pain" within her mind (42). "College was," she writes, "a terrible struggle, a recurring nightmare of violent and dreadful moods spelled only now and again by weeks, sometimes months of great fun, passion, high enthusiasms, and long runs of very hard but enjoyable work" (42).

The cycles of mania and depression that Jamison experiences at this time, while still not at deadly levels, are increasingly unmanageable. Seduced by a "pattern of shifting moods and energies," Jamison thrives in times that recall her intoxicating moods from high school. Mania in this time is characterized by an active mind, full "with a cataract of ideas and more than enough energy to give me at least the illusion of carrying them out" (42). Everything is done in excess, and the consequences of her careless actions always threaten to arise and undermine her mood. Jamison's financial struggles at this time are a good example of how while beholden to her mood she creates situations that only worsen her condition. A manic Jamison often spends without care—"instead of buying one Beethoven symphony, I would buy nine" (42). Many parts of Jamison's life spiral out of control under the influence of mania, exemplified by the debt she accrued during those years. Depression follows mania "as night inevitably goes after the day" (44), and Jamison experiences moods lower than she ever has. As her mood crashes, her mind slows, and she loses the natural curiosity with which she had been born. She writes, "I would wake up int he morning with a profound sense of dread that I was going to have to somehow make it through another day" (44). Class becomes "pointless and painful" as she loses the ability to keep up (44), and a result of all of this she feels despairing, isolated and devoid of hope. It is in this deep depression that Jamison finally considers asking for help—after sitting through a lecture on depression she makes her way to student health services. She gets as far as the door, where she is overcome with fear and is unable to enter. Fortunately, depression isn't eternal in manic-depressive illness, and it eventually lifts. When it does, she knows she is not free, but only has time to "regroup and mobilize for the next attack" (45).

In her third year, Jamison decides to study abroad at the University of St. Andrews. She views this time as a beautiful reprieve from the turmoil of her undergraduate life and uses vivid imagery in her recollection of this year. Her decision to study in Scotland is greatly influenced by her father. Not only had she been "deeply affected by the Scottish music and poetry that my father loved," but Scotland also offered her the opportunity to escape from under the heavy weight of her father's moods (47). At the University of St. Andrews, Jamison enrolls in advanced zoology courses, despite the fact that she has minimal experience with zoology. She is behind all of her classmates, but she is not discouraged at being so. Jamison renews a connection to nature at St. Andrews, where she spent her evenings walking along the sea. The medieval traditions of the university recalls the romanticism that she liked in the military world. In consequence, Jamison recalls her time in Scotland as a magical reprive from her madness: "St. Andrews provided a gentle forgetfulness over the painful years of my life... [it] was an amulet against all manner of longing and loss, a year of gravely held but joyous remembrances" (52).

It is during this time in her life that Jamison gains two important allies and mentors. The first comes her freshman year, in the form of a psychology professor, who administers the Rorsarch Test to her class. He holds up inkblots and has students anonymously write down their individual interpretations. As Jamison noes, "years of staring up into the clouds and tracing their patterns finally paid off" (45). Caught on a particularly manic day, Jamison's responses are so inventive compared to those of her classmates that when they are read aloud to the class they incite laughter. The professor instructs whoever had provided those responses to stay back after class and a terrified Jamison approaches him. While she is convinced that she has exposed her psychotic nature, the professor simply calls her responses "imaginative." Jamison notes that this was her "first lesson in appreciating the complicated, permeable boundaries between bizarre and original thought" (45). The professor offers her a position as an assistant in his lab and teaches her how to conduct research. Through research, Jamison finds a world that is amenable to her erratic nature: "Unlike attendance at classes—which seemed stifling and, like the rest of the world's schedules, based on an assumption of steadiness and consistency in moods and performance—the research life allowed an independence and flexibility of schedule that I found exhilarating" (47). This academic passion for research gives Jamison a new vision for her future. Although she had always wanted to be a doctor, she came to terms with the fact that her "mercurial temperament and physical restlessness were going to make medical school - especially the first two years, which required sitting still in lecture halls for hours at a time—an unlikely proposition" (53). Academic research allows her to continue to pursue her interests while staying free from the strict schedule of medical school.

Around the time she returns from St. Andrews, Jamison begins to work with the second professor who changes her life by convincing her to take on psychology as her academic interest. The professor studies the psychological and physiological effects of mood-altering drugs such as LSD, cocaine, and marijuana. In him, Jamison found a role model that was also inclined to mood swings. Stable and in control of his life, unlike her father, the professor offers Jamison both access to a challenging academic environment and understanding in the face of her own fluctuating moods. In him, Jamison found a companion, someone who understood the demanding nature of her moods and cared for her when she was unable to care for herself. Because of his positive influence on her life, Jamison decides to study for a Ph.D. in psychology at UCLA. She begins her doctoral studies in 1971.

Graduate school is a much more enjoyable time for Jamison, who finds the fun she missed as an undergraduate. In retrospect, Jamison sees that this time is one of remission and the promise of stability that it provides her with is a false one. At the time, Jamison is in denial and enjoying her newfound lease on life. She decides that the issue of her moods can be solved by a number of increasingly absurd measures, including buying a horse. As she spends more time learning about depression and mental illness, she finds herself incapable of admitting that it is something she struggles with. Another solution is marriage, and she marries a French artist who she describes as beautiful and gentle. Jamison credits the work she did with patients as being the basis for most of her "real education" at this time. She ends this chapter by recollecting the defense of her dissertation which led to the completion of her doctorate. Jamison receives her doctorate and gets hired as an assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Psychology.


In this section, we see Jamison begin to contend with the influence her manic-depressive illness has on her life. Although she is deep in denial about her illness, Jamison manages to act in subtle ways that help herself out. For example, she finds mentors who study topics relevant to her disorder, and who are able to grant her an exceptional amount of compassion as she copes with her unchecked illness. She also manages to make space for her illness in her life by letting go of her lifelong dream of going to medical school and accepting a new, more achievable dream based upon the limitations of her moods. This does not mean that Jamison manages to avoid hurting herself in this time of denial. She runs away from the man her father becomes, and begins a trajectory that will cause her to go mad in the same way as he did. She denies her need for a psychiatrist and is incapable of asking for help. Instead, she convinces herself that buying a horse would be the most effective course of action, and as a result, her studies and her financial situation both suffer. It is a wonder that despite all of this she is able to successfully complete her doctorate and get hired as an assistant professor at UCLA.

Throughout her memoir, Jamison's relation to her father's mood foreshadows the complications she will have with her own. As we see her father's temperament devolve, Jamison falls headfirst into her own mania. She openly admits to being seduced by the nature of her higher moods, and success as an undergraduate is defined by her behavior when she is manic—this is when she is able to complete the most school work and is the most social, for example. Later, Jamison escapes to St. Andrews as a means to escape from her father's illness. The reprieve that she finds in Scotland fills her with a false hope that her illness might no longer affect her in the manner that it has, and it is easy for her to attribute her problems at home to issues of circumstance rather than health. This denial continues even after she returns to the United States, and she continues to indulge the same manic behavior that lost her father his job. Jamison speeds down the road to psychosis while ignoring what she sees of her father at the end of that road. It is clear that only a major life event will cause her to pause and place the knowledge she gains, not only from watching her father but also through her education, within the context of her own life.

In this chapter we see Jamison meet two role models who impact both the manner in which she copes with her illness and her vision of her future path. These men come at a time when her relationship with her father devolves. The relation of an older man who fills a mentor-like role is an important recurring motif of this memoir. While Jamison discusses many different relationships over the course of her life, she only touches upon two women: her mother and her sister. Men, particularly older men, are paramount to Jamison's self-perception, and she often relies upon the direction of an older man in order to make major life decisions. This helps us to understand why her father's sickness is so impactful, as she has been forced to place other men into a role that would be typically filled by her father. As Jamison denies that what her father struggles with might be her own struggle as well, she rejects his importance and influence in her life.

When describing the intoxicating nature of her mania in undergrad, Jamison alludes to Idylls of the King, a book by the Victorian poet Tennyson,describing how a memory of the text seems to speak to her in her mania and compels her "with an immediate and inflaming sense of urgency" to run off to the bookstore and buy the book, along with 20 others. At the time, they all seem to relate to each other and "seemed together to contain some essential key to the grandiosely tizzied view of the universe that my mind was beginning to spin" (43). According to Jamison, the Arthurian tragedy "explained everything there was to know about human nature," and she is struck in particular by the story of the Lady of the Lake. In Idylls of the King, the character of Lady of the Lake is as defined by duality, as Jamison herself is—Tennyson adapts the legend of the Lady of the Lake and makes her into two characters, one good and one bad. The first is the good fairy queen Vivian who raises Lancelot and give King Arthur Excalibur. The second is the demonized Morgan le Fay, Arthur's evil half-sister who attempted to destroy him. The birth of these two opposing characters from a single mythical character can be used to understand the splitting of Jamison's self: her mania gives birth to creation, her depression nothing but destruction. Without medication, Jamison is incapable of allowing the two opposing forces to coexist, and she demonizes only part of her illness as a coping mechanism.

Animals hold particular weight in Jamison's psyche. In times of distress, we often see Jamison describe her irrational behavior by comparing it to that of an animal. For example, she compares pacing in her dorm room due to the agitated restlessness of depression to that of "a polar bear at the zoo" (45). Animals offer Jamison a way to discuss being alive without the troublesome influence of higher cognitive function, as dark moods strip away her humanity and make her into a being that can only react to the world around her. In times where Jamison seeks to further her understanding of herself, she often turns to animals. This is demonstrated by her decision to buy a horse in an attempt to contend with her moods. Some part of her believes that the act of caring for another animal will distract her from her emotions and teach her on some level how to care for herself. This psychological connection to animals is probably what drives her to complete a minor in animal behavior in graduate school. She writes that she supplemented the courses offered by the psychology department with those offered by the graduate zoology department at UCLA. She calls this interest "learning for learning's sake," and it brings her joy. "None of this had any relevance whatsoever to anything else I was studying or doing," she writes, "but they were far and away the most interesting classes I took in graduate school" (61).