An Unquiet Mind

An Unquiet Mind Summary and Analysis of Part Three: This Medicine, Love


In the third part of her book, Jamison tells the stories of the three men she has loved over the course of her lifetime. Jamison believes that love has offered her acceptance and stability and that she would have been lost without its constructive influence in her life. This section is separated into three parts, one for each of the men she has built relationships with.

An Officer and a Gentleman

The first transformative love of Jamison's life is David, an officer of the British Army. His love brings her hope and returns her to a "warm and secure existence" (139). David teaches Jamison "how marvelously the mind can heal, given half a chance," as well as how "patience and gentleness can put back together the pieces of a horribly shattered world" (139). Jamison met David in her first year as a professor at UCLA, six months after she had "gone barkingly manic" (140). She describes herself as a "brittle" version of her former self, tiptoeing the line of sanity. Further madness was a constant threat. Jamison encounters David in the middle of her daily routine: he is a visiting professor, a psychiatrist from the Royal Army Medical Corps. They immediately hit it off, going out for a cup of coffee the very day they meet. David succeeds in winning Jamison over when she asks him to consult on one of her most difficult patients, "a schizophrenic girl who believed she was a witch" (141). David shows incredible professionalism in the manner in which he was able to navigate the situation and see through to the girl's deeply hidden medical and psychotherapeutic issues. He is able to do so quickly and with the utmost kindness.

They begin a long-distance relationship that has an immeasurably positive effect on Jamison's psyche. Although she is still in a sensitive place, "still recovering from a long suicidal depression" and with "thoughts so halting" and "feelings so gray I could scarcely bear it", some deep intuitive part of Jamison knew that her situation would be made better by seeing him (142). And she is right—though her time with David, the weariness of her long depression lifted. She learned how to enjoy music, art, and literature again and regained her passion for life. Tension emerges when Jamison drops all of her medication in a cathedral one day while David is at work and must face the reality of telling him about her illness. Since she is in London visiting him, her only opportunity for a refill would be through him. It is a conversation she dreads, and she waits painfully for David's reaction. Although it takes him a while to respond, once he does he simply put his arms around her and said softly, "I say. Rotten luck." (144). Jamison feels a flood of relief and gratitude: "It was rotten luck, and somebody finally understood" (144).

When David dies suddenly of a heart attack, Jamison is heartbroken. She remains in shock through traveling to London for the funeral service, only finally crying the day after her arrival in London, when she sits down to reread the letters that David had sent her over the course of their relationship. She finds solace in David's commanding officer and friends from the army. Through the funeral and the days afterward, Jamison slowly begins to grieve. She faces all of the regrets of death and says goodbye to the future with David that she had come to depend upon. But she does not fear that she will revert to a more depressed state, as grief is different from depression: "it is sad, it is awful, but it is not without hope" (150). As she later notes, life went on—both because of him and despite his death.

They Tell Me It Rained

After David's death, Jamison lives with lowered expectations of life. She draws into herself and closes her heart off to the world in an attempt to protect it. She throws herself into her work, and balances running the clinic, teaching, doing research and writing books. Jamison has grown a lot in the past period of her life, having finally accepted that she cannot mess with her lithium. As a consequence, she is in a much more predictable and stable place: "My moods were still intense and my temperament rather quick to the boil, but I could make plans with far more certainty and the periods of absolute blackness were fewer and less extreme" (153). Still, she is "unquestionably raw and unhealed inside"—her suicide attempt and David's death were the last times she had given herself time and space away from the university in order to heal. She decides to take a sabbatical and return to that place that has become one of wonder and healing in her life—the United Kingdom. She gets from the experience "a gentle and wonderous interlude," where "love, long periods of time to myself, and a marvelous life in London and Oxford gave both my mind and heart the chance to slowly put back together most of that which had been ripped apart" (154).

Jamison is to split her time between St. George's Hospital in London, where she will conduct a study of mood disorders in eminent British artists and writers, and Oxford, where she will work on a medical text about manic-depressive illness and teach as a visiting professor. This time in England is paramount in Jamison's relationship with life itself, as it makes her realize how much she had been avoiding life in the interest of protecting herself from pain. England allows Jamison to reconnect with herself and returns her high hopes in life. It also returns her belief in love. She meets an "elegant, moody and totally charming Englishman," with whom she starts an affair based upon the understanding that it would last only as long as her stay in England. Jamison describes a relationship built upon a sudden and strong infatuation at first sight. This love comes to know her better than anyone else ever had, largely because he is beholden to the same kinds of moods that she is: "He had no difficulty seeing the complexity in emotional situations or moods—his own made him well able to understand and respect irrationality, wild enthusiasms, paradox, change, and contradiction" (160). Jamison does not hesitate to tell him about her illness like she did with David—and his response is to say, "I thought it impossible to love you any more than I do" (160). This knowledge only increases his understanding of her and puts into perspective her vulnerabilities, which he keeps in mind for the remainder of their relationship.

The greatest gift this lover offers Jamison, however, is creating a space of security in which Jamison feels safe to experiment with her dosage of lithium. She had been terrified of lowering her dosage, worried the effects would cause too much havoc to her tenuous grip on sanity. He convinces her that there would never be a more secure time in her life in order to lower her dosage. The effects of doing so are incredible: "It was though I had taken bandages off my eyes after many years of partial blindness" (161). All of Jamison's senses are heightened, and she feels more energetic and alive than she has in a decade. Most significantly, she can once again read without effort. The knowledge of all the intensity she had lost without knowing it combines with the pleasures of experiencing it again, and she weeps to know the "precarious balance that exists between sanity and a subtle, dreadful muffling of the senses" (162).

Love Watching Madness

The last section of Part 3 depicts Jamison's last and longest relationship: that with her husband, Richard Wyatt. Jamison leaves London feeling as though life, for the first time, had become worth not losing. Jamison returns to Los Angeles and finds that the year has done wonders in healing her, and finds "teaching was once again fun; supervising the clinical work of the residents and interns was, as it had been in earlier times, a pleasure; and seeing patients gave me the opportunity to try to put into practice some of what I had learned from my own experiences" (164). She notes that it was only in feeling well again that she could see the massive toll mental exhaustion has taken on her life. Lowering her dosage of lithium brought back an intensity to her life, and she notes that she once again begins to react to the world in a way that is true to her natural temperament. Jamison finds that in many ways, she is a stranger to the natural world. She begins to experience milder forms of her original mood swings, and while they are not nearly as severe as they might once have been, it becomes clear that "a low-grade, fitful instability had become an integral part of my life" (169). She reaffirms that an intellectual steadiness is necessary in order to live a successful life.

Jamison finds this intellectual steadiness in the form of Richard Wyatt, her third and longest-lasting love. Jamison describes Richard as handsome, unassuming and quiet, and finds him to be very easy to talk to. Within a year and a half of meeting him, Jamison makes plans to move to Washington so that they might be together full-time. Upon moving in with each other, Richard and Jamison discover that they could not be more different. While Jamison had large enthusiasms and wild mood swings, Richard was quiet, stable and low-key. A man of moderation, Richard has no clue what to do with his new companion. They are a complete mismatch, and yet Jamison writes that she has never once questioned Richard's love for her nor hers for him. Their common intellectual interests sustain their relationship, and their differences in nature have created a partnership that allows for essential independence. Jamison writes that her life with Richard has become a "safe harbor: an extremely interesting place, filled with love and warmth and always a bit open to the outer sea" (173).


This part of Jamison's memoir concerns itself with the phenomenon of love and how important it can be to a damaged soul. She begins this section by recollecting: "There was a time when I honestly believed that there was only a certain amount of pain one had to go through in life" (139). The rest of Part 3 reads as a response to this belief, as the trials of Jamison's loves have challenged her and forced her to grow in unprecedented ways. Life teaches Jamison that it was too presumptive to assume that because her illness had brought her so much misery, "life should therefore be kinder to me in other, more balancing ways" (139). These trials, however, are examples of the incredible growth Jamison's character has undergone in her journey towards healing, as we see her remain stable and in control of her emotions through the many ups and downs of life. Although she is often thrown curveballs, the heights to which love takes her are never truly lost, even when that love itself has gone.

When Jamison travels to London to visit David, she spends some time ruminating on the scenery, just as she had done when she visited the area years before as an undergraduate. Her descriptions of her setting demonstrate the significant change that her mental state has undergone. This is apparent in her visit to Canterbury in particular. Jamison notes that the first time she visited, she saw everything through manic eyes, and as a result, she had "long-lasting, mystical memories" of the place. The Canterbury of this visit failed to live up to her memories of the past, but not in a tragic way. A loss of mania encouraged her to understand the place through a new, softer lens.

Setting greatly affects Jamison's mental state throughout her memoir. Her time in England, with both Englishmen, established the country as a place where she might find reprieve from her hectic life in Los Angeles. The country comes to symbolize more than an escape: her mood in England begins to mirror the sweet grey stability that she reads in her surroundings. As this happens, she begins to misremember her past, and associates all of the negative experiences behind her with the location they occurred in. She writes of her reluctance to "return to a city I had come to associate not only with a grueling academic career, but also with breakdowns, the worn, cold, bloodlessness following in their wake, and the draining charade of pretending to be well when I wasn't" (164). Although it isn't Los Angeles' fault that Jamison has struggled, she is incapable of separating her mental state from the setting it occurred in. And although she eventually admits that she was wrong in her forebodings about Los Angeles, this concern with the setting ultimately influences her decision to move east with Richard. As she describes, she left without regret a city "filled with near death, a completely shattered innocence, and a recurrently lost and broken mind" (171).

Through her stories of love, Jamison is able to heal in ways that she might not have alone. This is exemplified by long-lasting effects her temporary affair in England does for her health. Simply by providing Jamison with a safe space in which she might experiment with her medication, her lover gives her the incredible gift of life on a lowered dosage of lithium. Even though this love soon ends and her life progresses without him, Jamison will never again have to face the dulling effects of lithium on her senses. Coming to understand how much lithium affected her was an emotionally significant moment for Jamison, and it can be seen as an example of the positive ways that her relationships change her life. Through each of these three loves, Jamison gains an appreciation for something she hadn't known she had lost. This has to do with the healing nature of love, for sure, but is also indicative of the limited ability of the human mind to fully appreciate its condition on its own. Jamison shows us that we often come to learn more about ourselves through others.

Jamison comes to an important place in her relationship to her illness at the end of Part 3. Although it seems as though her message is a simple one about love's healing power, she uses her husband's difficulty in understanding her illness as a means to introduce her final stance on the matter. She writes: "No amount of love can cure madness or unblack one's dark moods" (174). But while love cannot destroy madness, madness can, on the other hand, kill love. It is only through finding a balance within one's self, and through dedication to a strict medication regimen, that one might finally find peace in illness. Love can make the struggle more worthwhile, but it will never clear the way to health on its own. Jamison reminds us that our health and wellbeing are ultimately our own responsibility, and we must find a way to keep them within our own control.