My friend, Carolyn, referred me to a book about books, which I picked up from the library the other day. It’s called, You’ve Got to Read This Book; 55 People Tell the Story of the Book That Changed Their Life. So far, I’ve only scanned through and was rather surprised that I hardly knew ANY of the books these people named.
Unbelievable, I know. And you thought all I did with my free time was read books. This book did get me to thinking about some of the books that have had an impact on my life. Of course, for me, there are the religious books like The Book of Mormon and His Holy Name. But there are also the not-so-religious books that left me with a resonating feeling such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Their Eyes Were Watching God, How Green Was My Valley, and An Unquiet Mind. Since I don’t think many people know about the last book I named, I’m going to review it here and explain a little bit about the impact reading it had on me.
Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychiatrist. She has studied mental illnesses, worked with those suffering from them, and associated with other psychiatrists. She has also suffered, herself, from manic depression (bipolar disorder). This is her autobiography of her disease.
I picked this up when I was wandering through the mall in Chambersburg, PA, and, of course, was pulled without realizing it straight to the bookstore, Walden Books. I wish I could remember how, exactly, I found this book, but I did and after reading a bit of the description and some of the first chapter, I bought it. I then read it in two days instead of working (door-to-door sales) or sleeping. I had to read this one slow because I wanted to remember it (and if I speed read, I only remember long enough to write an essay or take a test on it).
I wrote one of the passages down in my journal because the experience talked to me about a friendship that was in effect 24/7 and reached out to her when she refused to reach out to anyone:
Sometimes, after I had told him that I simply had to be alone, he would call me later, at one or two o’clock in the morning, to see how I was doing. He could tell from my voice what state I was in, and, despite my pleas to be left alone, he would insist on coming over. Often this was in the guise of “I can’t sleep. You wouldn’t refuse to keep a friend company, would you?” Knowing full well that he was only calling to check up on me, I would say, “Yes, trust me. I can refuse. Leave me alone. I’m in a foul mood.” He would call back in a few minutes and say, “Please, please, pretty please. I really need the company. We can go somewhere and get some ice cream.” So we would get together at some ungodly hour, I would be secretly and inexpressibly grateful, and he somehow would have finessed it so that I didn’t feel like I was too huge a burden to him. It was a rare gift of friendship.
Have you ever had days where you are sure that you’re crazy? Or maybe you’ve been down and wondered what was wrong with you? You’re riding an emotional rollercoaster and don’t think anyone can relate? Reading this book, for me, helped me to realize that we’re ALL crazy. Seriously.
If a successful psychiatrist, who writes so poignantly, can suffer with a debilitating disease and still love, still find a way to succeed, still keep at it, then it’s okay for us to have days where we struggle. For me, I just haven’t quite mastered the mind-over-mattress skill in the mornings.
I’ve reread this book three times now. Something continues to draw me back to it. I think it may be in part because of her writing, and also because I find hope in reading the stories of someone who struggled, but now has the perspective to see how bright the light can be in contrast to the dark she’s been in. It’s more than just a story of struggling with moods; Jamison offers a study in human character.
I like it.