Wonder and passion; restlessness and discontent

In the “This I Believe” series on NPR, Dr.
Kay Redfield Jamison talks about the relationship between passion and
depression. It’s an insightful commentary about the intensity of life at the
polar extremes of the emotional globe.

I believe that curiosity, wonder and passion are defining qualities of imaginative minds and great teachers; that restlessness and discontent are vital things; and that intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways that less intense emotions can never do.
–Kay Redfield Jamison


In her commentary on the series on NPR, This I Believe, Kay Redfield Jamison provides insight into the puzzling emotional landscape of bi-polar disorder, also known as manic depressive syndrome. By whatever name, it’s a disorder that animates the highs and lows of daily life into extremes that are unmanageable for those who are affected by the disorder.

And it is disorder. The range of emotions that are triggered is out of balance. The change from one extreme to another is unpredictable, it just happens. Moreover, it’s beyond the control of the individual and family members, many of whom want desperately to make it better and find their attempts not only are rebuffed, they sometimes antagonize their loved one even more.

Jamison says that wisdom can be derived from self-knowledge and management of the disorder. Her commentary is helpful for that reason alone. However, it’s even more helpful that this MacArthur grant recipient interprets this disorder in a way that removes the stigma. The journalist, Mike Wallace, is one of several celebrities who have publicly revealed their struggle with this disorder and in doing so have helped to create understanding.

It’s not enough to say to one in a manic state, “Just calm down,” nor in a depressive state, “It’s really not that bad.” In the first instance, they can’t. And in the second, it is.

These states are not self-willed, and to a considerable degree they can’t be prevented by willpower alone. They can be managed, and their onset can even be predicted by the individual. But management includes both medication and cognitive therapy. Bromides, however, don’t help.

I’ve worked with individuals in the grips of these states and it’s heartbreaking. You want to help and can’t. You see the pain in the down state and know that it’s real. The manic state, on the other hand, seems more agreeable because it’s a state of high activity and bright behavior. But it, too, is beyond control and can run amuck.

Jamison says the disorder can lead to understanding and knowledge that make for wisdom. In this lies hope for those who wrestle with life between the poles.

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