Tag Archives: bipolar disorder

Just Like Someone without Mental Illness Only More So by Mark Vonnegut

I was intensely interested in reading Just Like Someone without Mental Illness Only More So for a couple of different reasons. The first one is that it’s by the son of Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors. The second is that the premise of the book is that he discusses what it’s like to be both a successful doctor and a person with bipolar disorder. I liked his description of how his life unfolded and appreciated his insight into his life as a whole. I’ve not read his fiction, but I would say that his ability to show the reader what it is like to have a mental disorder while maintaining a successful and functional (for the most part) lifestyle shows there might be a familial tie for writing talent.

Vonnegut talks a bit about what it was like to grow up with his father. Kurt was a gruff man – if you want to put it mildly – and, despite the good things he did, like taking in his nephews after their parents died, Mark Vonnegut doesn’t give the impression that he ever did become an outwardly caring father. What he does show us is that his father was there when he needed him, like during his hospitalizations.

One aspect of Vonnegut’s book that I especially liked was that he wrote about what it was like to be in school and become successful at his profession and then have his disease get out of control. I think most people don’t get the fact that people with bipolar disorder can recover. It’s important, in my opinion, that people like the author come forward and talk about the fact that, yes, he has a mental illness, and, yes, he has been hospitalized for it, and now he’s doing well as a physician (and not only a physician, but a pediatrician).

I also liked that he talked about self-medication. For him, the substance of choice was alcohol, and it caused serious problems for him and his family. No matter what the drug, I think it’s important for people to know that substance abuse can be a sign of undiagnosed or improperly treated mental illness.

One thing I didn’t like was that Vonnegut appears to still have some of the risk-taking behaviors. He became a mushroom hunter and, at one point, ate one that wasn’t so good for him. His wife had to take him to the hospital to get his stomach pumped. I don’t know if it was included as an example to say that he’s not “cured” and that treatment of bipolar disorder is an ongoing process, but I found it scary that he might not realize that he still has urges to do reckless things that he might not have even full reflected on.

Overall, I’m glad Vonnegut wrote Just Like Someone without Mental Illness Only More So. A lot of people will be educated and a lot of people will find hope within its covers.

Rating: 4/5.

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Filed under 4/5, Book review, Favorable, Nonfiction

Exuberance: The Passion for Life by Kay Redfield Jamison

Having read both An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast, I looked forward to reading Exuberance.  After all, I think Kay Redfield Jamison writes with amazing insight into mental behavior, and the topics she writes about are interesting to me, both in an academic way and for personal reasons — I have loved ones with bipolar disorder.  Unfortunately, Exuberance, rather than being a mostly-scholarly work on positive psychology, is more of a rambling collection of historical anecdotes with some study information tossed in.

Jamison is definitely not an impartial author.  She herself has bipolar disorder.  From her account, her experience of mania was, while uncomfortable, was also thrilling and addicting, to a certain extent.  She acknowledges the fact that exuberance can blend with mania, and describes situations where people whom could be described as “exuberant” can also be considered to be experiencing mania.  She makes the attempt to give the warning that some of this behavior can be detrimental to the person and draining on those around them.  Her personal experience makes her at least somewhat sensitive to how mania works, and she does do lip service to the idea that, sometimes, being up is not great, especially not if it’s all the time.

She then spends the rest of the book talking about how great the people who experience an overabundance of exuberance are.  Scientists and naturalists are described as experiencing overwhelming awe and joy about their chosen topics and life in general.  She implies that others, who do not experience the same level of overt wonder, are not as good as others.  We aren’t as creative, we aren’t as vital to the perpetuation of the species, and we aren’t as able to see things in innovative ways and do innovative things.

That’s shortsighted and callous.  There are several people whom I would not consider to be exuberant — Steve Wozniak, for one — but are still creative and innovative.  As someone who lives more on the bottom register of open enthusiasm, it bothers me that Jamison finds it easy to dismiss the majority of humanity as not contributing much if they aren’t extroverted and jubilant.  I personally consider some people she would find “exuberant” to be, rather, draining and tiresome without real insight.

I think this is my main problem with Exuberance.  Jamison sees normalcy in people most of us would consider to be going through manic episodes.  She idealizes those states because she had some good experiences with hers, so it must be good when people experience them without a depressive backlash.  Not necessarily; people are just as irrational in manic states as they are in depressive ones, and are just as likely to have bizarre ideas and be harmful to themselves and others.  Plus, they’re just uncomfortable to be around.  No matter how valuable their work may be, few people want to be around those who are “up” all the time.  It takes a lot of personal energy.

One good thing about Exuberance is that Jamison does put forth research that discusses how playfulness and exploratory behavior can be beneficial for the individual and for the species as a whole.  A moderate amount of playfulness helps cement social cohesiveness and create interpersonal relationships; exploration can lead to new discoveries that benefits the species as a whole.  I don’t dispute these findings, and, in fact, thought that this is what the entire book was going to be composed of.  I am disappointed to find that it’s mainly made up of her own conjectures with a little bit of science tossed in.

Rating: 2.5/5.

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Filed under 2.5/5, Book review, Mixed, Nonfiction