Few months ago I came across a book titled ‘An Unquiet Mind’ which is written by Dr Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychology at Johns Hopkins University.
The book tells her struggle with bipolar disorder describing the symptoms that changed her life, her journey in accepting the diagnosis and the treatment and the feelings of embarrassment and shame whenever she went to the psychiatrist's clinic for her appointment.
She also described her experience with taking medications that helped her feel mentally stable so she could excel in her personal and professional life yet some medication caused her side effects that were unpleasant.
In her book she says, “When I am depressed, I do not feel alive and cannot produce anything, but when I am in a manic state, I can write an entire paper in a day. I feel that I have a strange energy and thoughts and projects rush through my mind until I feel above the clouds.”
Bipolar disorder is a common mental illness that affects about 50 million people from different countries around the world. It is ranked by the World Health Organization as the eighth among the diseases that cause disability.
The severity of symptoms varies from one person to the other. Some patients can lead normal lives while others become unable to function and need frequent admission to mental health units with frequent episodes of depression followed by episodes of mania, which causes major changes in their lives.
During my work as a psychiatrist, I met many patients with bipolar disorders from different ages, some of whom are doctors, teachers or nurses, while others are entrepreneurs, creative writers and poets.
Patients with bipolar disease experience episodes of depression where they feel sadness, crying, lacking energy and having sleep difficulties. The manic episode brings with it increased activity, excessive talking and buying of things they do not need.
Sometimes the patient believes that he has special powers. This fluctuation in mood exhausts the patient a lot and embarrasses those around him.
During the manic phase, some patients miss the ‘enjoyable’ symptoms of mania such as a feeling of joy, self-confidence and increased activity, especially when these symptoms are mild and do not affect their productivity or interfere with their social life.
When the symptoms of mania are severe the patients experience major changes in his or her behaviours. One patient wrote a three-volume fantasy novel, which she stayed up to complete while she was in the midst of a manic episode, but unfortunately came up with a lot of incoherent ideas, while another patient distributed expensive gifts to his friends and colleagues despite his limited income.
This is often followed by severe depression that may lead the patient to think of suicide to get rid of psychological pain.
Dr Redfield Jamison says that she hesitated a lot before publishing her book for fear that disclosing her experience with mental illness would make others see her as less qualified as a clinical psychologist, due to the stigma and negative attitudes attached to people with mental health problems.
Reading this book made me wonder, would people in Arab societies accept being treated by a doctor who suffers from the same condition? Or will it be said, “A doctor who treats people while he is ill”?