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Nothing Was the Same Hardcover – September 15, 2009
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What makes "Nothing Was the Same" remarkable is that this account is told by the talented clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison who went public with her own bipolar illness in her acclaimed 1995 autobiography "An Unquiet Mind." Jamison is a Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an Honorary Professor of English at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Her husband, Richard Wyatt, M.D., was a leading researcher on schizophrenia and became Chief of Neuropsychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health. Jamison was 38 and Wyatt 45 when they met. He died after almost 20 years of marriage to Jamison in 2002 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Jamison and Wyatt's relationship was compelling on a number of levels. Both were mental health researchers and clinicians with their own unique challenges: Jamison suffered from bipolar illness while Wyatt was afflicted with extreme dyslexia. Jamison discloses that she was something of a "project" for Wyatt who kept careful records on her illness. This is not to say, however, that husband and wife treated each other as patients. Rather, this reads as quite the love story, infused as much by warmth and devotion as by professional interests. As Jamison writes, "It is strange, I think now, that love could soothe and draw together such different souls, and provide for them such hope, such happiness."
While the professional lives of this couple continue to play a role in their story, as Wyatt's illness progresses and after all the medical alternatives are exhausted, the human pathos of dying comes into the foreground. Jamison's account is moving. Dying can be that most exquisite form of closeness. As Jamison says, "The intimacy of being together during the approach of death is unimaginable."
Jamison's memoir is likely to appeal to two types of readers: those who have already taken this journey with a spouse or partner and those who wonder what it will be like. This will be a rewarding account for both.
As readers of An Unquiet Mind will remember, Kay Jamison is an academic expert on manic depressive illness who is herself a manic depressive; her description of the illness in that book is the most vivid and understandable I have ever read.
I have been a friend both of Kay's and of her late husband, Richard Wyatt's. Knowing him did not prepare me for Nothing Was the Same. Richard was a man of great professional attainments and personal charm. Women will read about him and fall in love with his inconceivable thoughtfulness and powers of expression. Men will read about him and feel hopelessly inadequate (How could he so consistently say the right thing and come up with the right gesture? Who knows.)
It is hard to know who will pick up this unusual book. Those who do will enjoy it a great deal.
At age seventeen Dr. Jamison was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness. She lived through mania, paralyzing depressions, and a mercifully failed suicide attempt. In her Prologue she writes that manic depression is a kind of madness, such that she was determined to "avoid .perturbance. (such as falling in love). She believed she needed to "coddle" her brain and modify her life and thus her dreams.
The renowned and charming scientist, Dr Richard Wyatt fell in love with her and she with him; they married and enjoyed nearly twenty years together until his sorrowful death from Hodgkin's disease. This brilliant scientist and beautiful human being had the added burden of dyslexia which required that he work four or five extra hours each day as he made his way through college, medical school, internship, residency, and his subsequent scientific career.
This stunningly well-written memoir is about grief...grief and the beauty and complexity of their relationship...a relationship that was doubly fraught with the common misunderstandings of two human beings due to the debilitating, threatening illnesses they each suffered. One incident in particular serves as an example. Realizing that Dr. Wyatt's medical bag was at home, Dr. Jamison had a premonition and looked through its contents, finding in the bottom of the bag; hidden in its recesses what she feared: a syringe and a vial of antipsychotic medication. She was angered that he believed this was necessary. The last thing he intended was to hurt her and his reaction to her distress was heartfelt and painful. It was a difficult moment for him. "Medicine is imperfect." Wyatt tells her, quietly. "I am imperfect."..."You are imperfect."..."Love is imperfect." His patience, kindness and wisdom in the way he dealt with her erratic moods seem boundless and, in time, she changed; she learned to trust him.
Nothing Was the Same has distinctive qualities that emerge from a talented writer who has the soul of a poet and the knowledge of an internationally esteemed psychiatrist. Dr. Jamison writes about her grief with the clear-thinking mind of a physician and the lyrical and sensitive nature of an artist's sensibilities, combining her love story with her intimate understanding, both private and professional, of the nature of grief. This grief, she relates, plunged her into a dangerous darkness. Grief "...has its own territory." "...a minute of sweetness and belief, and then the blackness comes again....this illness will always bring me to my knees. I accumulate sorrow and grief inside, which only wait until the next time to go out again, to remind me how always tides go out once in."
Discussing the sometimes difficult-to-distinguish differences between the closely allied emotions of depression and grief, she writes that their emotions overlap, and are related like cousins, yet they are distinct. "...grief," she writes, "compelled solitude. Time alone in grief proved restorative. Time alone when depressed was dangerous. The thoughts I had of death after Richard's death were necessary and proportionate. They were of his death, not my own. When depressed, however, it was my own death I thought about and desired. It was my own death I sought out. In grief, death occasions the pain. In depression, death is the solution to the pain."
Nothing was the Same is intense because it is personal and honest; Dr. Jamison reveals her inner life without restraint. It grabbed my attention and held my interest from first page to last. Although about grief and depression, I did not find it depressing. Rather, it shares a magnificent love story, a eulogy to the sacred experience of grief and depression. We are made to realize we can grow and learn from these challenging emotions; they are necessary. It inspired in me waves of empathy, admiration, and affection for this sensitive author.
by Duffie Bart
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women