Thursday, May 07, 2009

Going Public With the Private

In the past week, I've heard Kay Jamison and Judith Werner speak, and yesterday I read the preview of a New York Times Magazine article by Daphne Merkin-- it will be published on Sunday. So I'm trying to figure out what draws these three events together, and all these people talk about there personal feelings in a public forum.

Kay Redfield Jamison is a scholar of bipolar disorder--- she co-authored the textbook on it. She moved from the academic world to the popular world when her memoir, An Unquiet Mind, was published in 1995-- with this she described her personal struggles with bipolar disorder. Dr. Jamison spoke on "Uses of Adversity" and part of her talk included mention of her personal struggles-- the idea that personal suffering can be the fuel for creative endeavors.

Yesterday, I heard New York Times blogger, Judith Warner, speak. Ms. Warner writes Domestic Disturbances, a blog about family life, and is the author of Perfect Madness: Parenting in the Age of Anxiety. Ms. Warner talks about the differences she noted in parenting when she moved from France to the United States, and talks quiet openly about what it's like to be the mother of two pre-teen daughters. She talks about the loneliness and isolation of being an American mom, of the crazy busy lives we struggle with. And she talks about her relationships with her daughters and with her own mother.

Both women are captivating speakers, and there is something very compelling about someone who talks openly about their own struggles.

So I didn't hear Daphne Merkin speak)....but do check out her on-line, to-be-published account of her episode of major depression in A Journey Through Darkness. Everything about Merkin's writing is hard-- she has an edge to her, one I don't always find to be sympathetic, but in this piece she simply oozes pain.


Retriever said...

Love Jamison's work, and she is encouraging for the newly diagnosed to read tho I think she overemphasizes the creativity and bipolar stuff. While many creative people are bipolar, not all bipolar people are creative.

Don't know Warner: is she just being coy about having a mood disorder? I tend to wonder when people pronounce about the "loneliness and isolation of the American mother" if it isn't just their own depression?

The Merkin piece is interesting, but hard going (figures, given all she was going through).

I admire people who go public with their private struggles. The fig leaf of anonymity helps many like me. In my world, I would jeopardize the opinion coworkers hold of me, and embarass my kids and jeopardize their future job prospects if I were to be candid about the family's difficulties. I do wonder often what all these people's kids think and feel about such personal disclosure. Kay Jamison doesn't have any. But my kids get livid at me even when I write about them anonymously in my blog for my audience of faithful readers.

Rach said...

Elyn Saks who is a lawyer, is one of the few non-shrinks who have been invited to speak at the APA in San Fran this year.

She wrote this book: The Centre Cannot Hold

Which was fabulous... I have yet to read any of the links that you reference.

I think that creativity can manifest itself in many different ways - creativity is energy,really - energies that one channels into a particular endevour... In my own case, my creativity is found in the blogging and other writings that I do.

Elen said...

Just came across this only two days ago (though it sounds like it could be old hat to professionals).

Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity seem linked. ...creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment. Other people's brains might shut out this same information through a process called "latent inhibition" [which] might predispose to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment under others.”

...stress causes the release of the hormone corticosterone which lowers latent inhibition. When an organism runs into [stressful] problems...the mind...examines factors in the environment that it normally ignores.
I found the idea rather compelling, except for the commentary I've seen which suggests the "condition" for overcoming negative effects is usually intelligence and short-term memory (I haven't read the paper). Doesn't ring true to me; not only are there plenty of counterexamples of "creative geniuses" who were bipolar or otherwise ill, but you have individuals like Galileo who stubbornly denied powerful physical evidence and risked their reputation and freedom defending "crazy" ideas (eg "sloshing" tides, heliocentricism vs. apparent lack of parallax). So it seems those conditions don't guard against odd beliefs or behavior, but I couldn't say if the reverse cause/effect has weight...

Retriever said...

Rach, thanks for the book recommend. I wrote sloppily but didn't mean to sound snarky abour bp and creativity. You are right that it manifests in so many forms, and the research Elen cited may explain why. It's just that there is so much suffering and destruction that can attend the disorder that I worry about people romanticizing it

Numerous people in my family diagnosed. Most are accomplished and creative. But a couple of the sickest have purely average abilities but a lot of destructive energy and another couple have seen their creatifivity destroyed by the illness (which resists all treatment, despite the two peple actively working to get better) Jamison herself acknowldeges that, despite some vile side effects, treatment made her accomplihhments possible (else illness would have killed her).

Overall, my family love the fickle, fey, strange (Gerand Manley Hopkins "Glory be to God for dappled things" My kids tease me that I think that every truly smart, creative person I hear or see is bipolar.

Torsten said...

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Rebecca Kiki Weingarten said...

I like your question - what is the fascination with going public with the private? All the memoirs, tell-alls. Any thoughts? Also - are these people going privately to a personal few w/their private thoughts and feelings - or is the pull the public part?

Rebecca Kiki Weingarten

Cameron said...

We hope that now all want to be involved in the medical system is improved, but not because they think the medical system is very much less come to trust that these events will reduce the cost and benefit millions of people throughout the country, and they say that things in improved from 60% in recent weeks, hopefully this is the case ..

Christine said...

I left a comment on this post a day or two ago. Is there a reason it has been deleted?? :(

Motivation said...

The book to read: "Fight For My Life, Knowing My Anxiety and My Depression." I made the very difficult decision to open up my life and talk candidly about my battles with major depressive disorder and with anxiety disorders (GAD, SAD,PAD), all very treatment resistant and with biological/genetic components. I am a mental health clinician and also worked as a senior level Human Resources professional. I pull the reader right into the middle of a life ravaged by anguish and pain. More information about my background is available through my LinkedIn website. Pamela J. Lindsay, A.L.M.