The love you gave me wasn't fresh and young,
It didn't melt the sun or set the town aflame.
But it was warm and wise as any street,
Where hope and sorrow meet in bars without a name.
I only know that one day was a drink
And then the next was you and nothing was the same.
When I was young, I thought that fearlessness and an easy way with love would see me to the other side of anything. Madness taught me otherwise. In the wake of my first insanity I assumed less and doubted more. My mind was suspect; there was no arguing with the new reality. I had to learn to live with a brain that demanded more coddling than I would have liked and, because of this, I avoided perturbance as best I could. Needwise, I avoided love.
I kept my mind on a short lead and my heart yet closer in; had I cared enough to look I doubt I would have recognized either of them. Before mania whipped through my brain I had been curious always to go to the far field, beyond what lay nearest by. After, I drew back from life and watered down my dreams. I retaught myself to think and to negotiate the world, and as the world measures things, I did well enough.
I was content in my life and found purpose in academic and clinical work. I wrote and taught, saw patients, and kept my struggles with manic-depressive illness to myself. I worked hard, driven to understand the illness from which I suffered. I settled in, I settled down, I settled. In a slow and fitful way, predictability insinuated itself into my life, and with it came a certain peace I was not aware had been missing. Grateful for this, and because I had no reason to know otherwise, I assumed that peace was provisional upon an absence of passion or anything that could forcibly disturb my senses. I avoided love.
This lasted for a while, although not perhaps as long as it seemed. Then I met a man who upended my cautious stance toward life. He did not believe, as I had for so long, that to control my mind I must first control my heart. He loved the woman he imagined I must have been before bowing to fear. He prodded my resistance with grace and undermined my wariness with laughter. He could say the unthinkable because he instinctively knew that his dry wit and gentle ways would win me over. They did. He was deft with my shifting moods and did not abuse our passion. He liked my fearlessness, and he brought it back as a gift to me. Far from finding
the intensity of my nature disturbing, he gravitated toward it. He induced me to risk much by assuming a portion of the risk himself, and he persuaded me to write from my heart. He loved in me what I had forgotten was there.
We had nearly twenty years together. He was my husband, colleague, and friend; when he became ill and we knew he would die, he became my mentor in how to die with the grace by which he lived. What he could not teach me—no one could—was how to contend with the grief of losing him.
It has been said that grief is a kind of madness. I disagree. There is a sanity to grief, in its just proportion of emotion to cause, that madness does not have. Grief, given to all, is a generative and human thing. It provides a path, albeit a broken one, by which those who grieve can find their way. Still, it is grief's fugitive nature that one does not know at the start that such a path exists. I knew madness well, but I understood little of grief, and I was not always certain which was grief and which was madness. Grief, as it transpires, has its own territory.
Copyright © 2009 by Kay Redfield Jamison. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.