A few weeks ago, I came across a comment from an antipsychiatry blog referring to Kay Jamison as "lithium-addled." Yesterday, I stumbled on a blog post from someone named Stan, entitled, Kay Jamison, The Unquiet Fraud.
First Stan comments on Vincent Van Gogh:
"If he lived today he would be locked away painting blank canvasses to no one ... blinded by antipsychotics ... "
Actually, Stan, for all we know, he might have picked up an Oscar the other night and thanked Pfizer for making it possible. What we do know is that Van Gogh aimed a pistol at his chest and pulled the trigger. He was 37.
But Stan contends, "it was never a life in vain."
Let's defer to Van Gogh, himself, on this: "What am I in the eyes of most people - a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person - somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low."
Who knows what choices Van Gogh would make today? Maybe he would choose not to lead a tortured life. Maybe he would choose to stay on meds. Maybe he would choose not to paint. That's the point, he could choose. He would have choices.
I really don't want to pick on Stan, and I would really rather be writing about other things, but this sort of thing is all too typical of the commentary on the blogosphere. The only reason I found this piece was because it came up near the top under a Google Blog search that day.
This is the new democracy of web 2.0. Anyone who takes five minutes to set up a Blogger account can get the same attention as Kay Jamison.
Speaking of Kay Jamison: In the same blog post, Stan takes Dr Jamison to task for ascribing Van Gogh's "precious madness" to the false label of bipolar. Not only that:
"Kay Jamison has been running around for many years publishing one book after another telling us all how wonderful her drugs are in controlling her 'Bipolar Label.'"
Hmm, excuse me if I'm wrong, but ...
Off her lithium, Dr Jamison attempted suicide. On her lithium, she is a professor at Johns Hopkins, co-author of the definitive text on bipolar, best-selling author, recipient of a McArthur genius grant and numerous other awards, plus was in a successful marriage (cut short by the death of her husband).
In short, Dr Jamison exercised a choice that was, sadly, unavailable to Van Gogh.
Vincent and Me
There was that little bit of sky pressing down on the fields, as if of a heavier substance than earth, and there were the fields trying to crowd the sky out of the canvas, as if vaster than the heavens. And there were the crows, hedging their bets, represented by stark black flicks. ...
Says Dr Jamison, in her introduction:
"The fiery aspects of thought and feeling that initially compel the artistic voyage - fierce energy, high mood, and quick intelligence, a sense of the visionary and the grand, a restless and feverish temperament - commonly carry with them the capacity for vastly darker moods, grimmer energies, and, occasionally, bouts of 'madness.'"