NPR logo

The Benefits of Restlessness and Jagged Edges

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Benefits of Restlessness and Jagged Edges

The Benefits of Restlessness and Jagged Edges

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe that a...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe that deeply...

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that everyone...

Unidentified Man #4: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #5: This, I believe.


On Mondays, we hear This I Believe, and today our essay series continues with Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and author of a best-selling memoir, "An Unquiet Mind." Here's independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Many of those who have written for our series had their beliefs forged in hardship. Sometimes even the belief is in the hardship. Dr. Jamison, as one of the world's authorities on mood disorders, understands that passion can be found within pain and darkness. Here's Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison with her essay for This I Believe.


I believe that curiosity, wonder and passion are defining qualities of imaginative minds and great teachers, that restlessness and discontent are vital things and that intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways less-intense emotions can never do. I believe, in short, we are equally beholden to heart and mind and that those who have particularly passionate temperaments and questioning minds leave the world a different place for their having been there.

It is important to value intellect and discipline, of course, but it is also important to recognize the power of irrationality, enthusiasm and vast energy. Intensity has its costs, of course, in pain, in hastily and poorly reckoned plans and impetuousness. But it has its advantages as well.

Like millions of Americans, I was dealt a hand of intense emotions and volatile moods. I have had manic depressive illness, also known as bipolar disorder, since I was 18 years old. It is an illness that ensures that those who have it will experience a frightening, chaotic and emotional ride. It is not a gentle or easy disease. And yet, from it I've come to see how important a certain restlessness and discontent can be in one's life, how important the jagged edges and pain can be in determining the course and force of one's life.

I have often longed for peace and tranquility, looked into the lives of others and envied a kind of calmness. And yet I don't know if this tranquility is what I would truly would have wished for myself. One is, after all, only really acquainted with one's own temperament and way of going through life. It is best to acknowledge this, to accept it and to admire the diversity of temperaments nature has dealt us.

An intense temperament has convinced me to teach not only from books but from what I have learned from experience. So I try to impress upon young doctors and graduate students that tumultuousness, if coupled to discipline and a cool mind, is not such a bad sort of thing, that unless one wants to live a stunningly boring life, one ought to be on good terms with one's darker side and one's darker energies.

And above all, that one should learn from turmoil and pain, share one's joy with those less joyful and encourage passion when it seems likely to promote the common good. Knowledge is marvelous, but wisdom is even better.

ALLISON: Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, reading her essay for This I Believe.

You'll find all the essays in our series, along with many from the 1950s, at our Web site. We're also inviting you to write your own statement of belief and submit it to our project at For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

INSKEEP: You can read essays in the This I Believe series at Next Monday on "All Things Considered," an essay from listener Colleen Shaddix, who believes in jazz.

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.