Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychologist, researcher and author. With the help of the drug Lithium, she was brought back from life-threatening manic depressive psychosis. She has recovered to have a beautiful career and life.
At an American Psychology Association conference in New Orleans, Jamison met Mogens Schou (1918-2005,) the Danish psychiatrist who, “more than anyone is responsible for the introduction of Lithium as a treatment for manic-depressive illness.”
Dr. Schou revealed that his years of tireless research and activism had been motivated by his family’s history of illness. Jamison and Schou each sat down with pieces of paper and sketched their family trees. Each square (male) and circle (female) represented a family member. Anyone who had manic depression had their square blackened. Attempted suicides were marked with an asterisk. Those who had completed suicide had a slash mark through their box.
There were a lot of black marks on both pages, representing lifetimes of pain and suffering. At one point, Jamison looked over and realized, as she wrote in her book An Unquiet Mind, “Every black circle and square on Schou’s family tree represented someone who helped save my life.”
I cried when I read that line. What a gift to appreciate all those people whom she didn’t know, most of whom died without ever realizing what they had motivated. Lithium treatment has saved tens of thousands of lives, although better drugs have since come along.
Think about those blackened squares and circles and realize: we are all boxes on someone’s family tree. We never know the meaning of our life or how valuable we will be.
Our lives intertwine with each other and motivate or change other lives. We don’t know what we ultimately bring into being, or who will be the agents that make it happen. If we tried to go back and thank everyone and everything that has helped us, we would never reach the end. That’s why some people thank God instead.