Kay Redfield Jamison

This is My Brave

Meet DC-cast member Donna Lewis

Today we get to know Donna Lewis, DC-area attorney and cartoonist, and member of our This Is My Brave cast!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Well, I live and work in Washington, DC.

During the day I work as a lawyer – doing work that’s fascinating to me and boring to everyone else. At night, I write and draw a comic strip and a cartoon, both of which are syndicated by the Washington Post News Service and Syndicate.

The rest of the time I spend running, hiking, biking, painting, drawing, writing and seeing the people I love.

And drinking coffee.

And thinking about drinking coffee.

How has mental illness affected your life?

Mental illness is my life.

I don’t mean that in the bad way it sounds.

I just mean that I’ve been so affected by mental illness and that my passion truly lies in finding new ways to make living with mental illness easier, making resources more accessible, and making treatment more effective.

I’ve seen the toll mental illness takes on a family, a workplace, a community – and on my own ability to live effectively.

And I just don’t think it should be this hard.

Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?

I want to be a part of This is my Brave. so that I can give back a gift I got years ago.

Twenty years ago, when I found myself at one of my lower points – without hope and desperate for a sign that life could be better – I found the books of Kay Redfield Jamison.

And Dr. Jamison reminded me of me.

Dr. Jamison was smart, disciplined and dedicated.

She had not only made a career for herself, but she had become successful in her field.  Dr. Jamison was widely reputed to be competent and capable – despite her having been open about her experiences with mental illness.

Reading her honest writing gave me that little bit of hope I needed to keep moving forward.

She was the one person whose story said to me “If she can do it, you can do it.”

And now I want to pass that hope along to somebody else who needs it.

Hopeful is not something I feel often because of my hardwired brain, but I can share hope by example.

What inspires you to get or stay mentally healthy?

I hate this question because my brain is really messed up and keeps telling me bad things.

I wish I could say I stay healthy for God, my family, my friends, my animals or for the possibility of a wonderful future, but that’s just not something my brain would ever agree with.

My brain is unreliable in terms of messaging so I’ve given up on needing inspiration.

Basically, I just rely on having a really good schedule. And a great routine. And lots of deadlines.

I have projects and passions and people I love.

And I make sure to keep promising things to them because I tend to get along better when I have promises to keep.



Every day, I do the things that keep me healthy.

I eat healthy. I get good sleep. I get outside.

I get my heart rate up. I move around. I bend a lot.

I sit. I breathe.

I keep my machine well-oiled.

I also do things for other people.

And I avoid stressors as much as I can given the fact that you can’t avoid stress completely.

I do everything possible to make sure I can work and create as long as possible – because I love working and creating beautiful things.

And, despite a brain that just keeps producing really awful thoughts, I think I can help to make this world a little bit better.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

Learn how to listen effectively.

Learn how to help someone effectively.

We cannot avoid many of the conditions we live with, but nobody should live in greater pain than is absolutely necessary. 

Help others lessen the pain.

An Unquiet Mind

RAL RGB Rested and Ready

I’m rereading An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison.

I’m reading it for a discussion group.  A bunch of writers sitting around talking about a book while eating and drinking.

I haven’t read the book for years. Not since 1998 or 1999 when I needed it the most.

I needed a real story of a real person who had survived her uncooperative chemistry.  In 1998 or 1999, there was very little out there in terms of real stories of struggle. Up to that point, my go-to was Sylvia Plath and I assumed my life would look like hers ultimately.

But Kay Redfield Jamison learned to live with uncooperative chemistry and a bad brain.  And I related to her.

There was so much I wanted to do.  I had talent, passion and discipline and I wanted to do everything that interested me.

But I also had a mind with a different life plan, a different goal.

Kay Redfield Jamison was living proof that I could do everything I wanted to do while managing the difficult mind I had inherited.

I’m reading Kay Jamison’s books again as I’m starting to tell my own stories.

Telling my own stories is not an easy task.  It scares me to think that others will know so much about times in my life that were shameful, embarrassing, and flat out torturous for me and those who loved me.

I know I shouldn’t feel shame and embarrassment, but those are the feelings.

I hope that telling my own stories will help someone else.  I hope someone who is suffering will see that I still got to do so many amazing things.  I hope that person will realize it’s possible. And I hope that person won’t feel as much shame and embarrassment as I have felt in my life.  It’s not helpful and it’s really hurtful.

More importantly, it’s not necessary.  None of us chooses our brain just as none of us chooses to have a condition, disease or other malady.

So thank you, Kay Jamison Redfield. I recommend your books highly and I try not to think about how much worse things might have been had I not had the bit of hope your books provided to me during a really difficult time.

xoxo, d