“Trying out different medications make you feel like a dartboard”: Selfhood, Agentic Crisis, and Mind-Altering Pills in Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon and Jamie Lowe’s Mental

© Media Watch 12 (1) 79-92, 2021
ISSN 0976-0911 | E-ISSN 2249-8818
DOI: 10.15655/mw/2021/v12i1/205460


“Trying out different medications make you feel like a dartboard”: Selfhood, Agentic Crisis, and Mind-Altering Pills in Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon and Jamie Lowe’s Mental


Manali Karmakar
Vellore Institute of Technology, (Chennai), India



The article examines Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (2001) and Jamie Lowe’s Mental: Lithium, Love and Losing Mind (2017) to foreground how the selected prose memoirs capture the existential and embodied crises of patients who narrate about embodying an estranged order of selfhood that has evolved as a result of the complex entanglement of mental illness, clinical diagnosis, and mind-altering pills. The paper examines how the organic and ontological notions of selfhood and agency are deconstructed and reconstructed by the psychiatric medications consumed by patients. This paper argues that the notions of shame and stigma associated with the neurochemical self and the act of medical non adherence exhibited by the patients are rooted in selfhood’s essentialized notion. By drawing on the theories proposed by the posthumanist thinkers, the paper reflects on the neurochemical self and agency’s notions with renewed attention to the psychotropic agents’ role designed by the psychopharmaceutical industries to intervene and reconfigure our organic orders of thoughts and feelings.


Keywords: Selfhood, identity, psychiatric medications, depression, bipolar disorder, illness narratives



American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” DSM-4 (4th ed., Text Revision). Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association.

Berman, J. (2019). Mad Muse: The Mental Illness Memoir in a Writer’s Life and Work. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.

Brody, H. (1982). The Lie that Heals: The Ethics of Giving Placebos. Annals of Internal Medicine, 97 (1), 112-118.    

Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham & London: Duke University Press.   

Braidotti, R. (2006). Transposition: On Nomadic Ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Cvetkovich, A. (2012). Depression: A Public Feeling. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Dennet, D. C. (1991). Consciousness Explained. England: Penguin Group. 

Damasio, A. (2010). Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. New York: Patheon Books. 

Enderwitz, A. (2015). Modernist Melancholia: Freud, Conrad, and Ford. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Frank, A. (1995). The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press. 

Friesen, P. (2019). Placebos as a Source of Agency: Evidence and Implications. Psychosomatic Medicine, 10 (721), 1-10. 

Goodwin, F. & Jamison, K. R. (2007). Mania-Depressive Illness. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Jamison, K. R. (1995). An Unquiet Mind. New York: Vintage Books. 

Kristeva, J. (1989) Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press.

Krap, D. A. (2006). Is it me or my Meds? Living with Antidepressants. Cambridge & Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 

Kramer, P. D. (1993). Listening to Prozac. Viking: Viking Press.

Lowe, J. (2017). Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing my Mind. New York: Blue Rider Press. 

Locke, J. (1689). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. New York: New America Library. 

Lawlor, C. (2012). From Melancholia to Prozac: A History of Depression. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Maj. M. (2007). Are we Able to Differentiate between True Mental Disorders and Homeostatic Reactions to Adverse Life Events? Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 257-259.DOI: 10.1159/000104700 

Massumi, B. The Autonomy of Affect. Cultural Critique, No. 31, The Politics of Systems and Environments, Part II. (Autumn, 1995), pp. 83-109.

Mannon, B. O. (2019). Identity, Bipolar Disorder, and the Problem of Self-Narration in Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind and Ellen Forney’s Marbles. Journal of Medical Humanities, 40 (2): 141-154. 

Moses, T. & Kirk, S. A. (2005). Psychological Side Effects of Drug Treatment of Youth. In S. A. Kirk (Ed), Foundations of Social Work Knowledge: Mental Disorders in the Social Environment: Critical Perspectives (pp. 385-407). New York: Columbia University Press. 

Radden, J. & Varga, S. (2013). The Epistemological Value of Depression Memoirs: A Meta-Analysis. In K.W.M. Fulford, Martin Davies, Richard G. T. Gipps, George Graham, John Z. Sadler, Giovanni Stanghellini & Tim Thornton (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry (pp. 99-115). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Rose, N. (2003). Neurochemical Selves. Society, 41, 46-59. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02688204

Rick, D. & Tuin, Iris van der. (2012). New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies. London: Open Humanities Press. 

Ricoeur, P. (1994). One as Another. Translated. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press. 

Smith, H. (2020). Elizabeth Wurtzel. ‘Prozac Nation’ author who spurred a memoir boom, dies at 52. Retrieved from https://www.adn.com/nation-world/2020/01/08/elizabeth-wurtzel-prozac-nation-author-who-spurred-a-memoir-boom-dies. 

Solomon, A. (2001). The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. New York: Scribner Classics. 

Seigel, J. (2005). The Idea of the Self: Thought and Expression in Western Europe since the Seventeenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tokinson, C. (2018). The recent boom in mental health publishing and why it is vitally important. Retrieved from https://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/recent-boom-mental-health-publishing-and-why-it-vitally-important. 

Thomason, T. C. (2014). Criticisms, benefits, and limitations of the DSM-5. Arizona Counseling Journal, 30. Available at http://works.bepress.com/timothy_thomason/117/

Venkatesan, S. & Saji, S. (2019). Conjuring the ‘Insane’: Representations of Mental Illness in Medical and Popular Discourses. Media Watch, 10 (3), 522-238. 

Wurtzel, E. (1994). Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.


Manali Karmakar is an Assistant Professor in English at the Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai, India. Her research interests include literature and medicine, posthumanism, mental health, and disability studies. At present, she works as one of the contributors for the collection titled The Edinburgh Companion to Science Fiction and Medical Humanities. The collection is under contract with Edinburgh University Press.


Correspondence to: Manali Karmakar, Vellore Institute of Technology, School of Social Sciences and Languages, Vandalur–Kelambakkam Road, Chennai-600 127, India