Joan E . Childs shares a personal story of loss and connection to Liza Long

I read the blog written by Liza Long with heartfelt sympathy and interest.   I too am a mother recovering from the loss of a daughter who suffered from mental illness.  No, she was not a murderer, a criminal or an evil person.  She was a loving devoted daughter, sister, friend and clinical therapist holding both an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and Ph.D. in psychology.  She loved life, her work, her patients, her family and her friends.   She was sick and suffered from Bipolar I Disorder for ten years before she leaped to her death on July 2, 1998.  She was thirty-four years old.

Pam fought her illness tenaciously.  To her, they were demons brought to her by a demonic force she referred to as the devil.  They took up residence in her mind, and as the years progressed they slowly devoured her mind, her spirit and her life.  Pam did not choose to jump; the demons pushed her out the window.

Mental illness takes many forms and many diagnoses, most of which take a skilled psychiatrist to determine, as many mental disorders have co-morbidity, (symptoms that resemble another diagnosis’, such as schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder.)  It takes the time to obtain a differential diagnosis.  Until a diagnosis is made, a treatment plan cannot be implemented, not unlike any other illness.

Pam was the eldest of my five children.  She never revealed any symptoms of mental illness until she had her first break when she was twenty-four years old.  By this time, she was half way through her doctorate, working at the John Bradshaw Center in Hollywood, California as a therapist and was considered to be a “wizard” therapist.  The center was an in-patient treatment facility for recovering addicts and mood disorders caused primarily from abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment during their childhood.  Pam was a leading therapist, running groups and seeing the patients in individual sessions.  Her work was heralded by the staff, the patients, and John Bradshaw.

The illness insidiously crept in upon her slowly, steadfastly and with a force that ripped away all reason and rationality while it wove a delusionary system that was unshakable.  As the years passed, Pam was no longer the same vivacious, charming, charismatic young woman that made everyone who knew her fall in love with her.  As the invasion of this illness progressed, all that was before was no more.  Instead, only a shell of a woman who had seemingly lost her mind and spirit remained as my daughter.  Her soul passed before her body.

In my book, WHY DID SHE JUMP: My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder that was just released on June 16, 2014, I describe how this illness became her cancer; resistant to all treatment as her belief system prevented her from taking the medicine prescribed.  However, when she did, she turned into a zombie, unable to function and barely get out of bed.  In her twisted mind, she concluded that the medications were agents of the devil and managed to avoid taking them.  As a result, her illness gained strength and her mind lost contact with reality.  Oh, there were lucid moments, but the prevailing theme was insanity by the loss of reality.  The examples will be revealed in the book as well as the torture we, her family were all subjected to.  The worst of it was that there was no place for her to get the treatment she needed.

I wrote a letter to Oprah that became the preface to my book.  I described the trials and tribulations in depth, blaming the health system in our country as one of the leading causes of her death, claiming that my daughter was unable to obtain treatment that could have easily saved her life.    I urged Oprah to do a program on this issue stating that this was not just my child, but everyone’s child who has been stricken with this hideous disease.  I copied it to Hillary Clinton, our congresswoman Elaine Bloom at that time, Senators Bob Graham and Connie Mack.  None responded.  The Miami Herald published my letter, thanks to Sue Reisinger who felt a need to share this tragedy with her readers.

This was sixteen years ago.  Now we are facing a nation who has the worst record for healing our mentally ill citizens.  We had to wait for one tragedy after another to occur for people to start screaming about guns and the atrocities committed on innocent people, worst of all little children as well as the atrocious care of the mentally ill.  My beautiful daughter fell through the cracks because there was no facility that she could be given proper treatment.  How many lives to we have to lose before we get it?  What price do we have to pay to have our voices heard?  My daughter was not rich, nor was she poor.  She worked for a living, was raised in a home with a father who is a physician and a mother, a clinical social worker.  Yet with the vast network of friends and colleagues, we both had, we were rendered helpless, powerless and finally hopeless in securing the help she needed.

I don’t own a gun and no nothing about them.  Frankly, I would be terrified to have one in my home.  I live alone and cannot imagine ever using one, fearing that my life would be more at risk having one in my hand, than not.  Perhaps I am gullible, but owning a gun does not make me feel safe.  In fact, I would feel more vulnerable because the gunman would most probably be a better marksman than I.  Guns are only part of the problem.  We need to change our culture and cultivate more loving, caring and sensitive communities exhibiting kindheartedness to our fellow man.  We must provide a safe environment where our loved ones stricken with mental illness can go to get help.  Psychotropic drugs and therapy do help, but in order to maintain treatment, patients have to be in a long term treatment center as opposed to being admitted for 24-48 hours in a psychiatric ward In some hospital only to be released within a day or two, which by the way, makes them worse.

My story is not just about my loss, sorrow, grief and despair.  It is the story of our country, which loses thousands of loved ones every year either by suicide or homicide because they were not cared for in an environment that could support their healing.  It’s time for a real change; change in our health system, change in our gun laws, and most of all change in our culture.