Books

South Florida psychotherapist writes book about dealing with daughter’s bipolar disorder, suicide

 

A longtime Hallandale psychotherapist has written a book about dealing with her daughter’s bipolar disorder and her suicide.

If you go

For more information, on Joan E. Childs and her book, visit www.joanechilds.com.

Childs will speak at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables.


aveciana-suarez@MiamiHerald.com

Pamela Ann Glassman leapt to her death from her father's 15th-story window. She was 34, a psychotherapist, the eldest of five children — and a woman tormented by inner demons.

But 16 years later, her mother believes suicide was not the cause of death, as a coroner ruled in 1998.

“Her executioner was her illness and our substandard health system that failed her,” says Hallandale psychotherapist Joan E. Childs.

Childs, who has practiced in South Florida for nearly four decades, has written a book that explains how bipolar disorder is to blame for her daughter’s death. In Why Did She Jump?: My Daughter's Battle with Bipolar Disorder ($14.95, Health Communications) the grieving mother recounts the highs and lows of her daughter’s extreme mood swings, the frustrating and futile efforts to get her help, and how the family members who remained behind eventually learned to forgive themselves and move on.

Childs will speak about her book and her journey through grief at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Books & Books in Coral Gables.

“Two nights before she jumped I talked to her and she was completely lucid,” Childs recalls. “But I think there was this sudden surge of delusions in her system, these demons that just took over. She didn’t plan to do this. She felt forced to do it. There wasn’t even a note.”

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, affects about 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population 18 and older, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A brain disorder that often appears in the late teen or early adult years, the illness causes unusual shifts in mood, activity levels and the ability to lead a normal life. Though it can be treated, there is no cure and it lasts a lifetime.

There are four types of bipolar disorders, and Childs’ daughter was diagnosed only a few years before her death with the severest kind, Bipolar 1 Disorder. Bipolar 1 is defined by manic or mixed episodes that last for days and are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Glassman, however, was displaying symptoms long before that. She had her first psychotic break at 24. At the time, she was working in Los Angeles, far from her mother’s home in South Florida and her physician father’s in the Midwest.

In hindsight, Childs now says she blinded herself to the symptoms: “As her mother, I wasn’t objective. I excused a lot of behavior. I couldn’t see she had a personality disorder.”

That is not unusual. Bipolar disorder is not easy to recognize, and some people suffer for years before they are diagnosed and treated. For all her professional training, Childs kept believing that her daughter simply “had a lot of energy.”

It wasn’t until high school when Childs confronted her about her defiance and sloppiness that Glassman’s “Jekyll/Hyde personality” came to the fore. She stormed out of the house and went to live with her father in Missouri. She returned after a year and graduated from North Miami Beach High, but her parents were concerned enough to send her to a therapist. “I thought that a lot of it was unresolved issues from the divorce,” Childs adds. It was much more.

On anti-psychotic drugs, Glassman appeared to lead a normal, productive life, finishing a Ph.D and maintaining a practice. “She could compensate for everything,” Childs says. “That’s why it was so hard to really know what was going on.”

But psychotropic medication is, as Childs explains, “a hit or miss” solution, and Bipolar 1 is the most insidious and most difficult bipolar disorder to medically manage. Glassman was seeing both a psychiatrist and a psychologist, but she was never considered suicidal — and that limited her options for residential treatment. In the book, Childs explains that there was no in-patient facility available under her daughter’s HMO. And though Glassman was hospitalized briefly several times, long enough for stabilization, she didn’t meet the criteria for long-term care, which Childs believed she needed.

“It was one stumbling block after another. I felt like I was in a nightmare I couldn’t get out of,” says Childs, who figures she and her ex-husband spent well over $100,000 in trying to get their daughter treatment.

After her daughter’s suicide, Childs could barely function from the shock. She eventually returned to her patients — “Work saved my life” — and got certified as a grief counselor. She had produced a television series of 24 one-half hour shows on mental health, which she dedicated to her daughter.

For seven years she also worked on the book. “I had no choice. I was called to the computer as a catharsis. My heart wrote it.”

Childs wanted to leave a record of the experience for her own family as well as others dealing with mental illness or suicide.

“My daughter’s experience isn’t just her experience,” she says. “This happens, and I want people to know you can survive it, you can make your way through it.”

Every July 2, on the anniversary of Pam’s death, Childs and her four adult children gather around a maple tree she had planted in Valle Crucis, N.C. This year was no different, though they did plant an oak to replace the maple that died this past harsh winter.

“There’s not a single day I don’t think about her,” Childs says. “There’s not a single day I don’t feel she’s with me.”

Read more Lifestyle stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Tigerman</span>. Nick Harkaway. Knopf. 352 pages. $26.95.

    Fiction

    ‘The Sergeant’ finds a bold alter ego in Nick Harkaway’s ‘Tigerman’

    A British civil servant on an island destined for destruction finds a bold alter ego in this comic masterpiece.

  •  
Diver Frank Notte gets ready to go over the side of the St. Nicholas VII and demonstrate old-fashioned sponge harvesting on the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs.

    Tarpon Springs

    Dive into Greek culture on the Florida coast? Opa!

    First we saw a few bubbles. Then so many that the water seemed to boil. Next appeared a bulbous brass helmet, big as a beach ball, trailing a long rubber hose. A human hand clasped the side of the wooden boat. A minute later, the diver had climbed back aboard the St. Nicholas VII. Clad in traditional early-20th-century diving getup, he appeared to have stepped directly from a Jules Verne novel.

  •  
Gena Barr, outreach coordinator for the University of Miami Health System's Division of Adolescent Medicine, demonstrates how she conducts a urine sample test that determines the presence of STDs. Barr, 39, has been working at the UM clinic since 2004. “I just wanted to help people in the community," she said, adding added that the clinic, located at the Coordinated Victims Assistance Center which primarily serves domestic abuse victims, gave her the opportunity.

    Healthcare

    STDs are on the rise in Miami-Dade

    Cases of chlamydia and syphilis have almost doubled in the last seven years, causing concern and speculation about the increase.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category