Friday, November 18, 2016

Why Did She Jump? Looking For Answers To Suicide Questions Can Be Devastating

Why Did She Jump? My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder
Author: Joan E. Childs, LCSW
Published by: Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida, 2014

Looking For Answers To Suicide Questions Can Be Devastating
I wanted to learn more about suicide, especially, suicide resulting from a bipolar disorder. I also wanted to read a detailed account of what a parent felt like burying their child when, all else being equal, we expect things to turn out the other way around – a child burying an older parent. I also had skin in this, as just over three years ago we buried our infant grandson.
This book provided what I was looking for, but I must admit that this review was one of the hardest for me to write. So, let me come clean. To accomplish my task, I had to separate in my mind Joan Childs the author of this book (who was easily liked and even admired) from Joan Childs, the mother of Pamela, who committed suicide by jumping out of a 15-storey window at age 34. The latter Joan was more difficult for me to embrace.
The title of the book is a misnomer. While we learn a lot about Pam and her life and death, we learn as much, if not more about her mother’s life. Joan Childs intended very much to focus on Pam, and perhaps she has. She certainly gives us some food for thought as we read helpful gems like, “Perhaps the best we can do is to remember what we had and not what we lost.” I am not so sure those two are mutually exclusive but I get her point. But then time and time again the focus returns to her (or us, as readers – and maybe that’s the saving grace in her style) when she writes, “The emotional scars stay forever. As time passes, we must make a choice between being a victim or being a survivor. The decision may determine how you live the rest of your life.
Like a loving mother searching for answers Joan blames many others (and to be fair that includes herself) for Pam’s death – but clearly the number one culprit in her mind is the “ineffective, dysfunctional health system”. A close second is Pam’s father who refused to believe she was sick until it was too late and who pushed her to get her Ph.D.
Childs has taken great pain to educate us about the statistics regarding mental health suicides in our society. But she has also given us lots of ‘stats’ with respect to her own life – perhaps stats we didn’t really need to know. She talks about her four husbands and others who never were officially given the title with great details about their relationship, the places they bought and lived in together, their tenure, their fights, and how they died or why they left. One can only ask “Why Joan? Were all these details necessary in telling us about your daughter’s death?”
There is no doubt in this reader’s mind that Joan, the mother, tried her very best to be all that she could be for Pamela and her other children. One gets the feeling though she may have been trying too hard in some areas. Or not hard enough in others. While she made all the sacrifices she felt necessary – there were areas where she chose to put herself first. These included her education and her love life. She sees others as being “too-dependent and complaining” (her son’s wife) and fails to see how some of her own choices may have impacted Pamela. And while one could say I’m being too hard on her for “look at her other four children, they all turned out just fine, thank you”, I could only respond in the way she responds to the topic of medication. Childs writes:
“. . . some medications will work effectively with some of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.”
Likewise, some of the choices Joan may have made may have had no impact on four of the children, but may well have impacted Pamela in ways we will never know. But then again as a single-mom with five children, who could blame her. However, at one point in the book, Joan writes,
“Nearly twenty-four years after my daughter Pam was born, I started to realize how much closeness she was inadvertently denied.” And later, “I always wanted a healthy relationship [in reference to her own love life]. My history is not good. I experienced many painful breakups, many disappointments.”
Those are major admissions. And Childs has to be given full marks plus for them. Although she never comes to grips with how she lived and in the very end tells us, in reference to a dream piece of property she once had,
“Giving up that cabin is perhaps the only regret in my life.”
Throughout the book, one can see the many parallels between mother and daughter, not only in their dysfunctional relationships with men, but also in their education (both were successful therapists and even worked together). One wonders how much their own profession impacted how they viewed what was going on with each of them. As strange as it may sound, sometimes those outside the profession have a better chance of surviving mental disorders because they know so much less and thus aren’t impacted by that knowledge.
Joan and her family are Jewish and in many respects, most aware of God’s role in their lives. Combine that knowledge though with the field of social work or clinical psychotherapy and you get anger towards the Almighty and questions like “Where was God?” which leads to some very candid comments on her feelings towards Him. Unfortunately, in her search for answers, she augments her talks with God by dabbling in the occult, seeking messages from her departed loved one.
Perhaps I’ve been too hard on Joan Childs, but I felt that to be honest was what she would have expected of me. Having said that, this is a book I would strongly recommend to anyone who believes a loved one may have now, or is beginning to show, the signs of a mental illness called bipolar disorder. The author has poured herself out unreservedly in writing it and while she would be happy with just one person being helped, I am convinced her efforts will help hundreds.

-- Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, November 17, 2016.

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1 comment:

  1. In very gracious way, author Joan Childs replied to the reviewer:

    Dear Ken,
    Thank you for taking the time to read and review my book, WHY DID SHE JUMP? My Daughter's Battle with Bipolar Disorder. I appreciate all reviews as it makes me look at my own limitations and strengths as others see me. It also gives me better insight into my psyche with more opportunities for self-exploration and personal growth. Even at 77 years of age, there is always room for growth!
    Having different perspectives and interpretations is always a rich gift and very enlightening.
    With gratitude,