Love’s loss: my therapist’s battle with bipolar disorder


Pamela Glassman, my therapist at the John Bradshaw Center, took her own life after battling Bipolar Disorder. Her mother, Joan Childs, also my former therapist, penned this book about Pam’s struggles with mental illness and the health care system that let her down.

I’ve been underground for the last few weeks working on my book, so I’ve moved forward from the time at Charter Hospital, which I wrote about in my last blog post, to the weeks in the Fall of 1990 that I spent at the John Bradshaw Center at Ingleside Hospital in southern California.

I was only at Charter for five days, but it was a long five days. The memories are still painful and, yes, still shameful.

Funny that I don’t have the same feeling about the ensuing weeks I spent at Bradshaw. There is no doubt that what transpired there did me great harm—I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time, a recurring theme in this surreal (yet all too real) saga—but my feelings about the Bradshaw Center are a jumble of nostalgia, regret, shame, joy, and anger. Rather than couching the experience in black and white terms as I revisit and try to make sense of my history, I see at least 50 shades of gray. Pity that Fifty Shades is taken. It would have made a great title for my book.

One of the loveliest people I came to know at Bradshaw was my therapist, Pamela Glassman, daughter of my Miami therapist Joan Childs and the reason I was able to transfer seamlessly from Charter to Bradshaw. A young woman in her twenties, Pam was full of energy and light. She was the embodiment of love and kindness. If I were capable of believing in magical things, I would call Pamela an empath (think Counselor Deanna Troi from Star Trek Next Generation) or a witch (the good kind like Glenda from the Wizard of Oz). She was one of those gentle spirits who exuded authenticity and generosity. Even though much of the therapy I experienced at Bradshaw was misguided and ended up doing me great harm, I know that the therapists there, especially Pamela, always came from a good place.

I learned years after leaving the Center that, in a cruel and ironic twist of fate, Pamela took her own life at the age of 34 by jumping out of the window of her father’s 15th floor Miami Beach apartment. Pamela, I now know, was already an extremely sick young woman when she worked as a therapist at Bradshaw. She suffered from Bipolar I Disorder and experienced, among other symptoms, distorted and alarming thoughts and hallucinations.

In her book, Why Did She Jump: My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder, Joan writes about Pam’s mental illness and her anger at how the system failed her oldest daughter. The family tried numerous times to get Pam admitted into inpatient psychiatric care, but her insurance company would only cover outpatient care. Although alerted to Pam’s crisis and need for help, according to Joan, Pam’s employers and colleagues at the John Bradshaw Center did not step up to help her.

The irony that I was locked up in a place I didn’t belong, sent to a treatment center inappropriate for my circumstances, and then given a false diagnosis of bipolar disorder while this sweet soul who actually suffered from bipolar disorder could not gain admission to a hospital, provides a heartbreaking twist to an already painful story.

I only hope that as I write about Pam and my experiences at Bradshaw, I succeed in honoring the love and light she shared with all her patients.

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