Linda’s Story: Part Two

Joan Bishop tried to help her sister, Linda, after she developed a severe mental illness while she was in her 40s. But Linda didn’t want her help. She refused treatment and medication and Joan’s attempt to obtain a guardianship over her sister was rejected by a judge.

After a drunk driving incident, Linda got further into trouble by throwing a cup of urine at a correctional officer while  in jail. She was charged with a felony. Eventually, she was involuntarily committed to the New Hampshire State Hospital, but she refused treatment and would not take medication. After a year, she was released without any follow-up.

Because Linda had refused to sign a HIPPA wavier, Joan had no idea that her sister had been discharged until several months later.

What follows now comes from a journal that Linda began writing four days after her discharge.

After leaving the state hospital, Linda walked several miles and then broke into an unoccupied farmhouse that had a For Sale sign in the yard.

Oct. 7th
Finally feel caught up on my sleep! Nice and warm last night under an orange ripcord bedspread and big piece of red/black wool-upholstery material. Found crabapples yesterday afternoon – can’t figure out how to put electricity on – otherwise could wash clothes and take a bath. I saw Orion’s Belt outside of the window! Cardinal and chickadee on lilac outside of window… Know I can’t walk far without keeling over – apples are good but they only have 80 calories a piece, plus I look horrible. Clothes are filthy–definitely look like a vagrant or hobo, but I’ve always liked hobos.

Oct. 8
So this is my 5th day of freedom – basic synopsis – left NHH at 11 am…then into woods…So here I sit for the second day, have water and apples awaiting further instructions. Can’t walk too far on just apples. Don’t really want to talk to anyone and even attempt to explain the situation… Crying now. Just disappointed again. Don’t see how I can live on apples until Advent.

Oct. 10th
A week of peace…Sore place on inside right lower jaw–probably from eating too much acidic stuff and having to chew on that side.

Oct. 12th
Toilet situation not good. Looked in mirror. I look drawn and haggard…I bet I’ve lost ten pounds.

Oct. 15th
I’m hungry. The days pass slowly.

Oct. 17th
Very bored and despondent just because I’m so hungry and apples aren’t meeting my needs. Not real pleased with this situation–doesn’t make sense to be barely existing.

Oct. 18
Spent today in bed. Don’t feel good, weak and have headache.

Oct. 23
Keep thinking about what I’d like to eat.

Oct. 30th
Figure I have a good 300 crabapples which should be enough as I figure I have 26 days to go, but who knows.

Nov. 7
Fainted and fell hard in kitchen, hurt left shoulder, upper back and neck. Dear God: I’m trying, but this is very difficult especially since I am in physical pain.

Nov. 11th
This is fourth anniversary of Mom’s death. Cold, cranky, hungry and unhappy – eating more than 12 apples a day otherwise I get faint.

Nov. 16th
Miserable night…Contemplating my mortality and though my death does not make sense considering everything I have been working so hard to achieve it would be nice to not be in such emotional pain.

Nov. 24th,
I forgot daylight savings time, so it really is 8 a.m. not that it matters much in my current life style!

Nov. 27th
A lot of hair comes out each time I comb it…probably because of diet. Please God, only let there be a week left. I need a shower and food.

Dec. 3rd,
Tomorrow last day of apples. No signs of rescue.

Dec. 4th,
Dear God, please save me. I’m trying but don’t know what to do. Amen. Can’t imagine I’ve missed some clue or sign that I was supposed to do anything different than I am.

Dec. 6th,
Facing death by starvation was horrifying and traumatic and took quite a while to adjust and consider the whole situation rationally and spiritually.

Dec. 8th,
Had two long ‘out loud’ prayers to God in middle of the night something I don’t usually do. Figure he has given me a good brain to figure out what to do, but it’s obvious that what I’m in the middle of and fighting against is too big and powerful and evil – definitely, the tentacles of the monster have spread.

Dec. 9th,
Extremely difficult to walk and stay upright. I had no idea or premonition that I would die here.

Dec. 10th,
This is the fifth day without food though the three apples I had four days ago don’t count for much.

Dec. 18th.
This is my 13th day without food. Fell yesterday when coming in from getting snow for water, hurt left knee, shoulder and cheekbone, writing this lying down – only time I feel good is when I am sleeping because then I forget.

Linda’s body was found in mid-May when someone looked in the window of the farmhouse and called the police. The medical examiner estimated that she died January 14th and listed the cause of death as starvation and dehydration due to mental illness.

“From what I understand, this is an unusual description,” Joan told me.

The police gave Linda’s journal to Joan. After reading it, she decided that Linda had thought someone was coming to rescue her – she often fantasized about a man whom she had met years ago – but she had to stay in the farmhouse or else he would not be able to find her.

“What was most significant and what I would want people to know is I believe strongly that the system failed here,” Joan said. “The biggest frustration is the waste of potential, and how things broke apart and allowed a person to die.”

I am grateful that Joan has shared her sister’s journal. Clearly, Linda was lucid enough to describe such things as the stars and birds. She knew the calorie count of apples and understood that she might be starving herself. Yet, she also had a severe mental disorder.

There are many ways that Linda’s case could have been better handled. I wish that she had been introduced to a caring psychiatrist such as my friend, Dr. Tracey Skale (See Psychiatrists vs Pill Pushers.) She should have had a case manager.

But her story brings us back to the same sticking point that I faced when Mike got sick.

What do we do when someone is sick and refuses our help?

This is a very difficult civil rights question that, I believe,  is at the core of so many of our problems. It is not a question that is easily answered. We must protect civil rights. But we also need to help people who are clearly sick. Right now, dangerousness is the criteria and you know how I feel about that much faulty standard.

So how do we change our system so that the Lindas of the world don’t die in farmhouses?

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

  • Aaron Fitzsimmons

    Thanks to Joan Bishop for telling her sister's story. What a tragedy! Unfortunately, I read stories like this every week because so many people are not getting help. It is a national scandal. Doesn't anyone care?

  • jmc15

    Yes, people do care and thankfully outdated mental health treatment laws can be changed through advocacy efforts in each state. The most effective law, as well as the most researched, is Kendra's Law in New York, which allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) in the community. The outcomes are well documented and show a major decrease in homelessness, incarceration, violence, and victimization. If you live in a state that does not have this type of compassionate AOT law, visit the Treatment Advocacy Center’s web site http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/ to learn how to become an advocate for sensible legislation. Consistent, timely treatment can prevent tragedies such as the one described in this blog as well as a similar tragedy that occurred in Reading, PA described in the comment made to Pete’s blog “Adding Anosognosia to the DSM” dated February 25th by Mark, who lost a sister due to her lack of insight to remain in treatment.

  • jmc15

    Yes, people do care and thankfully outdated mental health treatment laws can be changed through advocacy efforts in each state. The most effective law, as well as the most researched, is Kendra's Law in New York, which allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) in the community. The outcomes are well documented and show a major decrease in homelessness, incarceration, violence, and victimization. If you live in a state that does not have this type of compassionate AOT law, visit the Treatment Advocacy Center’s web site http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/ to learn how to become an advocate for sensible legislation. Consistent, timely treatment can prevent tragedies such as the one described in this blog as well as a similar tragedy that occurred in Reading, PA described in the comment made to Pete’s blog “Adding Anosognosia to the DSM” dated February 25th by Mark, who lost a sister due to her lack of insight to remain in treatment.