Psychosis: Ronald Reagan and the mentally ill

By Dennis McDougal

My daughter called a couple weeks ago and I didn’t answer. She rang twice. Again, I let her go to voicemail:

“I’m just trying one more time to get through to you,” she said. “I really would like to speak with you and find out what I need to do or say. I’d really like to just start over and do whatever it is that you would like me to do to make it better or happy. If you can just please let me know, I would really appreciate it…”

“Where’s your heart?”, you might ask, or, “What kind of father are you anyway? How can you turn away from your own child? Are you some kind of monster”

By way of answer, here’s a recent text from the same daughter:

“Give me the name and telephone number of your psychiatrist Ass Fuck. Prison awaits with open arms until you do. I hate you.” 

Adding an emoji heart at the end of her message, she repeats this text 12 times followed with this cryptic postscript:

“So excited. Gonna be so much fun. Finally smiling thinking about it. Hugs”

***

This troubled daughter whom I’ll call Suzy will be 44 come November. A month ago, her husband of 20 years filed for divorce and full custody of my grandchildren, ages 7 and 14. Since the beginning of summer, her husband has had a restraining order. She’s threatened to castrate him as he slept, burn him in his bed, murder him in front of his children and bankrupt him and his entire family. She set fire to his diplomas, track and scholastic awards and family photos. Sheriff’s deputies hear from the family so often they simply rewrite the previous incident reports and curse their luck when they get the calls. Suzy has been in and out of emergency rooms and rehabs coast to coast, and has been held so often on 72-hour observation that her family has lost count. These days, she lives out of her banged up hoarder’s hovel SUV or checks in a hotel where one of her 7 credit cards still work. In every sense of the phrase, she is a danger to herself and others.

Yet neither law enforcement nor social safety nets nor mental health professionals will lift a finger to help.

Thanks to HIPPA laws and the rotten legacy of Ronald Reagan who essentially shut down America’s mental health system in order to “mainstream” people like my daughter, there is no refuge. Suzy’s on her own, cycling further and further into psychosis while we who love the brilliant young woman she once was watch helplessly. As she spins closer and closer to destruction – her own as well as that of anyone in her proximity – no cop, shrink, social welfare worker or judge will do a God damned thing about it.

Never dreaming for a moment I might be writing about myself, I told the cautionary tale of Roy Miller, his wife and two sons 25 years ago in In The Best of Families. The Millers had it all: a ranch-style home in upscale Palos Verdes, exotic vacations, top notch education, the best medical care money could buy…

Roy was Ronald Reagan’s personal attorney and when the 40th President went to Washington, D.C., he took Roy with him while his family remained in California. As a senior partner at the venerable L.A. law firm of Gibson, Dunne & Crutcher, Roy had to spend most of his time on the West Coast which wife Marguerite deemed a blessing, given the growing peculiarities of their boys. The older son attended Dartmouth for a couple of years before dropping out to pursue an evangelical calling, slowly devolving into fanaticism. When he ate an entire bottle of aspirin at 22, he’d been committed to a ramshackle halfway house in Boyle Heights where attendants were paid minimum wage and the only medically trained personnel had taken the night off.

The Millers were more circumspect with their second son. After his brother died, Michael Miller grew increasingly agoraphobic, had fewer and fewer friends and lived a vivid, oftimes perverse sex life he shared with no one but his parents. Their answer was to send him to dozens of quacks: psychics, biofeedback clinics, Chelation therapists, psychoanalysts, holistic vegans, shamans and shrinks. 

One day, while Roy was at the office, Michael entered his mother’s bedroom after she got out of the shower, beat her to death with an Eskimo fishing club, then raped her on his parents’ bed.

Months earlier, an equally disturbed young man named John Hinckley confronted President Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. The bullets from his pistol maimed Press Secretary James Brady and came within less than an inch of penetrating the President’s heart. 

Reagan’s answer to these glaring examples of ignoring mental illness was to open the asylums. On the pretense of granting equal protection under the law to the insane, his Administration made it next to impossible to confine people like my daughter Suzy without their consent.  

I take you back 20 years, to the day of her wedding. Like the Miller family, Suzy appeared to have it all: an accomplished engineer husband, a law degree from Loyola, a job at a prestigious law firm. By all measures, she was the embodiment of the American dream, and for the first few years, the world appeared to belong to her. She and her husband bought a home in the upscale Laguna Hills, had a beautiful bright daughter followed seven years later by an equally precocious son. They vacationed in Africa, Europe and Mexico. Suzy gave up her law firm position to teach at three different law schools, and published frequently in the Orange County bar review.

No one, not even her husband knows exactly when Suzy changed. It was all so subtle, like the proverbial frog-in-hot-water that boils to death by increments. In retrospect, there were countless signs: she cut herself as a teen and spent a year or so in therapy; she shook her hands like a Parkinson’s patient when she became emotional; she made up stories to explain minor mistakes; she became increasingly reclusive; she had trouble holding a job, always blaming bosses or coworkers for her departure.

And yet, she seemed normal enough to her neighbors, her immediate family and her diminishing corps of friends. After the birth of her son seven years ago, she began going downhill fast. She insisted on letting his hair grow long and often dressed him as a girl. She picked a fight with the PTA at her daughter’s school, eventually accusing the Principal of embezzlement. She used her formidable skills as an attorney to sue the school district, accusing PTA executives on the state and federal level of conspiring to rob schoolchildren of their funding.

Then she began hearing messages from the TV, microwave and other appliances. The FBI and CIA were in on the plot. She glutted the court with briefs, points and authorities and write demanding immediate action.

The detailed drama of her tailspin is, perhaps, a sequel to In The Best of Families, but one that I am not yet prepared to write.  Suffice it to say that Suzy’s life is in ruin for now, and no one will help. She seems determined to wreck the future of her children, her husband and  anyone else she can drag down with her …. and her many shrinks, counselors, advisers, therapists, etc. ad nauseum can’t stop her. 

Thank you Ronald Fucking Reagan. I’m only sorry Hinckley was such a bad shot.

Copyright 2019 by Dennis McDougal. All Rights Reserved

Dennis McDougal is a journalist (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, TV Guide, etc.) is the bestselling author of twelve books, including most recently DYLAN: The Biography released by Turner Publishing in May of 2014. In a career dating to the 1970s, he has also authored hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and produced award-winning TV documentaries.

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