The first Annual Gloria Neidorf Memorial Lecture was held on May 1, 2010 at the Univeristy of California, Los Angeles as part of Healthy Minds Across America. The lecture is now presented each Fall at the New York City Mental Health Research Symposium.
Who is Gloria Neidorf?
My sister, Gloria Ellen Neidorf, was born January 3, 1958, a big, beautiful baby with soft light brown hair and hazel brown eyes, the second of what would eventually be four children in our family. She was smart, charming and funny; a very happy-go-lucky child with a mischievous laugh that made everyone laugh uncontrollably along with her. She displayed an early talent as an artist and became an avid equestrian competing in the English style throughout her adolescence. There was nothing in her early childhood that signaled the torment that would become her life.
The doctors believed that the onset of her bi-polar disease (a chemical brain imbalance that is a hereditary illness much like diabetes) began in adolescence, probably around the age of twelve or thirteen. At that time, Gloria started to display disturbing rebellious behaviors - lying, drug use, excessive partying, numerous car accidents and early sexual activity. There were school and friend changes, unsuccessful attempts at therapy, much screaming and crying...all to no avail. At no time did anyone think, "Oh, this child might be mentally ill." It was 1970. Gloria's behavior was in keeping with what many of her friends and other kids of her generation were doing - plus she had a big-mouthed, goody two shoes older sister to contend with. It just looked like she was a normal teenager trying to figure herself out and forge her own path.
Despite her drug use, her school truancies and her increasingly erratic behavior, Gloria managed to graduate high school with good enough grades to get into UC Santa Cruz where she spent two years (always at the top of her class). She then transferred to UC Berkeley, having been admitted to their prestigious Haas Business School, and ultimately graduated on time and with honors, two years later. This was an absolute miracle and testament to my sister's fortitude as her disease was at this point raging out of control. She continued to carry on after college, getting a job and living in her own apartment. It all came crashing to a halt though, with a failed suicide attempt at age twenty-three. This incident finally brought to light a correct diagnosis.
Unfortunately for Gloria, her pain was about to get even worse. It was determined that she was a "rapid cycler", an even more devastating subset of the disease. No amount of talk therapy was helpful and no matter what medications the doctors prescribed (and there were so many one could no longer count them), nothing was able to stabilize her. Her life descended into a nightmare of epic proportion with events too horrible to describe here. She became unrecognizable to herself and to those who loved her most. And as frustrating and maddening as it could be to deal with her then, it is now obvious to me how courageous and tenacious she was as she fought to regain her life as she had previously known it.
Gloria lost her battle with bi-polar disease on October 23, 1989, committing suicide when she was thirty-one years old. I have often marveled at how she lasted as long as she did considering the daily torment she had to endure. My sister has become one of my heroes for her bravery in the light of the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible. It is my hope and that of my family that Gloria's valiant struggle with mental illness will inspire and educate others...that the bright light she was born with will live on.
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