“God Knows Where I Am”
An Old Farmhouse
“God Knows Where I Am” is the story of Linda Bishop who was homeless due to her schizophrenia, and then dismissed from a mental facility when she refuses to cooperate. Jedd and Todd Wider’s stark documentary was made possible because Linda Bishop, left behind a notebook in which she wrote daily her thoughts as she slowly died of starvation in a farmhouse in New Hampshire. Her schizophrenia had alienated her from her daughter, sister, and friends. She died there during the winter of 2007/8, but her body was not found until a prospective buyer came to look at the farm in May. The film examines how this could happen in America, the land of wealth and neighborly concern. Through interviews with her loved ones and old family photos and home movies, we learn of Linda’s painful journey from her happy youth and later motherhood to psychological breakdown when she thought the Chinese Mafia were trailing her. She was estranged from her family and made homeless, she wanders around, eventually being sent by a judge to a psychiatric facility. Given a safe home and regular food, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and psychosis. Unfortunately, she refused to take her medication, and state law allowed her to do so, even though this amounted to suicide. After weeks of non-cooperation from her, the hospital staff dismisses her –in the cold of winter. She walked along a highway until she came upon the abandoned farmhouse where an old apple orchard provided her with food, and the snow gave her drinking water.
Her journal tells us that she is a deeply religious person, quoting Scripture after Scripture. As she eats the last of the apples and grows weaker and weaker after Christmas, she observes that God knows where she is, even if no one else does. Even though she sees the neighbor’s house and the many cars and trucks passing by, she is so out of touch with reality that she does not just get up and walk out to ask for help.
One of the interviewees that we see many times is her sister Joan who lived fairly near the farmhouse. What a heart-wrenching scene when she remarks that she knows of the house where her sister died. She observes that she must have passed it 50 times or more during her travels up and down that highway.
It is the filmmakers’ intention to get us to discuss and act upon the woeful laws that allow such an obviously a mentally ill person to continually turn down medical help. Surely a legal guardian, such as the sister or the judge who admitted her to the hospital, should be able to over-ride such a decision. Mention is made in the film that there are two and a half million people in the nation suffering from schizophrenia, and that half of them, like Linda, deny that they are ill. The film also raises questions about the humanity of the staff at the hospital. Granted, she was troublesomely uncooperative, but how could another human being send this delusional person out into the cold winter knowing that she had no support system?
In a suicide note, revealed early in the documentary, Bishop says her death “is a result of domestic violence/abuse,” but from the outset, it’s clear that this film is less another chapter in the true-crime genre than a more earnest, searching act of tribute to a woman who struggled to assert her independence as her mind began to unravel.
The film uses a diversity of formats and voices in order to situate the viewer inside Bishop’s head. As actress Lori Singer recites Bishop’s journals via voiceover, we see Bishop’s keen eye for beauty and nature.
The directors take a more dynamic approach to discussing Bishop’s mental illness, allowing her family members to discuss the ways in which Bishop wound up hurting and abandoning them without ever demonizing anyone involved in the proceedings. In the case of Linda Bishop, a state judge essentially released her from all treatment constraints over the objections of her family and mental health caregivers, putting her in a position to make good on their motto. Starting with the discovery of her body, the movie goes backwards and chronicles Bishop’s final days. We learn from Bishop’s friends and family she was once a loving mother and the general life of any party, but her struggles with schizophrenia took a toll on her personal relationships. I found the film to be “a quiet contemplation of human frailty and mortality”, but it also holds obvious policy implications.”