Bruce E. Ivins, a microbiologist, killed himself on July 29 with an overdose of Tylenol. He had a history of mental illness. People blame his death on pressure from the FBI, accusations and "proofs" tying him to the 2001 anthrax murders. I blame it on mental illness.
Prior to 9/11, Dr. Ivins suffered what FBI court documents deemed "serious mental health issues." He had been in treatment and talked about it in emails that dated from 2000 to 2001. He wrote about his depression, his counseling, and his medication.
Reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Evan Perez, Siobhan Gorman, Gary Fields, and Elizabeth Williamson, paint a Chilling Portrait of Dr. Ivins.
In August 2000, he wrote,
"I get incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times, and there's nothing I can do until they go away, either by themselves or with drugs."We hear that in late 2001, he emailed a series of short poems ruminating about what he called his split personality:
"Hickory dickory Doc - Doc Bruce ran up the clockAnd then there's this one,
But something then happened in very strange rhythm
His other self went and exchanged places with him."
"I'm a little dream-self, short and stout,Sounds like Free is a name, does it not? The word is capitalized in the middle of the sentence. Free is another Bruce.
I'm the other half of Bruce-when he lets me out.
When I get all steamed up, I don't pout.
I push Bruce aside, then I'm Free to run about!"
Dr. Ivins thought he had a split personality, but when we speak of such a thing, a split personality, we're really referring to at least two separate personalities, separate people within the same body that co-exist.
Each personality is whole, if not altogether well. Each personality may have multiple Axis I or Axis II disorders, or not.
This sounds like Dissociative Identity Disorder, what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. A person like Dr. Ivins, if he suffered from it, had at least one high functioning self, the doctor, the microbiologist who worked diligently for the United States government on a vaccine to immunize us against the deadly effects of Anthrax.
And he had a second personality, clearly disturbed, but also high functioning, one that escaped detection while under FBI investigation for three full years. He is the one referred to as Free.
Free could carry out destruction, wreak havoc without conscience. Free could even justify his atrocities, say to himself, If the government associates these deaths with a terrorist group, then surely I will have funding for my vaccine. The ends justify the means.
Perhaps he had a third self, the one who fell in love with a sorority girl and stalked her. With his counselor, Ivins discussed killing the young woman. From the Washington Post,
More than a year before the anthrax attacks that killed five people in 2001, Bruce E. Ivins told a counselor that he was interested in a young woman who lived out of town and that he had "mixed poison" that he took with him when he went to watch her play in a soccer match.And yet a fourth, a religious Catholic:
"If she lost, he was going to poison her," said the counselor, who treated Ivins at a Frederick clinic four or five times during the summer of 2000. She said Ivins emphasized that he was a skillful scientist who "knew how to do things without people finding out."
. . . a churchgoing family man and volunteer whose mental health eroded -- culminating in suicide -- because of escalating pressure applied on him by federal investigators as they came to regard him as the prime suspect in the attacks.Surely a troubled, angry, psychotic individual, a scientist who struggled against his admitted paranoia, depression, and mounting social and professional pressures, a man who lived with a voice in his head, a violent amoral voice.
That voice talked to him, I think.
I think Dr. Ivins heard Free, and that Free, as such, was a delusion, not a conscious perception of self, not him. But when the stress got the better of Ivins Free broke out. Ivins became his delusion. Then he had more than one self.
And when he looked back on what Free had done, assuming it is true that he is the man who committed the anthrax murders, he said to himself, This is the work of another person inside me, the bad me. I did all of that as Free. But the ends justified the means, and the FBI should have canonized me, not punished me.
Insanity reigned. People died.
So although it sounds like definitive Dissociative Identity Disorder, there is a second diagnosis, Schizophrenia.
I would bet that Free wasn't another self at all, not until he acted out. Until Ivins gave in, Free had been only a voice, one who mocked and scolded him for years. Then, when the time was right, when Ivins could take it no longer, he gave in to what he had been hearing for years, "Do it. And don't tell anyone about me."
Since he was a smart man, it is likely he knew about things like multiple personalities, perhaps from his treatment even. But he decided to not make mention of the voices to anyone, as is often the case in schizophrenia. He used his poetry to suggest that what he had was a split personality, for to him, schizophrenia, carried more stigma.
He carried the shame honestly. The illness went undiagnosed in his family, Dr. Ivins said. Read this Washington Post excerpt:
"The skeletons are all out," he wrote in one GreekChat posting from 2006.
"I'm having a devil of a time rounding them back up. Let's see . . . how about mom who was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. . . . Is that bones enough?"
Dr. Ivins was delusional. He suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, like his mother. And ironically, the FBI actually did follow this poor man with schizophrenia.
At some point, when a mentally ill person takes his life, perhaps, diagnosis becomes moot. It's a so what? Dr. Ivans died. He left two children. Other people died, no matter what the diagnosis. (See the comments section for a more thoughtful discussion of how the two diagnoses are related).
He was a scientist who shouldn't have passed a background check. And much worse, he did not get sufficient treatment for his mental illness.
You can read all about this at WSJ, The New York Times, the Washington Post, everybody's telling the story, so I don't have to repeat the details here. Suffice it to say that Ivins spent late nights in the lab, ostensibly cooking up the anthrax for delivery the following week. He was one of the world's foremost anthrax experts, according to news reports. He fooled the FBI for three years, switching anthrax samples on them, deliberately hiding the flasks with mutations that would have made a direct match. When it became clear he would be charged for the crimes, he killed himself.
I imagine that Free told him to do that.
I looked for childhood history but so far, nothing. He did work for the government, so perhaps his history is top secret.
I feel that the people he worked for should have picked up on his suffering, his severe emotional stress. Why treat only depression? His counselors, his doctors must have known he had delusions. Anyone reading his poetry (maybe they didn't) should have said,
"Dude, take off a month. Get into a hospital. Get the proper doses of the right medication. Get well. Shake off Free."That is the treatment in schizophrenia, shaking off the delusion, muting the voices, ending their tortuous reign, by using medication.
People who notice strangeness in co-workers should get closer, not move farther away. We should wonder, when a person is cooking up Anthrax, What is he doing with that?
I know, 20-20 hindsight.
Yet I have to wonder. Where were his people? Weren't there people watching him slide? He did have a previous suicide attempt.
But then I think, mental illness is masterful. It can hide itself pretty well.