Her husband had been emotionally unraveling for months; paranoid, delusional, his mind hijacked by stubborn mental illness and dangerous drugs.
So when Erik Lamberg left his family in Hermosa Beach and set out for Oregon — to get sober, he said — his wife, Samantha Lamberg, was concerned about his stability. She also felt an odd sense of relief.
He'd been in and out of treatment for 12 years. Maybe this time he'd find the solace and clarity he needed. Maybe his family would have a respite from years of drama and grief.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- Sandy Banks: Coming year will be test of reforms at Jordan High
- Sandy Banks: Bob Filner case shows we still have much work to do on harassment
- Steve Lopez: Where mentally ill inmates actually get some help
- Behavioral Conditions
- Mental Illness
- Bipolar Disorder
See more topics »
But three days after Erik hit the road on May 23, his texts and phone calls home stopped. On June 1, his van was found stuck in the mud on a wilderness road in Mendocino County.
He hasn't been seen or heard from in the 2 1/2 months since. His phone goes straight to voicemail, his credit cards haven't been used, his bank account is untouched.
His wife, who spent so many years trying to keep her husband's illness a secret from outsiders, is now desperately, constantly sharing their story in hopes that someone will spot him.
She doesn't know what to make of his disappearance, and authorities don't seem inclined to invest much effort in finding her husband. There is no Amber Alert for a mentally unbalanced, middle-aged man who vanishes on a trip.
The ambiguity of the absence "is harder than dealing with someone's death," Samantha said.
"How do you deal with not knowing? What do you do? When do you know it's time to switch over?"
Not yet, is all she knows.
Switching over would mean accepting the logic that says Erik might be dead.
Erik seemed all sunshine when Samantha met him in April 1988.
She'd just graduated from Yale with an English degree. He'd been a double major — political science and international relations — at USC. She was working for a software company. He was selling copiers. Their first date was a Hockney exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
They moved in together five months later when she started law school at UCLA. They liked the same things: the beach, music, animals, hiking. They got married in 1992, on Leap Year Day.
"He was very smart, very unpredictable, very funny," Samantha recalled. "I was sort of an introvert and he was incredibly social and incredibly charming. Manic qualities I didn't recognize; they were very attractive back then."
That's the way mental illness can be: eccentric becomes odd, interesting becomes alarming, delightfully spontaneous turns dangerously unpredictable.
She remembers realizing several years into their marriage "that something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I don't remember thinking then that he had an illness. But everything just affected him more deeply...
"I told him 'You need to talk to someone, something is wrong.' He went willingly and was diagnosed bipolar right away," she said.
By then Erik was also drinking heavily. Substance abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand. It's a way of self-medicating untreated emotional pain.