Wednesday, January 14, 2015
MARK LUKACH on mental illness - My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward
We met at 18. We wed at 24. At 27, I checked my wife into a psych ward—for the first time. How mental illness reshapes a marriage.
The first time I saw my wife walking around the Georgetown campus I shouted out “Buongiorno Principessa!” like a buffoon. She was Italian, radiant, way out of my league, but I was fearless and almost immediately in love. We lived in the same freshman dorm. She had a smile bello come il sole—I learned some Italian immediately to impress her—and within a month we were a couple. She’d stop by my room to wake me up if I was oversleeping class; I taped roses to her door. Giulia had a perfect GPA; I had a mohawk and a Sector 9 longboard. We were both blown away by how amazing it feels to love someone and be loved back.
Two years after graduation we married, when we were both just 24 years old and many of our friends were still looking for first jobs. We packed our separate apartments into one moving truck and told the driver, “Go to San Francisco. We’ll give you an address when we find one.”
Giulia had a concrete life plan: to become a director of marketing at a fashion company and have three kids by the time she turned 35. My ambitions were looser: I wanted to bodysurf hollow waves at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and enjoy my job teaching high-school history and coaching soccer and swimming. Giulia was focused and practical. My head was often in the clouds, if not the water. After a few years of marriage, we started talking about having the first of those three babies. By our third anniversary our charmed adolescence was transforming into a charmed adulthood. Giulia landed a dream job.
This is where that lovely storyline ends.
After only a few weeks in her new position, Giulia’s anxiety level rose beyond anything I’d ever seen. She’d always been a bit high-strung, holding herself to impeccable standards. Now, at age 27, she was petrified, actually frozen—terrified of disappointing people and making the wrong impression. She’d spend all day at work trying to compose a single email, forward the text to me to edit, and still not send it. Her mind lost room for anything but worries. At dinner she stared at her meal; at night she stared at the ceiling. I stayed up as late as I could, trying to comfort her—I’m sure you’re doing a great job at work, you always do—but by midnight I inevitably dozed off, racked by guilt. I knew that while I slept, my sweet wife was trapped awake with her horrible thoughts, uncomfortably awaiting morning.
She saw a therapist, then a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills, which we both naively thought was a huge overreaction. She wasn’t that bad off, right? Giulia chose not to take the pills. Instead, she called in sick to work. Then one night, while we were brushing our teeth, Giulia asked me to hide her medications, saying, “I don’t like having them in the house and knowing where they are.” I said sure, of course, but in the morning I woke up late and rushed off to school, forgetting her request. At the time I thought this was a minor oversight, like misplacing my wallet. But Giulia spent the day at home staring at her two orange bottles of pills and daring herself to eat them all. She didn’t call me at work to tell me this—she knew I would have come straight home. Instead she called her mother, in Italy, who stalled on the phone with Giulia for four hours until I returned... read more: