Mental illness is so completely hard. It’s hard to understand, it’s heartbreaking to deal with first hand. It’s just hard. And if you’ve never had to deal with it firsthand, you are one lucky person. I hope you don’t have to deal with it.
I was talking with a friend recently who has returned to school to become a therapist. One of her first assignments, in her first class, was to talk to be people about preconceived notions on mental illness. There are so many!
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 16.2 million adults in the U.S. (or 6.7% of the population) has had at least one depressive episode, which is defined as “A period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, self-image or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.”
I would argue that number is much higher because many people either don’t understand that depression is an illness, not an attitude, or they don’t want to admit to being depressed because they are worried that others will see that a sign of weakness.
Today I’ve reviewing My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach. I loved this personal account so much and I applaud Lukach’s honesty and transparency with the subject. These types of honest, brutal stories, are what we need to better understand these disorders.
From the Publisher:
A heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, memoir of a young marriage that is redefined by mental illness and affirms the power of love.
Mark and Giulia’s life together began as a storybook romance. They fell in love at eighteen, married at twenty-four, and were living their dream life in San Francisco. When Giulia was twenty-seven, she suffered a terrifying and unexpected psychotic break that landed her in the psych ward for nearly a month. One day she was vibrant and well-adjusted; the next she was delusional and suicidal, convinced that her loved ones were not safe.
Eventually, Giulia fully recovered, and the couple had a son. But, soon after Jonas was born, Giulia had another breakdown, and then a third a few years after that. Pushed to the edge of the abyss, everything the couple had once taken for granted was upended.
A story of the fragility of the mind, and the tenacity of the human spirit, My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward is, above all, a love story that raises profound questions: How do we care for the people we love? What and who do we live for? Breathtaking in its candor, radiant with compassion, and written with dazzling lyricism, Lukach’s is an intensely personal odyssey through the harrowing years of his wife’s mental illness, anchored by an abiding devotion to family that will affirm readers’ faith in the power of love.
I’ve dealt with depression in my life. I’ve been depressed personally, and I’ve seen several loved ones go through it. A common misconception I’ve heard firsthand from many people is that depression is just an action, or an attitude. And I do think if you’ve never dealt with depression or mental illness, it can be hard to understand.
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward is not just an amazing memoir I enjoyed reading, it’s an important book that I believe has the power to help others cope with and understand mental illness.
When Mark and Guilia first meet, they are the type of couple you just hate. They are perfect! They are both smart, driven, amazingly attractive. They just seem charmed. And as they settle in their life as a young married couple, it seems like the sky is the limit for them.
Then mental illness rears its ugly head. And everything goes to shit. Guilia goes from being completely normal one minute to completely psychotic the next. No one knows what happened and no one can give her a definitive diagnosis or prognosis. That might be one of the most frustrating things about mental illness. It’s completely debilitating and yet you never know if it’s getting better or when things can collapse again.
I’ve read reviews of this book where people hate the author, Mark. Or think he is completely insensitive, making his wife’s illness all about him. But the truth about mental illness or depression is that it isn’t just the person sick who is battling it. It is everything around them, everyone who loves them, and especially a primary caretaker.
And while, yes, it’s easy to say that he should have been more understanding, this is his reality. He was understanding and patient for a long time in the beginning, but it’s hard to just be understanding for the rest of your life. You will go through times when you are angry and tired, and you may not be proud of your behavior. This is what mental illness does to a caretaker. And I appreciated his honestly.
During a marriage, there are many points where we stop and look around and realize, we didn’t sign up for this. But that’s the reason we take our vows, for when it gets hard. For when the shit hits the fan. It’s clear throughout the story, throughout everything, that while he may hate the illness, Mark deeply loves his wife.
In the end, there just isn’t a resolution for mental illness. It is something that Mark and Guilia and their families will deal with for the rest of their lives, which will hopefully be a long, long time. My prayers are with them. Learning to live with mental illness or the possibility of mental illness around every corner is devastating.
But maybe it works another way too? Maybe it teaches us to cherish the good times that much more. Maybe the highs and the lows that come with it make our lives richer.
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