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Tuesday, October 23, 2012
When mental illness is suddenly at the door. A husband shares his story.

I blamed myself for my lack of presence at home. I tried to talk to her, but we kept on avoiding one another. There was a total lack of communication. We couldn’t count on family or friends. After a year of this, I was convinced that it was better to split up. Until one day I said, ‘We need to talk.’ Her speech was delusional. There had been a trivial altercation with the mother of our son’s classmate, an insignificant matter, but for my wife it was devastating. She felt threatened, in a situation from which there was no way out. I was amazed: ‘You’re interpreting what happened in the wrong way. What you’re thinking isn’t true.’ I tried to convince her to see a doctor, but then she replied saying that she wasn’t crazy. After some time we went to a psychiatrist. The goal of the sessions was to convince her that these fantasies were the result of electrochemical changes in her brain, which could be resolved with the help of drugs. After much persuasion she began to take the medication.

I was in front of an illness that I knew nothing about. She was not the person I had married. The children were feeling the pain and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. We also went to see a psychoanalyst while continuing with the medication, and so both of these forms of therapy were working together. More disappointment followed. She began to gain weight, so we went to several diet centres run by profiteers. I discovered to my astonishment and indignation, a whole world of incredible charlatans who take advantage of situations such as ours. I decided to study the Concordat of Psychiatry used by my son at the university, in order to better understand the situation. She was glad to see me so engaged in trying to support her. She wanted to get well, even though she continued to believe her delusions to be so real. Eventually we found a good psychiatrist who was also socially committed. He was convinced that the best thing might be socialisation, and so my wife came to know other people with similar problems, and it was a good help. There were periods when the disease was attenuated and others when it was more pronounced, when her appearance would change, she would weep continually, spend long periods in bed and be unable to take care of the house.

For me this was the busiest time at work, since I had just become director. More than once I was tempted to leave her, perhaps taking the children with me. I felt crushed by this situation from which there seemed to be no way out. What made me stay was my love for her and especially for the children. Then the situation worsened and, for the first time, she had to be admitted to hospital for one month. I changed my position at work to executive consultant, in order to have more flexibility in managing my time. It was a painful decision from a professional point of view, but I found a positivity inside me that I had previously underestimated. I was able to handle the situation together with my children whom I tried to make feel that my wife was the most important person in my life. Another boost came from my focolarini friends.

Then one night she tried to kill herself. After another recovery, she was being cared for by another doctor who took her case to heart. Since then, thanks especially to the ability of the psychiatrist to in caring for my wife by making adjustments to the therapy, things began to improve. Little by little we found a balance. She began to work around the house again. She was able to go out with me or with other people and to face that hostile world that had been so frightening to her. And since delirious ideas continue to return, we try to keep her mind always occupied.

Her suffering has helped me to grow as a person. I was and am a non-believer, but I’ve learnt to distinguish the ethical plane from the metaphysical one. The ethical plane is the relationship with the other, independent of any religious belief, it regards our common humanity, and it can be the key to living serenely. Whereas, before the illness, I gave priority to the metaphysical plane, that world of ideas and certainties, which always ended in criticizing people who did not think as I did. Now, having separated these two planes, I’m free to relate with anyone. This is also important for the bond I share with my wife. As for the future, I’m aware that I’ll have to manage this situation for the rest of my life. I expect to see relapses, but now I know how to face them.  

By Pietro Riccio (source: Città Nuova, no. 19 – 2012)