My friends and family think I am crazy. Not in the “oh isn’t she fun! What a crazy girl!” sort of way, but in the “mad as a hatter” sort of way. They think I am emotional basket case who can be ecstatically happy one day, and debilitatingly sad the next day. They don’t think that they can know what to expect from me if they say something – I may become defensive and angry, or I might acknowledge what they have said and take it to heart.
Why do people that love me think this about me? Why would people who have my best interests at heart feel apprehensive about my moods? Because I am crazy. I am mad as a hatter. My moods swing. I do become defensive, or I will take things to heart. I have had therapists tell me that I should use another word besides crazy, but I like that word. I own it. It feels right to me.
Since I was a little girl, I have battled anxiety. It was undiagnosed and mostly I was told to stop worrying so much; stop biting your nails; stop picking at your skin; cheer up; stop pouting. Before you say anything about this, remember this was the 1980s – 1990s. In my life, and the awareness of my parents, there was nothing wrong with me, I just had these bad “habits”. As an adult, I have learned that what we’re considered habits are actually compulsions and are not so easy for me to control without medication.
This is all backstory, so that when you read my review of Mark Lukach’s heartbreaking memoir My Lovely Wife In The Psych Ward, you will understand where I am coming from. I have never been in the psych ward. I have never had a psychotic break, but I have had to rely on family to be my caregivers. I have been so sick and so depressed that the most I could achieve in a day was to move from my bed to my bathtub. I have had to have my children cared for by my family because I literally could not. So, when my sister-in-law found this book, she thought it would be something I would enjoy and could relate to, and bought it for me for my birthday.
8 months later, I read the book on my flight from Vancouver to Honolulu, and I both related strongly and had an eye-opening “Ah-ha!” moment. Usually when I read memoirs related to mental illness, they are from the perspective of the person with the illness, but this memoir was written from the perspective of the caregiver. That made it so unusual to me, and finally allowed me to see what my family has dealt with. The helplessness, the confusion, the fear, the anger, the resentfulness, the annoyance, the perceived lack of gratitude, the shell shock, the survival mode, the exhaustion, everything.
Lukach and his wife Giulia were college sweethearts, who married young and had what most would consider a charmed life. Giulia was a hardworking, high strung woman, who succeeded in everything she did. She was confident and brave, and then suddenly, upon starting her dream job, she began to descend into anxiety. She lost her self-confidence, she became paralyzed by simple tasks, and began to question everything she did. She began to have trouble sleeping, which eventually brought on her first psychotic break of 3, each brought on by stress and lack of sleep.
Lukach went through the gamut of emotions, including his own bout with depression following a year of helping his wife through her psychosis and suicidal depression. He honestly wrote about the resentfulness of the caregiver when he was not treated with grateful idolatry after Giulia’s return to health. He had his heartbroken again when he learned that the things he was doing to help her actually made her feel smothered and angry.
He wrote in such a beautiful way about how he and Giulia chose to love each other everyday, and chose to redevelop their marriage, on a new, open, platform. Lukach came to understand that part of the Giulia that he loved was not her true self, but rather how she appeared through the lens of his own expectations. He learned that he expected to be treated as her hero, and for her to defer to his decisions, because she couldn’t make decisions when she was paralyzed by pain and illness.
I definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY recommend this book to literally anyone. If you have struggled with mental illness, or love someone who does, or simply seek to understand what it means to care for someone who cannot care for themselves. I sincerely hope that Lukach continues to write, as he and his son move through the seasons of their lives with Giulia.