Reflections on Mental Illness and Family

I’ve been slowly reading My Lovely Wife In The Psych Ward by Mark Lukach.

The novel chronicles the life of Mark and his wife Giulia who, at 27, experiences an unexpected psychotic break. It is a memoir of Mark’s experiences as Giulia is admitted to the psych ward, her recovery process, their work to move their life forward after her psychosis, and then her eventual relapse two more times into psychosis.

It is emotional, gut-wrenchingly honest, and a vulnerable look into life with mental illness and the health care system in place for those who experience it. It’s also one of the best books on mental illness I have read thus far.

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Though I haven’t quite finished yet, the novel has me reflecting on two key things about my life.

One: I am so grateful for the stability I have. Though I have lived with mental illness for nearly ten years, and there have been some dark and terrifying periods, I haven’t experienced a psychotic break nor have I been admitted to a psych ward. That’s not to say I haven’t considered it (the psych ward), and it has been a conscious fight inside my mind at times to keep me out of it. But I’ve not reached that point and I hope that it stays that way.

But this memoir more than any other story has really opened my eyes to how bad it could get for me. It may be because the patient was so close to me in age. That we shared similar careers and driven personalities. Or just the honesty of the story in general. As I read it, I remember why I fight for my mental health and why it’s not worth giving in to the illness.

But the second key reflection has shaken me more than the first.

I’ve never truly considered what my mental illness has done to my family.

In the memoir, we get a deep insight into Mark’s thought process throughout Giulia’s experience. Intimate looks at his feelings, his fears, his uncertainty, and the responsibility he felt through the entire journey. Especially important for me to read was Mark’s responses to Giulia telling him what she felt she needed from him.

In many instances, Mark has felt Giulia is selfish in her response to her mental illness. Though I sympathize with him, I also can completely empathize with Giulia’s desperate need to do whatever feels right to her in order to stay afloat and stay alive. It made me think of the times I would ask my family to do or not do certain things because it’s what I needed of them, and how difficult it must have been for them to respect my wishes. But it also made me realize how little I really thought about the impact of my mental health journey on them.

I don’t know if they know this or not, but from day one I felt the need to protect my parents from my mental illness. For a mixture of reasons, spanning from shame to love, I didn’t want them to have to see what was truly going on with me. I felt as though I would give them slight glances into the experiences, but only just a bit. Just a touch of understanding.

Was this fair? I don’t know. Was this what I was actually successful at doing or did I just fool myself into thinking I was protecting them? Probably the later. Did they need the protection? They’ll say no. I don’t have an answer to be honest. Was it the right move? I doubt it.

I also think of the time I forced them to watch Silver Linings Playbook. It was released just as I was starting to try to understand my illness. At the time, it was the best thing I could connect with, and see myself in. So I made them watch it, without telling them that I wanted them to try to get a sense of my current experience. I just told them it was a fantastic movie they had to see (which I stand by, it just wasn’t the full truth).

I walked away from the movie feeling a sense of epiphany. They seemed to walk away nonchalant about the movie. Completely unfair to them, I felt frustrated by this. But they couldn’t know my true intentions or what I had hoped they would learn because I refused to tell them.

God, 2012 Megan was kind of a bitch, eh?

I look back and now know they must have been scared for me. Uncertain about how I would end up. It was my mom who first suggested to me that I consider medication for my depression, and I am incredibly grateful she did. But now, I also realize the thought of having that conversation must have weighed on her and she must have been so nervous about how I might react. I think she was a little surprised when I agreed so eagerly - or I felt eager, I have no idea if that’s what showed. Either way, I have no idea how tricky that moment might have been for her, and it’s taken me five years to realize that.

Maybe 2018 Megan is still kind of a selfish bitch too. But hey, she’s trying. And she’s still learning.

Editor’s note: I’ve since completed the novel and felt such a release of emotions. It’s not an easy read, but it is a necessary one. It does not end poorly for Mark and Giulia, but neither is it a happily ever after. Without spoiling the read, the resolution of their story is satisfying and brought a sense of peace over me. Mental illness is not easy, but peace is a good conclusion to reach.