Content warning: This post deals with issues surrounding suicide, and may be triggering for some readers.
Mark and Giulia fell for each other in their teens, married in their 20’s, and didn’t realize what their love would demand of them until Giulia suffered a terrifying and unexpected psychotic break at the age of twenty-seven. Mark, struggling to support Giulia, was torn between the demands of keeping her safe and following doctor’s orders…
The first time Giulia’s doctor said the word ‘schizophrenia’, I thought I must have misheard him.
His assessment felt like a death sentence. Schizophrenia meant the psychosis would come back to haunt her for the rest of her life. She would never again be able to trust her own mind. She’d probably never be able to return to her high-powered job or our dream of having three kids.
Even though this initial diagnosis was eventually changed to bipolar, in that instant I lost my wife and gained a lifelong patient. I put my head down and sobbed.
After the meeting, I went to San Francisco’s four-mile stretch of beach. A friend told me that I had to do as they tell you on an aeroplane: put on my oxygen mask and take care of myself before I could put on Giulia’s.
The first three days of her hospitalisation I barely slept or ate and when I did it was to binge on junk food. I tried to tell myself that I had to be rested and clear to be her protector. If I didn’t put on my mask first I would pass out and then I’d be no good to anybody.
The waves looked fun enough so I went home and got my wetsuit and board. I threw myself into the ocean, grappling with the implications of Giulia’s psychosis. I paddled out past the breaking waves into what felt like the open ocean. I faced its enormity and dived in. I couldn’t control what happened, or how long it would take her to get better, but I didn’t feel afraid. I felt relief.