I’m going to step out on a limb and assume something for a moment. Ted Kennedy is not a key memory in most marriages or divorces in this country. I’m well aware that you should not assume, but I think I’m safe on this one. This is still one of my primary memories of my first marriage.
Without going into too much detail here (maybe in a later post), the marriage did not start of smoothly. For one, I was 22, she was 24 and we already had a 6-month old daughter, Abby, together. The pregnancy was stressful financially and things didn’t get much better after the birth. I was doing my best to support the three of us on a $10/hr job while also trying to finish my college degree. To do that, I was picking up extra hours everywhere I could and often worked 50-60 hrs a week.
After Abby was born, Nancy was off work without pay for 6 weeks. (Abby was born 4 days before maternity leave kicked in.) Needless to say, we often had too much week left at the end of the paycheck. We never knew from one week to the next how we would pay utilities and buy food. After 6 months we got married because that was the thing to do. You have a kid, you get married–all there was to it. Then, we bought a house 2 weeks later. So, even as life piled on us, we added to the pile ourselves. Furthermore, I never really pictured a life with Nancy. I knew I wasn’t in love with her and really couldn’t see a future there.
A pivotal moment
As you can imagine, times were not happy in the Haines house for that 2 years. Things seemed to be “ok” during the first year, but they changed around the first anniversary. That second summer, Nancy’s dad died of complications resulting from a car accident. There seemed to be no love lost between Nancy and her dad and she rarely talked to or of him. However, this one event was pivotal in Nancy’s future development and mental well-being.
You see, there is a history of schizophrenia in Nancy’s family. Her older (not oldest) brother had it. For schizophrenics, the disease presents itself in the mid-to-late twenties and often after a traumatic event. For Nancy, it was her dad’s death. I noticed a change immediately after, but I thought it was part of her normal grieving process. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Shortly after her dad’s passing–I don’t remember how long–Nancy started complaining of health problems. She thought she was having heart problems, her anxiety levels increased and she always seemed afraid of something. She visited doctors and nothing was ever found to be wrong.
Finally, one night, I was awoken at around 3am by banging on my bedroom window. Waking up, I found that Nancy was not there and figured she had locked herself out of the house for some reason. When I went to the door, it was my mom. Understandably confused, I asked why she was there. “There’s been an incident with Nancy at the hospital”. I didn’t know why she would be there, but on the way, mom told me the story that a doctor later recounted. That night, my life veered sharply in a direction I never could have imagined.
The story given to me was that Nancy woke up at around 1am with chest palpitations. She thought she was having a heart attack, so she got out of bed, and drove herself to the emergency room. The E.R. told her that she was just suffering a panic attack and was ready to discharge her when something suspicious came out in her medical history. Since this was her first visit to that hospital, the doctor started updating her medical history with her.
Halfway through the history, she mentioned that she had a lobotomy at the age of 15. That gave him a pause and he tried to verify it. She explained that there would be no proof of this procedure because the information had been expunged. Why he asked? Because at the time (age 15), she was having an affair with Ted Kennedy and he wanted to make it hard to find that information if they were ever found out.
Shocking turn of events
Needless to say, everyone was shocked by this revelation. The hospital immediately tried to reach me but I never woke up, so they called my mom. When I arrived, the doctor had sent her for a psych consult and then spoke to me. Nancy was exhibiting classic signs of a psychotic break from reality–the beginning of schizophrenia. This was all new to me and I had no idea how to handle it.
Nancy started seeing a psychiatrist and was put on some medications to control it, but the next year was very “strange” to say the least. It can be a long process to get people on the right drug or correct dosage to treat schizophrenia. So, there were long periods of Nancy being hyper-paranoid or deep depression or manic excitement. During the next year, I did my best to balance work, my marriage and caring for Abby.
I’ll admit that I was ill-equipped to deal with all of this and the situtation spiraled downward to the point that I could just barely keep my head above water just trying to shield, protect and care for Abby.
I’ll post more about what happened in the months following at a later date. For now, I want to leave you with a few words. Schizophrenia is no laughing matter. I can look back on the situation and find some humor in it–the absurdity. However, this situation was out of everyone’s control. Nancy couldn’t help it and didn’t have the ability to deal with it. I was totally unprepared. Our families were also incapable, unwilling or unequipped to help.
Schizophrenia can be controlled to a point, but every break from reality causes more unrecoverable damage. These people are cursed by a viscous circle of medication and breaks. For awhile, the medication keeps them at baseline–then they feel that they are healed. At this time, they stop taking the medication and another break happens and the circle starts over. Many events they remember border on the absurd, but that is their reality and they really can’t help it.
I can tell you my experiences, but I wouldn’t be able to make you understand what it’s like. However, the best example I can give you is the movie A Beautiful Mind. If you want to see what it’s like both first and second hand to deal with this disease, check it out.