Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Schizophrenia: A Living Nightmare Part 1

It seems like a nightmare. Maybe it is, but it occurred during my waking life. This is an account from my life and strange as it may seem, it actually happened. I am not telling this as a "sob story;" I am writing it to bring attention to a dreadful illness.
My daughter, Crystal Marie, was born September 3, 1977, in Frankfort, Germany. I was present at her birth, and it was the most incredible and beautiful moment in my life. And she was incredible and beautiful, a mirror image of her mother. A little over three months later, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on December 17, 1977, Crystal Marie was dead. Her mother, my wife, had beaten to death our three-month-old infant child. We were separated, at the time, and I was still stationed in Germany, but was called home for the funeral and the criminal investigation. .
My wife was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia (Non-Defined) and committed to the Colorado State Hospital. She wasn't a bad person; she was good, kind, and gentle. I loved her deeply, and one could not imagine the distress brought to me by the death of my daughter at the hands of my wife and the lasting effect it has had on me emotionally and mentally.
Schizophrenia is generally misunderstood by the public to be a psychological disorder. It is not. Though the symptoms, such as dementia and delusion, are psychological, researchers have found the cause to be brain damage. It is also a degenerative condition, for researchers have found that each schizophrenic episode causes additional brain damage, which, in turn results in increasingly more pronounced the symptoms. In my wife's case, the initial brain damage was caused by a dose of PCP she was given at the age of twelve.
Another widespread myth of schizophrenia is that it means "split personality." For this reason it is often confused with multiple personality disorder. In fact, "schizophrenia" literally means "split mind," but it refers to the mind being split by the consciousness and the subconscious. Awareness and perception in the schizophrenic are being filtered through the conscious and the subconscious simultaneously.
It is hard to imagine what this must be like. From my experience living with the woman who was my wife, I can give some sort of ideal. Imagine you are living in a beautiful world, where everything is going right, and you have everything you need in life, everything that you can possibly imagine. Suddenly, you are standing in a crowd of people, some who you can see, and some you cannot see, but you can hear their voices and their thoughts. The thoughts you hear are evil, and they are all of evil intentions toward you People around you are speaking in tongues, they are talking about the Devil, and they are making things fly through the air. They are trying to hurt you, to kill you. You cannot collect your thoughts, because the scenario is changing around you so rapidly, you don't have time to understand what is happening. This is what I understand my wife to have experienced in her schizophrenic episodes.
I first met my wife in 1973, while attending classes at El Paso Community College in Colorado Springs. She was physically attractive, beautiful, in fact. She was very kind, generous, intellegent, witty, and had an open, honest, and friendly personality. There was an innocence about her, but not to the point of naiveté. We became friends first, then lovers. She had her own apartment, but I was living at home at the time, and I often stayed with her in her home.
I was aware that she was schizophrenic. She made sure I understood that, and I was aware of her life, because, such was her honesty, she told me everything about herself. I could handle that, as long as she was taking her medication. There would be some strange moments, initiated by her ever-active subconscious, but any problems could be solved, so great had my love for her become. In retrospect, it may have been denial and disillusionment on my part, but I felt that as long as I held her, and showed my love and understanding for her, any episodes could be overcome.
We all have distractions in our daily life. We manage to get through work and other tasks in our everyday experiences by putting those distractions in the back of our minds. For a person with schizophrenia, the distractions are much greater, but that person can usually deal with it, especially with the help of medication. The medication, at that time was Lithium and thorazene, and helped prevent schizophrenic episodes, as long as it was being administered daily, on a regular basis. There is no cure, for the condition, but it can be controlled. Today, there are more effective medications for treating schizophrenia: now that medical science understands the condition better, we have phenothorezines and customized medications. All too often, the victim of the disease can feel as if he or she has been cured and will feel that the medication is no longer necessary or useful. This is where the problems can manifest themselves.
I joined the Air Force in May of 1976. I was planning a life with the woman who was to be my wife, and wanted to do something that I felt would be good for our future. After I had completed basic training and technical school, in December of 1976, I was assigned to NORAD, Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado Springs. That not only gave me some leave time at home, but also included reassignment time, which I could take as a vacation from the military. The first person I saw, besides my Mom and Dad, was Toni, the woman I loved. She had enlisted in the Army, while I was away, and was to leave for basic training in January, 1977. We then made plans to marry, so we wouldn't be separated. While she was still in specialty training school at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, we got married. She was to be stationed in Germany, and I applied for a join spouse assignment. We were reunited in July of 1977, in Frankfort, Germany.
There were two things I didn't know before I arrived in Germany. First, Toni had stopped taking her meds before she entered active duty. Secondly she was six months pregnant. From the way she had hidden that fact from me, I did have some reason to believe that the child may not have been mine, but the timeline was correct, and the thought never actually manifested itself. But the nightmare was already beginning.
At first, her outbreaks of anger seemed to be normal for what is to be expected from a pregnant woman, or at least that's what I was told. But things got worse. I would be reading the newspaper, watching TV or joining my wife in housework, when she would suddenly come after me with a knife, a broom handle, a skillet, or whatever he had as a weapon, screaming something like "rubber duck," "you f**ked your father," or something totally incomprehensible. Each time something like this happened, I managed to subdue her, suffering only a few contusions or minor cuts, tell her that I loved her, that I would never hurt her. Each time, I felt that the episode was isolated, and that it would never happen again. The whole time, I never hit her or used violence against her. Sometimes I would be asleep in bed, to be awakened by her footsteps running toward me and her screaming "kill me," or "help me," while she attacked me with a knife or a broom handle.
When I took her to the military hospital in Frankfurt, to try to get her back on meds or otherwise helped, she seemed very lucid, demonstrating her ability to deal with the public while being distracted by schizophrenic delusions. She became the sweet, caring, loving person whom I knew and loved. Her behavior in front of the doctors made me feel as if I were the one who was delusional. Indeed, so great had my fear become, I was afraid to relate to the doctors what had happened to me, and it probably seemed to them as if I were the one who was ill.
After the sessions, we would go home, and life would be normal for a few days. However, later in the week, when we would be driving home together, she would often remove her shoe and start beating me on the head with it, for no apparent reason, which was extremely dangerous as we were driving at 70 miles per hour on the Autobahn.
After Crystal was born, two weeks prematurely, Toni was an ideal mother, very caring and very protective of our baby. We lived with no further instances of schizophrenic episodes for a few weeks, and it seemed as if the nightmare was over.


yellowdog granny said...

oh my friend...having gone thru some tragedies and relating them on my blog i know that as painful as this is for you..this will hellp you..truly...if you need to talk you know how to email me..jackie

The Artist said...

Thank you for sharing such an honest story, wtih best wishes, The Artist