The soap opera EastEnders and the National Schizophrenia Day earlier this month have heightened awareness of schizophrenia.
MARY JANE RIDGEWAY feels that there is still much ignorance about the affliction and describes how, over 30 years, she learnt to cope with a husband diagnosed with the condition :IL,' SAID the consultant to my husband about a year
ago, "I think it's quite remarkable that you have kept working all these years; you have a very serious illness."
The illness is schizophrenia, the mental affliction so poorly understood by the medical profession and public alike, which has coloured most of my husband's life. Unfortunately the general public often associate it with knife-wielding psychopaths and the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndrome. What people do not understand is that there are different degrees and types of schizophrenia and that only a tiny minority of those suffering from it commit violent crimes. When they do, it is usually a sign of poor social care and lack of supervision, and when it does happen, it is widely publicised.
Schizophrenia is common; one in every hundred people will develop it before the age of 45 and there are an estimated 250,000 with the condition in the UK. June 3 saw the first ever National Schizophrenia Day, an appeal for awareness by the National Schizophrenia Fellowship.
My husband's story goes back a long, long way. Not long after we met I'd been told that he'd had a nervous breakdown. "Paranoid depression," his mother said. She told me that he had been in hospital for six months, was given electroconvulsive therapy, recovered and had been informed that it would never happen again.
We married. Two years into our marriage a recurrence of this illness heralded its approach with strange behavioural patterns. He began to suffer persistent delusions being convinced that somebody wanted to persecute him and a totally irrational idea that I was being unfaithful to him. He became depressed and socially withdrawn but insisted there was nothing wrong with him and refused to see a doctor. In desperation I urged our GP to arrange for a domiciliary visit by a specialist. Paranoid depression was diagnosed and after a few weeks on medication he began to improve. I read many books on this illness but the symptoms described never quite met with his behavioural pattern.
Time passed, we shared our joys and sorrows but always present to a degree were those unremitting paranoid beliefs which were out of touch with reality. The idea that it could be schizophrenia began to pervade my mind but, knowing the stigma attached to this illness, I chose to ignore it and never mentioned it to a soul.
OUR LIVES were SO Interwoven that his problem became my problem. He was so shy and withdrawn, yet he still carried on working. I loved him with all my heart but the lack of communication was soul
destroying. The words "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" often sprang to mind.
I'd always regarded marriage as a vocation and the more I dwelt on this the more I realised that the only way to deal with the situation would be to accept that God had chosen me especially to look after my husband.
About this time our son made his First Holy Communion this was to be the beginning of a new era. We became involved in the parish where we were to experience the love of God through his people that was to sustain us during those times when we felt we were up against the wall of despair.
The possibility of schizophrenia haunted me down the years. Even though my husband was on medication he experienced hallucinations. When under stress he would "hear" people talking about him in a derogatory way. Finally I decided that something had to be done. I borrowed a book from the library on the subject. As I slowly turned the pages and read on, it became obvious to me that his trouble was schizophrenia. Unbeknown to him I consulted our GP from whom I learnt that the diagnosis way, way back, before I ever knew him, was that he had suffered either a bout of paranoid depression or a schizophrenic attack.
I managed to persuade my husband to consult a specialist for a reassessment, which he did. It was later concluded that he was suffering from a mild form of chronic paranoid schizophrenia. We recognised this face on. With trial and error his medication was adjusted. As with all drugs there are side effects, but with regular supervision this can be counteracted.
Living with someone with schizophrenia is very demanding and frustrating but, having accepted it, after 30 years or so??? I now find it more tolerable. I began by sorting out idiosyncrasies which are part of the illness and so have to be accepted. I explained to family and friends the nature of the illness in order to create a noncritical environment. I try to teach him ways of dealing with unwanted perceptions and thoughts by recognising which activities or emotions may trigger them off, in order to avoid them. I try just to listen when he tells me about his delusions, then present a view of the real world by which he can measure his ideas.
I make sure he manages to maintain his job and that he is given a certain amount of responsibility. I encourage him to seek professional guidance regularly and ascertain that he always takes his medication in order to keep the symptoms under control.
We have faced the truth and are taking each day at a time. Over the 30 years in which we have been living with this, we have uncovered each other's weaknesses and limitations and have now entered a new phase in our relationship a true and genuine love which is beyond the emotional plane.
It has also set me on the path of self-discovery. I used to have a craving for excitement of one kind or another. Now I can feel companionship with my inner thoughts and have come to realise that my happiness is dependent upon communion with my inner self.
I believe that the Way of the Cross passes through all humanity and touches all our lives. And it is through totally accepting the Cross in our every day lives that leads us to the Resurrection.