The following testimony is from Maurice, a member of L’Accolade. In a story that is as heartfelt and warm as it is humble, he shares his experience with the mental illness of his wife, Rita.
Coming home from work one evening, I have a horrible feeling that something isn’t quite right; the house isn’t lit the way it normally is this time of the day.
There’s my wife, laying on the bed in a lethargic state. I manage to get her to tell me which drugs she had taken, and how many. I then call one of her sisters, who is a nurse, and she quickly joins me at the house. We call 911, then there’s the ambulance, the trip to the hospital.
I wasn’t prepared for this, even though the signs had been piling up for months. We had talked to a number of psychologists, and I had still been hoping for the best despite my apprehension.
The day after she was admitted to the hospital, the psychiatrist gave the diagnosis: endogenous depressive state. Endogenous… Endogenous… Even if I could guess what this meant, I’d still have had to take some time to accept the reality that it implied.
Right away I was deathly afraid they’d want to admit Rita, and I’d be left alone to deal with my problems. The psychiatrist did little to dissuade my fear.
Rita did end up being admitted to the hospital, for around five months. It turned out that the psychiatry department on the fourth floor was kind of like heaven compared to our two weeks of purgatory in a hospital hallway and two days of hell in the emergency room.
At the centre of this other world was the communal room, which to me became kind of like a second home, visit after visit. Being there made me question a lot of things. The ebbs and flows of the outside world weren’t really a factor there. The pace was slow… excessively slow, even. And the ambiance was filtered and ethereal, as though inside a monastery.
Over time, certain faces came to be familiar. That one woman who was always in the same mood (I assume she must’ve been from India), whose husband visited very regularly. I began to feel genuine concern for their well-being. That one lovely young woman, blonde as they get, who was much too young to have reached heaven so early. Anorexia. That one man who for a time shared my wife’s room. There was nothing to fear. Nothing else to say. Such a bizarre world.
But before I could feel a sense of balance and calm, I had to walk through the hallways of purgatory myself. I can still picture myself driving to work on the fast lane during rush hour, wondering if my tense, near-suffocated state would get me into a veritable car crash. My lack of sleep was taking away any ability to concentrate, and I had to call on a friend to take on a part of my tasks at work.
Strangely, it didn’t even occur to me to take sleeping pills. Instead, I would practice relaxation and mediation, with which I was already a bit familiar, a little more each day.
My greatest discovery was learning to let the tears—lots of tears—fall, without necessarily crying. While tears of despair may be bitter, the tears that fall gently down the cheeks relax the face, soften the body and soothe the soul.
I was also getting better at changing register more easily inside my head. The sailor inside the submarine, the astronaut inside the space shuttle… are they not protected from the raging storm?
It was then that the psychiatrist suddenly told me that the medication my wife was on did not have the desired effects. So, we’d have to look at administering a series of electrical shocks, pending my wife’s approval. So why is it that around the same time and without giving me any advice whatsoever, they asked me to take my wife home on weekends? After one shock, she would be completely listless and terribly slow. I didn’t want to leave her by herself, not even for a moment.
One Sunday night, I told her it was time to go back to the hospital.
– What hospital?
– The one you left on Friday night.
– I have no business being there. I’m not sick.
I managed to get her to put on her coat, but the real challenge was to get her through the door. Once outside, I breathed a sigh of relief. But I wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
– There’s no reason for me to be in the hospital. I’m not sick. Let’s go home.
I looked up to the heavens: please do not make me start all over again!
Phew! We made it to the car. What a relief! I told myself that she’d surely recognize the hospital once we got there. Alas, she did not.
– What are we going there for?
Again, I reassured myself: once we’d get to the fourth floor, she’d surely recognize her own private little corner of heaven.
Well, I was wrong. It was as though she had never set foot there. What kind of divine comedy was she playing at?
Driving back home that night, I couldn’t help but smile, despite everything that happened.
Once Rita got her final discharge from the hospital, we had to get used to a whole other routine over the next few years: outpatient clinic during the day, a few days a week. Life gradually went back to normal, and we even had some rather surprising bouts of progress.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Schizophrenia (what?) has a nasty, sneaky habit of coming back to haunt you.
Mental illness, you vile fiend, you want to take away all the joy in our poor little human lives? Well, you won’t get me! Along with my friends from L’Accolade, I’ll wage an all-out war on you. I’ll grab you by the horns and throw you back where you belong—right into the pit of hell.