The first 30 pages of Mark Lukach’s new memoir, “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward,” read like a Hollywood love story.
As an 18-year-old freshman at Georgetown University, he meets and falls in love with Giulia, a radiant and ambitious Italian beauty. They graduate, marry, launch careers, plan to have children.
And then, almost without warning, everything falls apart.
In 2009, at the age of 27, Giulia experienced her first psychotic episode. Over the course of several weeks, she became overwhelmed by a new job. She sank into depression, then crippling anxiety. She believed she saw the devil, then that she was the devil. She tried to kill herself. Lukach took her to an emergency room, expecting to get medication and advice; instead, she was committed to a psychiatric ward, where she remained for 23 days. When she came home, it was clear “the hospital hadn’t fixed anything. It had only stabilized her, and not even all the way.”
Giulia slowly recovered, and within a couple of years she and Lukach were ready to have a baby. But a few months after Jonas’s birth — just days after his baptism — Giulia had another episode and was committed to the psych ward again, this time for more than a month. There was a third hospitalization in 2014. The narrative ends after her discharge, as they continue to try to fashion a family life out of chaos.
“I’ve got this thing for life, Mark,” Giulia tells him with sad dignity. “It will always be with me. But at least I’m not as scared of it anymore.”
Lukach, a teacher and freelance writer, has written a book rich in believable details of managing mental illness: The legal issues around commitment. The bewildering pharmacopeia — Geodon, Lexapro, Zyprexa, Haldol, Risperdal, lithium, Prozac — and the panic when she threw up her dinner and Lukach could see the remains of pills dissolved in the vomit. (Would it be better or worse to give her another dose?) The healing properties of physical exercise. Deciding when it might be safe to leave her alone. Doctors talking about bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The thrill of realizing, during a mountain hike, that Giulia was afraid of heights. (“Don’t you see what that means?” Lukach said to her. “You’re scared to fall because you’re scared to die. You want to live!”) Tensions with frightened and confused in-laws. Managing his own work life. Loving their son.
And, of course, the frustration that accompanies Lukach’s love for his shattered wife, and hers for him. Sometimes Giulia calls him “the Medicine Nazi,” refuses his visits, rages against his control. As for him, “I don’t care how well Giulia is doing!” he cries at one early point, when well-meaning family members praise her progress. “Of course I realize she’s doing better. Will everyone stop telling me about it? And why doesn’t anyone seem to care about how bad I feel?”