For any of you who has a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you are more than well aware of the horrendous stigma attached with it. More than likely, you have hidden the fact from other friends and acquaintances and, even if mentioned, you may shroud the illness with some other name. I know this because I’m one of you.
My ‘significant other’ who I have known in various phases as lover, friend and confidant, was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 2001. Over the years, his illness has very gradually reduced our relationship to phone contact only because I cannot predict when he may suddenly slip into another psychotic episode. In the years before that happened, I tried to help him with his immediate needs, such as financial help. Because of his illness, he stopped working and tried to support himself on his social security checks and whatever savings he had. It became clear, however, in 2006, that my occasional financial help was not enough. So, I started sending him regular checks every two weeks which were, of course, meant to help pay his basic bills. All of that ended in 2012 when he was hospitalized in the psychiatric unit of the VA hospital. It was only then that I discovered that he had not been paying his bills with the money I had been sending him. Instead, he was spending most of it on wine or alcohol and perhaps even drugs. I was even accused by one the nurses at the VA of being an enabler – that hit me really hard.
His recovery after getting out of the hospital was also very rocky and painfully slow. The climax finally came on Thanksgiving day, 2015. As we had done for many years, I invited him for the holiday dinner and, at first, everything seemed fine. It was only after the meal that he suddenly turned on me, bringing up bizarre accusations that I was somehow in league with his doctors to have him ‘locked up’. His threatening behavior scared me to a point where I have never since allowed myself in that position. I wondered later if his sudden change in behavior happened only because he might have forgotten to take his meds that day. Whatever the case may have been, it turned into an epiphany for me. I came to the sudden realization that I simply do not have whatever it takes to cope with the chaotic nature of this illness.
It has also left me a very deep sense of guilt since that day. I have known this man for more than 40 years and we had, like in any relationship, our good and bad times. Now, when I get off the phone with him, that’s when the guilt comes flooding in – how can I simply abandon someone who meant so much to me for so long? At the same time, I also feel a horrible sense of loss – the man I knew simply does not exist anymore and I miss him.