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Mark Lukach’s memoir, My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir, chronicles his and his wife’s experience with mental illness — Mark’s wife, Giulia, as the mentally ill one and Mark as the caregiver and desperate eyewitness to the traumatic unraveling of his life partner.
I first heard about Mark and Giulia in his Modern Love essay. Mark and Giulia’s story is terrifying and Mark tells it in such an honest, raw way. Nobody’s a hero, nobody’s a martyr. They’re just two flawed people who had a skyscraper-sized road block thrown into their lives. They both deal with it in whatever way they can. Sometimes it’s with love and understanding and sometimes it’s with frustration and spite.
Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, another incredible memoir about mental illness I’d recommend, said it best in her review of Mark’s book. “This book basically tore out my heart and then lovingly sewed it back in place,” she wrote.
So, what is there to learn from Mark and Giulia’s struggle? What advice can we take away from their horror?
Simply put: to always be on the same team. The Lukachs were a partnership before Giulia’s illness made itself known. They supported each other in their careers and endeavors. And at the beginning of her illness, they remained that way. But then the stress began to weigh on both of them and that partnership began to break down. They saw each other as the problem, instead of the solution.
Granted, Giulia’s mental illness prevented her from seeing the situation as it really was, which was understandably maddening for her doting husband. Her mental state made it nearly impossible for them to remain on the same team while she was in the middle of an episode. But for those of us who don’t struggle with a skewed reality, this is a valid lesson.
Life goes on. When we’re in the thick of things — right smack in the middle of a problem — the emotions seem too much to handle. We can’t help but be consumed with the problem, making it hard to see the other side of it. “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward” follows a 14-year time span, in which their marriage goes through a litany of different phases. Just because it’s terrible now, just because you’re desperate and heartbroken and defeated, doesn’t mean you will always feel this way.
This concept is as old as life itself. You can find it in any part of the world.
Fan of American literature? Robert Frost once wrote,” In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
From an ancient Israeli folk tale: “This too shall pass.”
And from the art world: “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.” -Frida Kahlo
Love is powerful. Or, more accurately, people in love are powerful. Mark and Giulia came out on the other end of this as survivors because their love for each other was so strong. No, I don’t believe it was some mystical force whispering in their ear (which is a beautiful thought, if that is what you believe), but the incredible human strength of two people who have vowed to exist for each other until their dying day. Throughout their ordeal, Mark and Giulia reminded themselves that they will get through this because they love each other. “And that is stronger than this,” Mark writes.
The chemical force that tells them they’re in love, the spiritual connection that binds them for life, the evolutionary need to continue the human race — however you want to define love — it’s what saved them.
See a TED Talk version of Mark’s book: