I have one thing to say about Mark Lukach's essay, "My lovely wife on the psych ward." That one thing is: Read it! It's beautiful. Mr. Lukach does a masterful job of describing his feelings as he plows through two months' long episodes of psychosis with his wonderful wife. When a friend gives him a copy of R.D. Laing's The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness, Mr. Lukach learns about the world of anti-psychiatry and psychiatric survivors. He struggles through with wanting to be a good husband, to help his wife get better, but he questions whether what he is doing is right, and he stumbles through with his own guilt. And when his wife gets better, they struggle with the bitter aftertaste of what it meant to be her caretaker, to be in control. The story isn't all pretty, but the writing and the description of the conflicts is beautifully done.
Yet Laing ripped through a conception I had of myself that I held dear: that I was a good husband. Laing died in 1989, more than 20 years before I picked up his book, so who knows what he really would have thought. His ideas about mental health and its treatment could have shifted with the times. But in my admittedly sensitive state, I felt Laing saying: Patients are good. Doctors are bad. Family members botch things up by listening to physicians and becoming bumbling accomplices in the crime of psychiatry. And I was an accessory, conspiring to force Giulia to take medication against her will that made her distant, unhappy, and slow, and that silenced her psychotic thoughts. That same medication enabled Giulia to remain alive, so everything else was secondary, as far as I was concerned. I never doubted the rightness of my motives. From the beginning, I’d cast myself in the role of Giulia’s self-effacing caregiver—not a saint, but definitely a guy working on the side of good. Laing made me feel like I was her tormentor.