Sunday September 24, 2017

In sickness and in (mental) health

Mark and Giulia

Mark and Giulia (Mark Lukach)

Listen 12:23

Mark and Giulia Lukach met when they were 18 years old.

They fell quickly in love after they met during the first few days of college.  A few years later, they got engaged and then moved to California.

"We established what felt like this really charming, fairytale life out there," says Mark.

But it didn't last forever.

Mark and Giulia

Mark and Giulia on their wedding day. (Courtesy of Mark Lukach)

They had been in California for almost three years when Giulia suddenly got sick. It started as a moment of hesitation in her new workplace and quickly turned into Giulia having a hard time sleeping and ultimately having delusions.

Doctors said she had acute psychosis, but were unable to give her a succinct diagnosis. They put her in the psychiatric ward at the hospital for 23 days.

When Giulia returned home, she was both depressed and suicidal, suddenly leaving Mark in a new caregiving situation. Mark describes these nine months as being full of constant heartbreak, worry, and loneliness.

"There was just so much sadness, you know. It's just so hard to hear the person you love say over and over and over again that they want to die." - Mark Lukach

Eventually, Giulia's doctors found the right combination of medication for her. 

"It was kind of remarkable," he says, "When they found the pills that worked for her, she was back like within a week. Like she went from a depression that felt like it was never going to go away to a sense of normal buoyancy like she had never been depressed before."

Together, and with their doctor's permission, they decided to have a son, named Jonas.

Giulia loved being pregnant and being a new mother. She even returned to work, but shortly after ended up back to the hospital.

Family Photo Mark

Mark and Giulia with their son Jonas and their late bulldog Goose (Alex Souza)

This time around, Giulia was given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. 

Mark was ready to take on the caregiver role again, because he felt like he had been in this situation before. But this episode was different. This time around he was not only a husband, but also a father.

And in the haze of caring for both his wife and his son, he promptly forgot to take care of himself.

So, with all of the heartache and loneliness, did Mark ever think about leaving?

"By the time this happened I couldn't envision life without Giulia. I mean we had become adults together. I saw her as the family that I chose. And I sort of, from my upbringing held the value that you don't give up on family. Family was forever. And Giulia was forever for me."

Mark says this has meant restructuring what they thought their life would be.

He says he has drawn inspiration from their bulldog Goose, who they have driven across the country with.

"He didn't know where he was going. He didn't know what the deal was. But he basically just had this acceptance of 'You know what I'm with the family that I want to be with so I don't really care where I am.'"