Christmas Hope: A Couple's Battle with Mental Illness
- Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Although this is a true story, the names have been changed. David, Lori's husband, served with distinction as a captain in the Air Force. They were stationed in St. Louis, Missouri, but David had traveled to Oklahoma for three months of training. When his commanding officer came to the door that September day of 1973, dressed in an official black suit and accompanied by another officer, Lori knew something was desperately wrong and feared the worst. Had there been a crash during testing?
Never in her wildest dreams did she expect to hear that her husband had been jailed after he was found aimlessly wandering around and acting strangely. When the police discovered his identity, they called his commanding officer. Later, David was transferred to Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas for psychological/psychiatric evaluation.
After the officers left, Lori immediately called her mom and sister as she quickly packed her suitcase. They all agreed to rendezvous at the airport to pick up Lori and David's two small children before Lori boarded a flight to Texas.
When Lori saw David for the first time at the hospital in Sheppard Air Force Base, he was heavily sedated and mumbling. He was also locked in a padded room with no furniture. There was only a mattress on the floor. It was a dramatic change from the confident and highly respected husband she had married six years earlier.
Lori couldn't believe the doctors' diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. David had never shown any signs of mental problems and had always been the model of responsibility and stability. It was an overnight "extreme makeover" of the worst imaginable kind.
At the hospital, voices inaudible to anyone else taunted David. He reported hearing messages. He'd imagine hearing a partial sentence and build a reality that took him down a treacherous dark path. He didn't even know what was real anymore. Within a few hours, he went from a top leader of military recruiters to someone with shattered confidence. It was almost like he was starring in a bizarre episode of The Twilight Zone.
Mystified, Lori asked the doctors what had triggered his psychological problems. Although David had battled a bad case of bronchitis for three weeks, he never experienced any warning signs of any mental irregularities. One moment he was fine. Then he took a break from studying to have a beer with some friends. After leaving the party at his friend's apartment, it was as if his mind just snapped. Suddenly, he felt like he had "super powers" and started hearing tormenting voices in his mind.
David's abrupt personality change stumped the doctors. The only possible explanation they could offer Lori was that David's medication for his bronchitis, mixed with alcohol, somehow triggered his psychotic episodes.
Lori stayed with her husband for a week but had to fly home when her dad underwent emergency lung surgery. It was as if her whole life had collapsed in a few weeks. The doctors didn't give David's prognosis much hope, and warned Lori that her husband would probably never be able to hold a job again. During many sleepless nights, she worried how she would be able to provide for her family. How would this affect their children's future? She felt as if she were in a deep, dark pit with no escape.
Both Lori and David had grown up in the church. But after their wedding, in the busyness of everyday life, they had drifted away from their faith. Neither of them had been taught how to have a personal relationship with God or how to study the Bible. The desperation of this crisis sparked both of them to reexamine their faith once again.
As he slowly walked into the hospital chapel, David picked up a tract by Norman Vincent Peale called "Quit Worrying." Under the effects of the medication, his attention span was miniscule. But the tract was written in a narrative fashion that he could comprehend. Reading it over and over helped him discern the unreal. He realized that his bizarre ideas had been dominated by a break from reality. The Air Force chaplain reached out to David. Meanwhile, back home, Lori's mom's pastor was ministering to her fears of an unknown future. He encouraged her with God's promises in the Bible.
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