Jared Lee Loughner’s Parents: Why Didn’t They Know?

January 13, 2011

In the wake of last weekend’s tragic shooting in Arizona, many people are speculating that the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, is mentally ill—most likely schizophrenic—based on reports of his antisocial and paranoid behavior.

Many people are also asking why his parents didn’t intervene and get him help for his mental problems, as evidenced by this comment from a recent MSNBC article titled “Ariz. Suspect’s Parents: ‘We Don’t Know Why This Happened’”:

The parents had to have known they had a disturbed man living with them, and it was their responsibility to get him to a doctor who would put him on medicine or hospitalize him. Even if he failed to voluntarily commit himself for treatment, he could have been involuntarily treated. The reports of his behaviors in school and by classmates, “friends” and observers are concrete and undeniable as to the severity of his mental problems! And it’s clear these problems had been going on for some time. The parents were apparently the only ones who failed to see them—it’s called denial. They should feel awful and very, very guilty for responding so irresponsibly to their son’s illness and indications he was a danger to others.

I really don’t know much about the Loughners’ situation, and given that John was never violent, I can’t imagine what they’re feeling right now, but here’s what I can tell you: When John became psychotic, I was the last to know.

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Being the Weak One

December 12, 2010

Last Sunday night at 11:00 pm, I woke up with a bad stomachache. I’d been having minor stomach pains at night for a few days prior to Sunday, but I wrote them off as some kind of normal, pregnancy-related thing.

Anyway, I got up that night and sat on the living room couch for an hour or so, to see if being upright would help the pain go away. It didn’t, so I woke up John around midnight and told him what was going on.

He phoned the on-call OB, who told us to go to the hospital to have everything checked out “just in case.” Before we left, I threw up.

On the labor and delivery floor, I got hooked up to two monitors: one to measure the baby’s heartbeat, and one to see if I was having contractions. Everything looked normal, and the nurse suggested it was probably just a case of food poisoning. Before she took us down the ER, I vomited again.

As soon as we got into the ER, they slapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. My blood pressure was 70/35, and all of a sudden, there was a whirlwind of activity around us. People hoisting me onto a gurney, drawing blood, inserting an IV drip into the crook of my elbow. I threw up again, and then again.

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Surviving Trauma in Your Marriage

December 6, 2010

Seeing your spouse suffer is a terrible thing. You want to make things better. You want to take away the hurt.

So much of the time, though, you can’t. Or at least not fast enough, and not to the degree you’d like.

A recent post on Marriage Gems references the book HEALING TOGETHER: A COUPLE’S GUIDE TO COPING WITH TRAUMA AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS. Marriage Gems quotes the authors of the book as saying, “Trauma puts up a wall that for a time locks a couple out of their familiar world and leaves them frozen in the traumatic event. Suddenly there is no past, and the future feels impossible.”

God, can I relate.

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What Not to Do When Someone You Love Is Psychotic

November 29, 2010

There have been a couple of disturbing news reports lately about terrible crimes committed by people in psychotic states, including the actor Michael Brea’s savage murder of his mother and a Seattle killing that took place in front of school children.

Although it’s been proven that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it, these reports underscore the fact that untreated psychosis can lead to tragedy.

It’s imperative, then, that you do everything you can to get your loved one the help he or she needs.

When John became psychotic due to a manic episode that escalated into psychosis, I learned a few hard lessons about what not to do when you’re trying to help a loved one beat this frightening illness.

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The Impact of Mental Illness on Marriage in “The Madonnas of Leningrad”

November 17, 2010

When I picked up THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD last week, I wasn’t expecting to read a novel about mental illness. I was expecting to read about life in Russia during WWII. I got both.

Gorgeously written, the novel shifts back and forth between the present day in America and wartime in Leningrad. But these shifts aren’t merely the author’s way of telling the story; they mirror how life is experienced by Marina Buriakov, the elderly protagonist whose Alzheimer’s disease relentlessly pulls her from the present into the past.

It seems odd to me, but I rarely hear Alzheimer’s discussed as a mental illness. Because it’s a disease that tends to strike people as they get older, there seems to be less stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s, more acceptance of it as a neurological disease than conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. (Or maybe it’s just that, in our culture, we expect older people to break down, and we don’t pay that much attention.)

But take a look at the Alzheimer’s Association’s description of the symptoms of the disease and you’ll see how closely it parallels the symptoms of psychosis:

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information because Alzheimer changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

Living in the past means living in another reality. That alternate reality might not be as shocking to others as an invented reality based on hallucinations and delusions—there is, after all, some basis in fact for Alzheimer’s-induced visions—but it separates people from their loved ones nonetheless.

For the spouse of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, life becomes a lonely road.

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Future Tripping about the Baby, Birth, and Bipolar

November 11, 2010

For eleven years now, I’ve recognized the benefits of taking things one day at a time, not dwelling on the past or getting lost in dreams/nightmares about the future. This was a particularly helpful practice when John was in the hospital, “floridly psychotic,”* but before anyone could give us any indication of the cause.

At that time in my life, I had to be exceedingly mindful of staying in the present, because it was easy—it was ridiculously easy—to let my thoughts wander back to the two days leading up to his hospitalization and berate myself for not catching the fact that something was amiss sooner. He’d been saying strange things all weekend, but I’d just chalked it up to stress.

It was also easy to get caught up in worry about what might be coming down the pike. Would the medications work? Would he get better? Would he be paranoid and delusional for the rest of his life?

One morning, maybe the second or third morning he was in the hospital, I got out of the shower and started to sob in the bathroom. There was a strong possibility my husband had schizophrenia, and I was terrified.

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Top Three Reasons You Should Be Involved in Your Spouse’s Psychiatric Care

October 26, 2010

I never accompany my husband to dentist appointments or routine physicals, but I go to every appointment he has with his psychiatrist.

This wasn’t always the case. When he first came out of the hospital after his initial breakdown, he asked me not to come into the psychiatrist’s office with him. My presence would make him nervous, he said. It would make it difficult for him to be open and honest with the doctor about what was going on.

With some misgivings, I agreed to let him field the appointment by himself. The doctors from the hospital had been terrible about communicating with me, but I assumed that his private psychiatrist would have a better bedside manner toward me, John’s wife.

I was wrong. Although I asked to visit with Dr. Black for a few minutes after John had seen her, she told us that she didn’t have time. When I called her in between John’s appointments to let her know that his psychotic symptoms were resurfacing, she never called me back. She also had the nerve, when I finally did speak with her during my husband’s next appointment, to tell John (and me) that I was part of the problem, and that he needed to set boundaries around his interactions with me.

Her refusal to give my opinion any weight led to misdiagnosis of John’s illness (she thought he had anxiety and depression, when in reality he was suffering from a manic episode with psychotic features), and a second stint in the hospital for him.

Although HIPAA privacy laws can sometimes make it difficult to get involved in a loved one’s psychiatric care, there are three reasons I believe you should always fight to be an active member of your spouse’s mental healthcare team.

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