Meeting Nancy was a lucky circumstance. At the time, I was just beginning to stabilize on an antipsychotic medication I had recently started taking, aripiprazole, and able to start enjoying the company of new women again. The year before, journalist Julian Guthrie had published an article about me and my family in the San Francisco Chronicle. If you're reading, Julian, I want to thank you, for you helped clear a path.
When we met, Nancy had read the article, and already knew I had schizophrenia. But she had only formed one preconception about me: She assumed I didn't drive. Otherwise, her mind was open and after we had met a few times for hikes, we both knew we liked each other.
Now, almost four years later -- the best years of my life so far -- she still accepts and loves me for who I am. Getting to know and love this extraordinary, compassionate woman has meant the world to me. We often talk about the day-to-day issues I face and she helps me just by understanding and accepting. Not to mention she makes me laugh. When we have problems, we open them up and work them out.
If I first learned the values of communication and compassion through years of psychotherapy, living with my wife confirms them every day. We're good for one another.
When I told her today that I had finally realized that I would probably always have some issues because of my illness (barring a medical breakthrough), she said simply, "Of course, isn't that obvious? I mean, it doesn't go away."
In that way, she saw what I had not been willing to admit. Now, I smile and know that she's right.
The disease can be hard for all of us, but we also can love and appreciate life and the people in our lives. I know four other people with schizophrenia, one of whom I e-mail regularly, Ebony. In spite of the pain and anxiety she sometimes feels, she loves to travel, studies a wide range of subjects and loves her family and her two little dogs to pieces. I hope that someday she'll find someone to share her life with, too.
We who live with brain disease are people like you. I work for a cause I believe in, value my family and love my wife above all else. And people mean a lot to me. These are good things and I am, to be honest, proud of them. I don't think I'd be at this happy place now without having had, and learned from, my experience with schizophrenia.
For more info on my and my family's story, please see http://www.imhro.org/history.html.