After only a few weeks in her [dream job], Giulia’s anxiety level rose beyond anything I’d ever seen. She’d always been a bit high-strung, holding herself to impeccable standards. Now, at age 27, she was petrified, actually frozen…Her mind lost room for anything but worries.
She saw a therapist, then a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills, which we both naively thought was a huge overreaction. She wasn’t that bad off, right? Giulia chose not to take the pills.
The next morning I woke to find Giulia sitting on the bed, calmly but incoherently talking about the conversations she had overnight with God, and the panic set in. Giulia’s parents were already on a plane to California from Tuscany. I phoned the psychiatrist, who said, again, to take the medication. By now I thought that was a great idea—this crisis was clearly way beyond my depth. But still, Giulia refused the meds. The next morning, when I woke, I found her pacing around our bedroom, relating her animated chats with the devil. That was enough. With Giulia’s parents, who by then were in town, I drove her to the Kaiser Permanente emergency room. Kaiser didn’t have an inpatient psychiatric unit, so they sent us to Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, in downtown San Francisco, where Giulia was admitted. We all thought her stay in the psych ward would be brief. Giulia would get a little pharmaceutical help; her brain would clear up within days, maybe hours. She’d be back on track to her director-of-marketing goal and her three kids before age 35.
That fantasy shattered in the waiting room.
Giulia was not going home today or tomorrow. Looking through the glass window into Giulia’s new, horrifying home, I asked myself, What the hell have I done? The place was full of potentially dangerous people who would rip apart my beautiful wife. Besides, she wasn’t really crazy. She just hadn’t slept. She was stressed. Probably anxious about work. Nervous about the prospect of becoming a parent. Not mentally ill.
Yet my wife was ill. Acutely psychotic, as the doctors put it. She existed in an almost constant state of delusion, consumed by paranoia that would not fade. For the next three weeks I visited Giulia every night during visiting hours, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. She ranted unintelligible babble about heaven, hell, angels, and the devil.