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About Mental Health

San Francisco-based teacher Mark Lukach was married to his wife Giulia for just three years when she had her first psychotic episode at age 27. In the years that followed, he and Giulia and their young son, Jonas, learned how to cope with the terrifying psychosis, the crippling depression, recovery and relapses that came along with Giulia’s late-onset bipolar disorder. In his memoir, “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward” (Harper Wave, May 2), Lukach, 34, chronicles his journey as caregiver, father and husband as he and Giulia, also 34, worked together to manage her illness. Here, Lukach tells The Post’s Lauren Steussy about their life together.

Giulia and Mark Lukach at home in Northern California. David Butow

On the morning of Sept. 7, 2009, I woke up to find Giulia was pacing our bedroom and speaking rapidly about God and the devil. She had spent the past two weeks not eating or sleeping. Her father, Romeo, had flown in when she began showing signs of instability.

“The devil said I’m not worth it,” she told me.

That’s when I realized we needed to get her to the hospital. I grabbed her arms, and Romeo took her ankles, as she screamed and flailed, grabbing onto doorways and doorknobs. I looked up to see Romeo crying, and that’s when I noticed I was, too.

When we got to the hospital that day, the on-call psychiatrist brought no good news.

“Giulia needs to be admitted to the psych ward for treatment,” he said.

She stayed there for 23 days, where she lived in her version of hell and I lived in my own, too.

Eight years ago, I didn’t know what psychosis was, and I didn’t know what delusions were. But our normal life together disappeared with a single word: “schizophrenia.” The diagnosis felt a bit like getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden. My life up to that point was so charmed and privileged. I had this amazing companion whom I loved and adored. And then, that life was gone.

When she came home from the psych ward, nobody anticipated that she would be so depressed and suicidal.

Mark and Giulia Lukach at home with their son Jonas and their dog GooseDavid Butow

“I can never be able to resume living after what I went through in the hospital,” she told me.

When she was discharged, she had been in the psych ward longer than most. They put her in an outpatient program, where the average treatment lasted four to six weeks. But Giulia was in there for nine months. Doctors put her on a heavy dosage of antidepressants and antipsychotics, including Zyprexa, a drug that became our biggest sticking point because of the side effects: acne, weight gain and feeling as though life were moving in slow motion.

By Christmas 2010, even though she was technically better, our relationship was strained. She resented a lot of choices I had made on her behalf, especially my decision to quit her marketing job for her during her psychotic break. Meanwhile, I felt I had sacrificed everything — I took a leave from teaching — to care for her.

So we decided to do an around-the-world trip for four months with the money we had been saving to buy a house. The goal was to try to get better together. On the trip, we did the groundwork of showing each other that we cared, and started a travel blog to keep in touch with family.

The “aha” moment came on our last night, in Dublin, when Giulia wrote in an open letter to me on our blog, “Thank you for being at my side in sickness and in health, through the good times and the bad.”

I was so parched for that kind of affirmation.

When we got home we felt like we could truly get back to our lives. Giulia went back to work, and we ended up getting pregnant. When Jonas was born in May 2012, he became the center of my whole universe in the most positive way.

But when Jonas was 5 months old, Giulia got sick again. His mom was hospitalized for 33 days and then suffered a five-month-long bout of depression. She received a new diagnosis — bipolar disorder — and a new medication regimen, this time lithium.

It was a huge reality check. We had hoped her first episode was a one-and-done. But we were wrong.

It made me question my role as a caregiver — what was I doing that was helping, and what was I doing that was hurting? We needed to come up with a way for the illness to be minimally destructive to her, and our relationship.

Together, we slowly took apart all the decisions we had to make when there was a crisis — what activist Sascha Altman DuBrul calls a “Mad Map.” We decided at what point she goes to the hospital, what to do about her job, what medications she should and shouldn’t take, what we should do about Jonas. All these decisions I had previously had to make by myself. Some of those she resented, and some she was happy with. But by making these decisions together, when she was healthy, we’d be on more equal footing. I stopped trying to dictate the terms of her recovery.

She had her third psychotic break in October 2014. But this time was better, because I let her have a voice. We realized what it was like to be more in control. She spent only 13 days in the hospital, and her depression afterward was better than it had previously been.

I never want this to happen again, but if it does, I’m a lot more optimistic that it’s going to be more manageable.

As Giulia said to me one night in bed after her last episode: “I’m not scared of it anymore.”


“Giulia needs to be admitted to the psych ward for treatment,” he said.

She stayed there for 23 days, where she lived in her version of hell and I lived in my own, too.

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Mark and Giulia Lukach at home with their son Jonas and their dog GooseDavid Butow

Eight years ago, I didn’t know what psychosis was, and I didn’t know what delusions were. But our normal life together disappeared with a single word: “schizophrenia.” The diagnosis felt a bit like getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden. My life up to that point was so charmed and privileged. I had this amazing companion whom I loved and adored. And then, that life was gone.

When she came home from the psych ward, nobody anticipated that she would be so depressed and suicidal.

“I can never be able to resume living after what I went through in the hospital,” she told me.

When she was discharged, she had been in the psych ward longer than most. They put her in an outpatient program, where the average treatment lasted four to six weeks. But Giulia was in there for nine months. Doctors put her on a heavy dosage of antidepressants and antipsychotics, including Zyprexa, a drug that became our biggest sticking point because of the side effects: acne, weight gain and feeling as though life were moving in slow motion.

By Christmas 2010, even though she was technically better, our relationship was strained. She resented a lot of choices I had made on her behalf, especially my decision to quit her marketing job for her during her psychotic break. Meanwhile, I felt I had sacrificed everything — I took a leave from teaching — to care for her.

She resented a lot of choices I had made on her behalf … Meanwhile, I felt I had sacrificed everything — I took a leave from teaching — to care for her.

So we decided to do an around-the-world trip for four months with the money we had been saving to buy a house. The goal was to try to get better together. On the trip, we did the groundwork of showing each other that we cared, and started a travel blog to keep in touch with family.

The “aha” moment came on our last night, in Dublin, when Giulia wrote in an open letter to me on our blog, “Thank you for being at my side in sickness and in health, through the good times and the bad.”

I was so parched for that kind of affirmation.

When we got home we felt like we could truly get back to our lives. Giulia went back to work, and we ended up getting pregnant. When Jonas was born in May 2012, he became the center of my whole universe in the most positive way.

But when Jonas was 5 months old, Giulia got sick again. His mom was hospitalized for 33 days and then suffered a five-month-long bout of depression. She received a new diagnosis — bipolar disorder — and a new medication regimen, this time lithium.

It was a huge reality check. We had hoped her first episode was a one-and-done. But we were wrong.

It made me question my role as a caregiver — what was I doing that was helping, and what was I doing that was hurting? We needed to come up with a way for the illness to be minimally destructive to her, and our relationship.

We had hoped her first episode was a one-and-done. But we were wrong.

Together, we slowly took apart all the decisions we had to make when there was a crisis — what activist Sascha Altman DuBrul calls a “Mad Map.” We decided at what point she goes to the hospital, what to do about her job, what medications she should and shouldn’t take, what we should do about Jonas. All these decisions I had previously had to make by myself. Some of those she resented, and some she was happy with. But by making these decisions together, when she was healthy, we’d be on more equal footing. I stopped trying to dictate the terms of her recovery.

She had her third psychotic break in October 2014. But this time was better, because I let her have a voice. We realized what it was like to be more in control. She spent only 13 days in the hospital, and her depression afterward was better than it had previously been.

I never want this to happen again, but if it does, I’m a lot more optimistic that it’s going to be more manageable.

As Giulia said to me one night in bed after her last episode: “I’m not scared of it anymore.”

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