by Harold Cramer
Not too long before the horror started, my wife Kelly gave me a card
with this handwritten note inside...
Dear Harold, I know you think I have forgotten many, many things But
one thing I have not forgotten is that look my memory brings Of you
on our wedding day, as I walked up the aisle... Your look of everlasting
love, my look of no denial. And so we come these many years to a new
beginning, For I love you still and may you hear these words forever
Love always, Kelly
Looking back, I can only think that was a good bye. Perhaps it was a
final act before she completely lost hold of her mind. I can't be sure,
of course. I'm no longer too sure of very much, except my love for my
kids and their's for me.
Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the hell on earth that
my family has lived through these past three years. The woman I had known
and loved for twenty five years is no longer. Kelly had always been a
positive, caring person, protective of our three children and totally
committed to me. She used to thank me for working so hard, and she loved
to dance, read, travel, play tennis, soccer, do aerobics, go shopping,
attend concerts and plays, and even help me in my hardware store, where
she showed a special talent for designing and set up a very active arts
and crafts department.
Ask her and Kelly would modestly say she was a simple person, although
she enjoyed the luxuries of life with which we were blessed. Her aunt
summed it up best, "Kelly has a gift; she radiates happiness."
And she did. She always had a sparkle in her eye, and was affectionate
and caring. She still held my arm when we went out and, after all these
years, she sat snuggled close to me in the front seat of the car always
so warm and tender.
I've been told by several attorneys that, under the current law, people
have a right to be delusional if they want to be, so long as they do not
pose a present danger to themselves or others.
I speak of her in the past tense because this once loving person has undergone
a complete personality change. The Kelly I thought I knew so well is totally
gone. I don't even recognize the cynical, angry individual that now occupies
her space. I've never believed in a person being "possessed",
but I think I understand now why some people do.
For me the first realization that something awful was happening came
shortly after Kelly gave me that love note. I ran into her, one afternoon,
out delivering letters to three people whom she said she "trusted".
These were all people who believed anything out of the ordinary was possible.
She seemed deeply engrossed as she matter of factly stated that the letters
she clutched contained conclusive proof that Kelly's mother was not who
she appeared to be, but was really a witch part of an underground network
of witches and warlocks who were out to destroy our family.
Later, at home, in a strange frenzy, Kelly discarded all the blue and
black items in the house, clothing, bedding, pictures, my suits and ties...
convinced she said that they were associated with evil. In a flash she
broke thousands of dollars of china and other gifts we had received over
the years, and took many of the children's stuffed animals, plucked out
their eyes, cut off their heads, tore the material apart, and threw it
into the garbage. An hour later she seemed calm and normal, but detached
from us and all she had done.
From that day on the children locked their bedroom doors, day and night.
I confronted her and she denied everything, or simply ignored me. But
each day she was becoming more physically abusive, yelling at the children,
excessively spanking, throwing forks and knives and dumping garbage baskets
over their heads when they did not immediately obey demands they swear
she never made.
Meals became an exercise in questions and answers. She began lying about
what she was doing during the day, and where she was going. The children
had learned she had been spending a great deal of time sitting in her
car under electrical power lines near a market by our home where she believed
she received premonitions and thoughts as to what to do next in her life.
The next thing I knew, Kelly bought a thousand dollars worth of books
on subjects ranging from women's liberation views to mythology. She tore
pages out of the family Bible, declared she would abandoned her traditional
Catholic convictions, that there was no God, and that all priests were
I sought out the counsel of friends, family and clergy. Made dozens of
doctors appointments she refused to keep. Finally got her to a psychiatrist,
whose advice and medications she rejected. It felt like being torn apart
by a whirlwind.
She spent more and more of her days scribbling morbid words and phrases;
trying to draw meaning from license plate numbers; predicting world disasters;
endless hours alone in her room listening to the same loud music tapes
over and over; and then there were the temper tantrums. She voiced her
belief to us that people were watching her and attempting to control her
thoughts and actions but she was mentally stronger than they were and
knew the secret of keeping then from penetrating her mind. Among her many
premonitions was one that her brother would die in an airplane accident
and his spirit would fly to Damascus to kill Saddam Hussain. She said
that her mother would be shot into orbit and that evil spirits were possessing
her two aunts and her sister. She spoke constantly of Thomas Jefferson,
saying that in her past life she was married to him.
She went to her parent's home, shook, pushed and generally terrified
her mother, rummaging through her draws and demanding the return of any
gifts that Kelly had ever given her. She frequently went to her brothers,
told them she was afraid of me, and that she worried that I wanted her
in an institution. Weeks of this bizarre behavior virtually made that
into a selffulfilling prophesy. I had tried everything I knew to do, but
she refused doctors and their advice. Maybe some long term hospitalization
held out hope. I honestly no longer knew what would be best and got no
clear advice from any source.Besides, she wouldn't listen and she told
me, in a calm, rational sounding voice, that she merely wanted me out
of her life completely. I was the problem.
Finally, in January of 1991, I went to see a psychiatrist, thinking,
perhaps, that it was me not Kelly whose mind was going. He told me Kelly's
symptoms sounded like manic depression with schizo affective tendencies;
the inflated self esteem, decreased need for sleep, rapid and increased
talking with racing thoughts, distractability, and laughing one moment
crying the next all of it pointed to a bipolar mood disorder. But, of
course, he'd need to see her and predictably Kelly refused, telling me
she believed that she had just over dosed on vitamins.
At last Kelly agreed to being treated, but only by a woman doctor. This
was reflective of her newfound hatred for all men, which she emphatically
professed. The new doctor treated her with lithium, and we waited... but
Kelly did not show much improvement. I later learned that she often skipped
medication, although she pretended she didn't. She hated the side effects
, the weight gain and tiredness. But the fact is, she truly did not believe
she was ill. Meanwhile, our family life became more and more disastrous.
Unfortunately, Kelly's female doctor agreed with Kelly's changing attitudes,
particularly her radical feminist and man hating views. According to the
doctor there was nothing wrong with Kelly reading all her radical books,
even though they obviously fed her agitation and perpetuated her changed
feelings toward her family. "Do not necessarily attribute Kelly's
lack of feelings toward her family to the illness", said the psychiatrist,
who went on at some length about our "dysfunctional family"
a family incidentally that she did not know, except through Kelly's reports,
and with whom she showed no desire to ever meet.
There have now been dozens of doctors and hospitalizations, an abundance
of contradictory advice, and enough medications to drug the world. I've
thrown in my wallet and mortgaged my soul. This illness wreaks havoc on
the entire family, regardless of how hard you try.
Kelly has divorced me and shows me nothing but hatred and contempt. She
rarely sees our children, by her choice. She no longer takes any interest
in their lives, forgets their birthdays and, what is worse, shows them
absolutely no love or affection whatsoever when she is with them. It has
been seven months since she has laid eyes on any of them. That was when
she said to our youngest daughter, "You should view me as your step
mother." And our little girl cried, totally confused and heartbroken.
I've been told by several attorneys that, under the current law, people
a right to be delusional if they want to be, so long as they do not pose
a present danger to themselves or others. But how does a delusional person
make that choice, if they don't realize they are delusional? How much
free choice can a person have who suffers from this illness? How many
of her current choices are a product of the illness and how many reflect
her true free will? Yet, she and her family are living daily with the
consequences of those choices. Hit by this reality, all of our lives are
Unfortunately, when they do see her, old friends, who know about Kelly
and her illness and her on again off again flirtations with medication,
don't try to help her by challenging her new, angry points of view. Then,
again, maybe challenging isn't the answer. Maybe that just gets her to
defend her position more tenaciously. She appears rational at times, they
tell me. Yes, I explain, people who suffer from bipolar disorder with
a schizoaffective component are not delusional all of the time. I don't
know, explaining what I've learned hasn't helped. From this vantage point
it seems that most people are content to live comic book existences and
I'm in a Greek tragedy. The chorus chants, "Forget her. Save your
children and yourself." Is that what I'm to do?
Kelly now lives in a small apartment with few furnishings. Every once
in awhile she's committed, against her will, to a county or state hospital.
Others do that. I'm out of it... except in an occasional nightmare. Her
life consists of attending a couple of university classes, doing some
tutoring, and seeing some of her new friends. She has severed ties with
most of her past. She functions "acceptably" according to the
law. She has even fooled mental health professionals by the barrel full.
I was recently told by a well meaning doctor, who had little knowledge
of Kelly prior to her illness, that "...people do just change sometimes".
After all our experiences, what do you say to an empty water glass in
the middle of the parched Sahara?
(This article was first pubished in 1995, in The Journal of NAMI California)
HAROLD CRAMER lives the life of a single parent in a midwestern state,
where his eldest daughter, Tina, a high school junior, comes in to work
with him in his hardware store after school.