This schizophrenic couple is fighting loneliness and trying hard not to lose relationships
When I requested them to pose for a photograph, both broke into shy smiles. Attired in bright contrasting colours, the duo made a perfect picture. But both – S.Maheshwaran, 41, and his wife M.Pandiammal, 36, -- are patients of schizophrenia. The former for 10 months, the latter for over a decade.
In an average poor Indian household with two teenaged children, when parents sink into depression and recoil, it is bound to collapse. But Padmavati, 12, and Karthikeya, 11, realize and understand why their parents’ are losing focus. Their story is all about trying to cope. Both are hostellers who visit their paternal grandparent’s house annually during vacations and meet their mother then.
It is kind of a scattered family with battered emotions and fatigued relations. Yet, each is trying to fight it out. It all started in 1996 when within six months of marriage, Maheshwaran detected symptoms of withdrawal and isolation in his newly wedded bride. “She also turned rigid and quarrelsome sometimes and hardly showed any interest in day-to-day household activities, cooked or cared for children,” Maheshwaran drifts into the past.
Despite inter-personal conflict between husband and wife, he treated her normally and did everything to keep her going, happy and tough. But when symptoms refused to fade, he brought her to M.S.Chellamuthu Trust, Madurai, in 2000. The next 10 years was a journey of denial and acceptance, bitter battles and struggling existence for the introvert Pandiammal both with the disease and her family.
Her ‘sick role behaviour” was often misconstrued by her family as avoiding work even as she struggled to bring herself to do what she just couldn’t do. After a year’s intense medical intervention, she spent four years in the Trust’s rehabilitation centre to regain some control over herself. To help her become independent, the Trust placed her in a textiles shop but there too she lacked concentration and was accused of absenteeism.
She was next sent to Vriksha rehabilitation centre where she started helping in kitchen work. Slowly as she started showing signs of improvement and recovery, she was placed in a garment company to take care of office work. It is here that she has started blossoming for the past one year.
After several dejections, she is now proud of being independent. Her salary of Rs.1,600 per month is saved and invested carefully for her children.” I want them to study and do well in life,” she speaks like any other mother. But just when the Trust was preparing her to integrate with her family, destiny struck yet another blow. Her husband, Maheshwaran, started losing sleep, forgetting things, absenting from his job, and slipping into bouts of depression. Given his mental condition, four months ago he even lost his job.
And quite ironically is now undergoing same treatment at same place as his wife. Though diagnosed as a borderline case and having dealt with his wife’s ailment, Maheshwaran is perhaps in a position to handle himself better. And he tries to do so with much care. Unfortunately, his speech and vocabulary are slowly getting affected, but his feelings for his wife and family remain intact.
He is the one who takes them for an outing or buys them new clothes during festival. “The last film we saw together in a theatre was Chandramukhi,” shares Maheshwaran even though Pandiammal sits still refusing to display any emotion. Her daughter’s future is her main worry now. “Whatever we dream, nothing happens,” she sounds pessimistic but wants to give her children the best.
Maheshwaran dreams of owning a house and living together again. “We have forgotten to laugh and smile. We need more interaction and communication among ourselves” – his answer surprises even the Trust official because when the problem is so well identified and understood by the patient himself, more than half the battle is won.
Theirs is not the happy ending story yet. Pandiammal has come out of her disease clinically and is striving to be independent while her husband is becoming more restless and tempered. He wants her to be proactive and spend more time with the children taking care of them. She describes him as a good man who never gets angry but provides her everything she wants.
What is important is, deep down, there is a silent bonding between the two. Unsaid words are understood better and actions are taken voluntarily to make the other comfortable. There is very little communication between the two given their respective medical condition, yet both unite strongly on common matters.
Their story and life is certainly not to be pitied or sympathized with. But, understood in the context that when everything goes against you, how you need to hold on for the sake of the other. Only then can you make a difference to yourselves and those around you.