Making a difference: From Fear to Hope

Muthukumari can neither abandon her schizophrenic husband nor can she say goodbye to her children's dreams. This is the story about her struggle with mental illness in the family and her will power to overcome it.

June 03, 2015 07:28 pm | Updated 07:28 pm IST - MADURAI:

Murugan with his daughter Yuvarani and wife Muthukumari. Photo: Soma Basu

Murugan with his daughter Yuvarani and wife Muthukumari. Photo: Soma Basu

Twelve years old Yuvarani is not sure whether she wants her father back home. The only thing she recalls about him is -- "Appa always beats us". With trepidation she waits for him every Sunday now when Murugan comes visiting from the State-owned Home for the Mentally Challenged run by the M.S.Chellamuthu Trust & Research Foundation(MSCT&RF) at Aruldosspuram.

"If he does not trouble Amma and shout at me or my brother, it is okay," says the young girl who dreams of becoming a doctor. I know it is not easy, she says, but I have always seen my mother struggle to educate us and I want to achieve something for her.

Hers is a typical family affected by the disorder. Recovery from schizophrenia is a lifelong process and family therapy is a crucial aspect of the treatment process, says Manikandan, the coordinator with MSC Trust. For the past 12 months he has been working on the family, developing their coping skills, sensitising them and helping them to learn some problem solving skills.

Till two months ago, Murugan's wife Muthukumari showed no reaction because she doubted the institution was trying to dump him on her again. And she has every reason to be fearful. When she was married off to Murugan in 1995, his family hid the fact that he was suffering from schizophrenia. But it did not take her long to find out about her husband's behavioural problem. "There was a sense of loss," she says.

The next two decades triggered off a permanent grieving process in the family given Murugan's waywardness. He spent much time living on the streets and wandering. When he came home he would often get angry and scream. On some days he would be restless having auditory hallucinations. On other days he would not engage in any activities and conversations with others, sit idle and fail to take care of personal hygiene or he would be constantly talking to himself.

Muthukumari admits that there were days when she gave up on him as it was difficult to convince him and take him to the doctor. Despite his unpredictable outbreaks, she maintained a calm environment at home for the sake of her children and also took up the job of a helper in a local hotel to feed her family. Even though it was beyond my stamina, sometimes as a mother I did not mind working from early morning till late night, she says. But the real hero in her family is her son Vijay Kumar, she adds with pride. At the age of ten, Vijay took to distributing the morning newspapers and after school would help in a medical shop for four hours in the evening. With his savings he has always funded his studies and is now studying in a Polytechnic College.

Both Vijay and Yuvarani always found it difficult to accept their father's behaviour. But silently they supported their mother's struggle without creating fuss over anything. If Vijay ensured additional income for the family, his sister remained focussed on studies because she dreams of a decent life not only for herself but for her family.

When Murugan disappeared in 2012, the family was not sure whether they should feel relieved, sad or be worked up searching for him. Murugan was picked up by the staff of Institute of Mental Health, Kilpauk, when he was found loitering around in Sellur. It took him months to recollect the names of his family members and that he belonged to Madurai. When he was sent to the Aruldosspuram Home 18 months later, the MSC Trust team worked with him to instill hope and a renewed sense of wellness in him.

People with psychological disorders have a history of life experiences that contributes to the person they become, says K.S.P.Janardhan Babu, Project Director of MSCT&RF. Their stress and diagnosis represent only a small part of who they are and it is always our effort to use a variety of modalities and integrate them back into the family and community, he adds.

When after medication, therapy and counselling Murugan showed an inclination to reunite with his family, the team found hope. All through his treatment Muthukumari made weekly visits to the Home giving him the assurance of being cared for.

"I will start saving for my daughter's marriage," says Murugan without a blink now that he has got a job in a popular eatery in the city. Perhaps he understands what a long journey it has been, full of stumbles and mistakes. His children are, however, not interested in his money. They only want to know whether schizophrenia will ever go away completely. They have never experienced a loving father but now it is their turn to give him the best possible care and affection.

This was to be my fate, says Muthukumari, but I did not stop hoping for better days. Good that she still has not, despite her poverty, the stigma and all other odds. People like her with help and guidance from experts can help to turn a new chapter in the rehabilitation process of people with schizophrenia. Irrespective of her past experiences, she is willing to accept Murugan and is far more convinced than before that schizophrenia will not take her husband completely now. "I have understood that it is treatable and with everybody's effort now we can hopefully stop the disease's advance across his mind," she says.

This surely is a beginning.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to tell her about someone you know who is making a difference)

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