- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) - Rich Wisen and his 25-year-old daughter, Jackie, have gone through many changes together.

The self-described “private dad” is learning to put himself out there.

His daughter is learning to live with schizophrenia.

And they both are fighting to overcome one of last frontiers of the stigma, that of those with mental health issues, the Beloit Daily News reported (https://bit.ly/1sXjpD3 ).

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Rich isn’t someone you’d expect to be talking about mental illness or holding back tears. He did things like announcing at Beloit Turner football, basketball and wrestling events. Or he’d make his hilarious Frito-Lay truck driving safety videos with his alter ego Tank the Tow Truck Driver. Always first to the dance floor, he admits he was last to talk about anything “private.” He preferred to jot down notes in his well-tended journal.

His Jackie was a gymnast in high school, who he described as “all flip-flops and hand stands.” Not a bit shy, the teenager would talk about her feelings - or most anything else for that matter - sometimes sending her dad straight to the journal.

Jackie, the daughter of Rich and Olga, married her husband, Nick Jacobs, a bit young, but her father said she was happy. She had her first son, Milo, in 2009 and was working in a Montessori school when their predictable family life would be forever altered.

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By February of 2012 Rich’s journal notes took a detour, with “Jackie crashed car, dizzy and passing out, undergoing test,” followed by a note about “Jackie loses baby…” when referring to her miscarriage.

And by the fall of 2012 her dad noticed Jackie had become fearful of things, such as driving over bridges.

“Jacob had quit his job to help his wife?” he asked himself.

Those kids were getting out of Rich’s comfort zone. Privately, he thought it was time “to put the big boy pants on” and lashed out in his notes.

But her father’s approach wasn’t working. Jackie’s fears were multiplying and in September of 2012 Rich wrote in his journal “paranoia sets in, conspiracy, intrusion, being spied on.”

“We didn’t have a clue what was going on,” Rich said.

Although the voices were coming as a surprise to her parents, Jackie was familiar with these demons. Always a bit on the paranoid side, Jackie said she’d cry on the school bus, worrying it might roll over. She’d see a heating vent and think a bloody head would emerge. Then there was the time she felt her body was taken somehow when she got separated from her parents during a family vacation.

Jackie’s husband Nick said he always knew his wife had some unusual thoughts, but chalked it up to a vivid imagination. But a couple years ago he noticed how Jackie was trolling YouTube and the Internet more, researching conspiracy theories and secret societies. Nick figured she was just falling in the same “rabbit hole” many slip down when Internet surfing for too long.

However, to Jackie, her descent was a much darker abyss. She described feeling a new heightened awareness, able to understand a new language that others couldn’t. She described the newly emerging voices as more like brain waves than actual physical sounds, “a technology people don’t understand yet because they aren’t as advanced.”

She believed the voices were telling her that demon aliens were working with the government and the media to brainwash people.

Nick got scared when he couldn’t get in touch with his wife one night after she went to hang out with friends. Jackie had left them to knock on doors, fearing the end of the world was coming. The police were called and Jackie began one of many hospital stays.

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Jackie was eventually placed in the psychiatric unit of St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. Rich still recalls driving away, seeing Jackie bundled up just staring out the hospital window. There would be many more of those drives, although Rich didn’t know it at the time.

By November 2012, Jackie was going back to work, and on new medication. To try to help out the young family, Rich and Olga had the basement of their home refinished so the little family could move in. Rich was torn, struggling between frustration with the cost of the move but then flooded with fear for his daughter.

“… no matter what happens Lord, she’s my girl…I will do what it takes to help her,” Rich wrote in his journal.

But by January of 2013 Jackie had stopped taking her medication. She was back in the hospital undergoing the first of 30 electroconvulsive therapy procedures. She had gained a sense of calm, but she’d lost some of her memories such as anniversaries or people’s names.

“… good since she can’t remember what she’s been through. Bad because every day we talk to her like she has a memory,” Rich wrote.

Back in the hospital in April and June, Rich felt helpless, and a month later - hopeless. Jackie was in a windowless small room with only a cot. Her scrubs had no strings so she couldn’t hurt herself.

Her father said Jackie was rambling about aliens, poison food and water, and was scared the doctors would hurt her. Fearing for her life, he said Jackie tried to make an escape in a food cart.

“Where did God go? She speaks of demons, voices of doom, where are the voices coming from now,” Rich wrote in his journal.

Jackie said she didn’t believe she might have schizophrenia. Although she said staff were supportive, she said she didn’t belong there in the hospital.

With Olga running her at-home daycare and Jacob at work during the days, truck driver Rich became the daytime visitor. Every day he would veer off toward the psychiatric ward. Located next to the maternity ward, Rich said he’d see other parents leaving with their bundles of joy as he was entering, again and again.

Armed with his homemade cookies, he and Jackie played Scrabble and Rummy 500, would pray and look out the window. Jackie felt like she didn’t belong, was reluctant to take her medications which kept changing.

“… she sobbed and sobbed in desperate hopelessness….” Rich wrote.

It was in July of 2013 - there was a name for Jackie’s suffering and it was called schizophrenia.

“… I can barely make the drive home, but at least we have something to call it,” Rich wrote in his journal.

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Because of her escape attempt, doctors put Jackie on a court hold so the court could make her take medication, something which caused her heartbreak. However, once the decisions were made Rich felt some relief. In August 2013 they stopped and picked her up corn on the cob and ate a feast. Perhaps the worst was over.

It was around that time that Jackie made a little joke, flexing her arms and posing when she saw a food cart mocking her escape attempt. Although the nurses didn’t find it so funny, Rich privately wondered if perhaps his Jackie was coming back.

And since October 2013 Jackie has been back home, staying with her husband when he’s off work and with her parents when Nick’s away. Community Service Providers sends someone out to the house daily to ensure Jackie received and took her medication.

At this point, Jackie is tolerating it. She said medication dulls her responses and makes her sleepy. She still dreams of having another baby, something she can’t do on her current medication. But she carries on, seeing her friends, caring for her son and trying to meet the goals she sets with her psychiatrist. Fighting to stay motivated, she goes for runs in the morning and helps out with a family member’s business to try to keep a normal schedule.

On occasion she still hears the voices, and may even hear more of them if she gets her wish of her less medication.

Nick said he can tell when “they” are talking to his wife, who starts zoning out. Jackie said she tries to drown it out with music, or simply saying no.

“I finally accepted I have schizophrenia and it’s not what I thought it was. Whenever they do start to talk to me, I say ‘no, this isn’t real, this is my illness.”

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Jackie says she and her whole family have become much closer after what they’ve been through.

However, Jackie admits she’s still a little uncomfortable talking to her dad about her illness, not wanting to make him worry. Those colorful things the voices tell her seem to rattle Rich a little more than Nick, who jokes his wife thought he was the devil at one time.

“Mental illness is a serious issue, but you don’t have to take it serious,” Nick adds.

Nick, who said he married his wife for better or worse, said her schizophrenia has opened his eyes to the way he views mental illness. He said his wife on schizophrenia medication is no different than a diabetic that needs insulin.

“Instead of why me, we ask what’s next?” Nick said.

For Rich it’s more of a struggle. He worries Jackie is becoming lonely or isolated, or if she might be getting depressed. And he worries about scenarios he doesn’t want to give words to.

“You don’t get over it. You don’t hope it gets better. You live through it and you continue to move through it,” he said.

To express his feelings Rich has turned to the journal again. Using its words and music he created “Schizophrenia. A Dadumentary: My thoughts on her first two years,” which is available on YouTube.

During his journey, Rich has begun to wonder about other people with schizophrenia, who might not have people to support them or have people scared of them. He hopes their families will embrace them.

Rich’s first YouTube video went over so well Rich and Jackie are also talking about making a second one together. He, Jackie and Nick hope the YouTube videos will spread awareness and educate people on an illness people either don’t want to talk about or fear.

“Thirty years ago, nobody wanted to talk about breast cancer, but look at it now,” Rich said.

Jackie said she doesn’t mind telling her story, if it helps someone else. She remains open and accepting of what comes her way, although she said her illness had made her a much stronger person.

Rich is still finding his way back to humor and hope, but is getting closer. Two months ago the family was at a wedding and “DJ Got us Fallin’ in Love” came on.

“She said ‘come on dad let’s go’.”

And Rich was finally back to the dance floor again, with Jackie at his side.

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Information from: Beloit Daily News, https://www.beloitdailynews.com

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