Robin's Shocking Revelation: A Guest Blog by John Gibble

Robin Cunningham Health Guide
  • This is the last in a series of blogs about how others responded when they first learned that I have schizophrenia.  Quite naturally, these blogs were all written from my perspective as a consumer. However, I thought it would be interesting to turn the tables.  So I asked John Gibble, my close friend and business partner, to describe his reaction, from his own perspective, when I first told him that I have schizophrenia.

    A Friendly Conversation

    “What did you just say?” I asked, not certain that I wanted the statement repeated.
    Robin sat next to me as I guided my red Voyager toward a local restaurant for another one of our working breakfasts.
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    “In addition to my many other ailments, all of which you know about, I have had schizophrenia for over forty years.”
    “You never could deliver a comedic line and besides we have a lot of work to focus on today,” I countered, my voice taking on a slightly defensive tone.
    “I’m not kidding. I appear normal to you and others thanks to a little pink pill I’ve been taking for the last thirty-four years. If it weren’t for that medication, I would most likely be one of the countless lost souls calling the street his home.”
    I stared at Robin, as if for the first time, taking my eyes off the road.
    “John! Slow down!”
    I slammed on my brakes barely avoiding the car in front of me.

    With heart racing and palms sweating, I followed this near calamity with indignation. 
    “We have known each other for over four years, and you are just now getting around to telling me.” The words that my wife and I had constantly preached to our children, “This is not about you!” had not yet penetrated my consciousness.
    “Well,” Robin continued, “The only reason I’m telling you now is because I’m writing a memoir about my experiences and I wanted to ask you for feedback.” 
    “Well, still….I…..I…..”
    I pretended that my total attention was needed to negotiate the final turn into our favorite morning eatery.
    “It’s just that…..why……?”
    My warm face suggested that embarrassment was taking the place of indignation. I decided to keep my mouth shut.
    Predictably, our entire breakfast conversation centered on schizophrenia. The usual scoffing down of eggs, bacon, home fries and several cups of coffee gave way to more decorous consumption as our conversation progressed.
    “I was thirteen years old, riding in the back seat of the family Packard when Satan first assaulted me.” Robin continued. Although I was keeping my self-imposed promise not to talk, my mouth was still wide open.
    “We were returning from a weekend trip to see my brother at his college. It had been a great couple of days and I was sitting comfortably, daydreaming of my own college days even though I was only in the eighth grade.”
    “How do you mean, Satan assaulted you?”
    “What were his exact words? Did he command you to do something?”
    “No, it was more like the planting of his thoughts into my mind, as if they were my own.  This is called thought insertion and is indicative of schizophrenia.  The thoughts he was inserting were blasphemous.  I was afraid God would think they were my thoughts and condemn me to hell.  More specifically, he was inserting the thought, in my mind and in my own voice, that my earthly father was God. I demanded that he stop.”
    I turned away, unable to look my friend straight in the eyes.
    While I now took Robin’s schizophrenia declaration seriously, the reference to thought insertions, much less Satan’s involvement, made me somewhat uneasy.  Crohn’s disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea, a few of Robin’s current maladies, had evoked the usual sympathies. Why not this condition?
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    “So, it was just that sudden,” I continued. “One moment you were listening to Superman on the car radio and the next Satan was planting blasphemous thoughts in your own voice in your head.”                                                                                                                                                   
    I needed for Robin to confirm what he had said. Why is it that although we know that everyone has a past, we are still caught by surprise when we hear it? Granted, I knew that Robin’s highly successful executive involvement in company reorganizations had saved more than one company from bankruptcy. Had I felt that knowing this much of his background was sufficient?
    “Yes, it was that quick and I immediately felt the need to ensure that God would not believe it was me thinking these thoughts. My beliefs were such that to even think something bad ensured damnation.”
    It suddenly hit me that a boy who should have been left to three-speed bikes, camping trips and Davy Crockett was instead fighting his very real version of Satan.
    “Were you the first in your family to become mentally ill?”
    “I eventually discovered that my family has a long history of mental illness.   My aunt and uncle on my father’s side were stricken at a time when prefrontal lobotomies were in vogue. My fraternal grandfather and my uncle committed suicide.  My aunt tried to drown my three cousins.”
    Robin’s eyes focused downward on his food instead of directly at me. “I had known that all three were in hospitals, in fact, I had visited my aunt on occasion, but it was quite a bit later before I fully understood the extent of their illnesses and appreciated the implications for me.”
    Robin then appeared to lose himself in his own recollections and remembrances. I took the opportunity to let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding, hoping Robin would volunteer to continue the conversation since I was clearly in uncharted waters.
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    “I was subject to thought insertions, hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, anxiety, depression and paranoia in varying degrees over the next ten years,” Robin continued.

    “Satan assigned three of his underlings to harass me. I guess I was not important enough for him to spend all of his time with me.”
    Robin offered a faint smile.
    “And then came the discovery of the right combination of medications,” he added.
    “I guess at that particular point you considered yourself pretty lucky,” I said, pleased to hear my voice sounding more relaxed.
    “I did and still do consider myself to be extremely fortunate. But let’s save that for my memoir. Are you ready to provide some intelligent feedback?”
    After Robin’s revelation, how could I possibly decline?

    -John Gibble

Published On: April 19, 2007