Marriage and Schizophrenia

Marriage and Schizophrenia

by Andrew Downing


Publisher WestBowPress

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction

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Book Description

From the glory of Andrew's promising hockey career, including tales from the Western Hockey League and Team USA, to the isolation room in the psyche ward, this story follows Andrew and Stephanie Downing's fourteen year partnership together. Andrew was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age eighteen and mental illness has been the main obstacle in their married life together. Doctors told Andrew that he should not have a family of his own. Andrew and Stephanie have now been married for thirteen years and have two children. This book presents themes that relate to people of all kinds..

Sample Chapter

A Deep Dark Secret

It is important to know about Andrews’s hockey life to better understand his mental illness. Some of his success in hockey can be directly correlated to his uncommon brain. At the age of fourteen, Andrew played varsity hockey on a team that was very deep with talent in a city and state where high school hockey is a big deal. Grand Rapids, Minnesota, has developed some of the world’s finest hockey talent, both players and coaches. The head coach asked him to play defense for the varsity team because he said that he already had too many talented forwards. Andrew was a forward his whole career until his varsity coach watched him play defense at a summer camp when Andrew was just messing around. It was then that the coach asked him if he would be willing to try out for the varsity team as a defenseman.

Andrew stepped right into the action during tryouts and proved his worth as a defenseman almost immediately. Andrew spent his whole life at the rink growing up and had started to gain a reputation state wide as one of the premier hockey players in his age group. The varsity assistant coach never said hello or any other greeting to Andrew at varsity tryouts until it was apparent that Andrew was the real deal. One day the assistant coach finally came over during tryouts and said, “Hey Kid.” He continued to address Andrew by this name the rest of Andrew’s playing career at Grand Rapids and beyond. He never used Andrew’s real name. The nickname “Kid” stuck and many of Andrew’s friends call him that even today. Back then, Andrew really was a kid amongst men. He was a true fourteen year old. He played a full season of varsity hockey as a defensemen weighing only 140 pounds standing 5’11’’. He had no shoulders or any serious upper body strength. He also had a baby face and tooth picks for legs. Even though he was well undersized for varsity hockey, it didn’t matter, because nobody could hit him very often.

Halfway into his first year as a varsity hockey player at Grand Rapids, every major division one school had sent him a letter of their intent to sign him to their team. Andrew thrived in the spotlight. The bigger the crowd the better he played. Andrew remembers having no fear when he was playing his best. Many times, he remembers feeling euphoric on the ice especially during his high school hockey days. He often entered a zone that made everything slow down and make sense. Andrew’s greatest talent was his vision of the ice.

He was a great passer and playmaker. His mind could predict the outcome of a certain play before it happened, and he often could read three or four plays at the same time and choose the fourth play as the best option. When he was mentally healthy, he could do this at top speed and leave the defense helpless. A famous high school coach told his team that there was nothing you could do to defend Andrew. He would either skate the puck around you or pass it by you. The mission for the other team playing against Andrew became to hit him every chance you could. Many teams went about that the illegal way helping to bring his career to an early end.

At the age of fifteen, agents were calling and visiting the house on a regular basis. At age sixteen, after putting on an impressive display at the Team USA National Tournament, the NHL Central Scouting ranked Andrew number one in North America for his age group. If everything would have continued for Andrew, he could have been the first pick in the 2000 NHL entry draft. As more and more attention came Andrew’s way, his mental illness continued to grow. Also during this time, Andrew became very dependent on drugs and alcohol and felt an incredible sense of immortality. It’s common knowledge that children, teenagers and young adults have less awareness of death but looking back on Andrews life, there were warning signs that he lived in a grandiose reality that was unique. Andrew was a thrill seeker. He thrived in the speed and passion of hockey. On and off the ice, he looked for every opportunity to live life in the fast lane. Morals never really crossed his mind. Andrew remembers thinking that everyone lived as he did. It was not until he got older that he realized how many people were guided by morals or at least the idea of them.

Andrew decided to leave the Presbyterian Church that he attended as a youth at age thirteen thinking it was all a big joke or some kind of weird play act. During this time, Andrew turned his complete focus to hockey. Andrew became so dedicated to hockey that his academics fell apart. By the time he was sixteen, his sense of reality was increasingly dangerous. His lack of morals and ever-increasing desire to push the limits of acceptable behavior began to take a toll on his body and mind.

From age 16 to 19, Andrew displayed many forms of artwork and they all had some theme involving spirituality. These delusions and realities often depicted Christ or the Devil. They also showed his obsession with suicide and alternate dimensions. Andrew remembers being shocked to learn that Jesus actually lived and died the way the Bible describes. His dad and brother pointed this out to him when Andrew was saying delusional things after returning home from what would be his last year of hockey. Andrew actually thought that Jesus never lived, because so many people did not believe in the story of His life.

Andrew’s lack of a moral compass contributed greatly to his mental health problems and weakened his hockey senses. Hockey is a fast moving game and physically demanding; the use of drugs and alcohol weakened his ability to read and react quickly on the ice. As soon as he jumped into junior hockey, there was no forgiveness for lazy decisions. There was less time to heal from drunken nights, and some practices and games he recalls feeling slightly stoned or drunk.

Andrew left home at age sixteen to play with the Team USA Development program. The program was a very prestigious achievement and Andrew was very excited to play for his country. Unfortunately, the wheels began to fall off the wagon at this point. His family recalls Andrew claiming that he was going to quit hockey and write movies just months after learning that he was one of the top five players in the world for his age group and playing for Team USA. From here, Andrew began a long steady decline that finally ended with a trip to the psyche ward at age nineteen. It was here that he was diagnosed with grandiose schizophrenia. No one in the hospital believed Andrew when he claimed that he used to be a good hockey player. Several nurses were shocked to learn that Andrew was indeed a world-class hockey player for a brief period. One male nurse was near speechless when Andrew’s dad confirmed that Andrew had played in the Western Hockey League.

The movies that Andrew was writing made little sense and the plots were very peculiar to say the least. Andrew has since tried to burn or bury any of his delusional writings. Apparently, Andrews’s father has saved a few. I have too. They are just too telling to let go. You can clearly see that Andrew was out of his mind when writing most of his stories or poems. Sometimes Andrew was on drugs or alcohol while writing these movies, but for the most part he was not, as he had a hard time getting access to drugs and alcohol while being with Team USA.

Just a year before being put in a psyche ward for the first time with no real knowledge if he would ever enter society again, Andrew had gone out to dinner with several NHL team representatives and traveled all over the world playing the game he loved. Even with two torn labrums, several concussions, severe whiplash injuries to his neck, delusional behavior and serious drug problems, Andrew was projected to go in the top two rounds of the draft after his last year in hockey. Delusional and banged up, Andrew missed the first four months of his last season but still managed to tally 19 points in 32 games as a rookie defensemen in the world’s top junior league, the WHL.

The Western Hockey League showcases some of Canada’s finest young hockey players while giving a few spots per teams to US born players and two spots to European players. The league is known for producing hardnosed, fast skating forwards, tenacious defensemen and devastating tough guys. Andrew watched Derek Boogard, who would soon be the league’s most notorious fighter, have his jaw shattered after being knocked flat on his back with a devastating uppercut. Derek went on to fight in the NHL and died a tragic death with head injuries being a prime suspect in his death. Andrew received a devastating blow as well. In the WHL there was no more getting out of the way of most hits. After Andrews head shot, his veteran teammates smiled and quietly stated, “Welcome to the league.”

The Western Hockey League stretches from Southern Washington to Northern British Columbia and all the way east to Brandon, Manitoba. Andrew remembers playing a 7:30pm game in Southern Washington and then running home to get supplies and food before returning to the rink to leave that same night traveling fourteen hours by bus north to Prince George British Columbia to play back to back games. They would then travel all across Canada playing games as they went all the way to Brandon, Manitoba. They then drove 26 hours west back home to make it back in time for the school age players to attend high school. The physicality of the league and the extensive traveling prepares players for the NHL, and this is why the league usually has the highest number of players go onto professional careers. The travel and violence wore Andrew’s body beyond its limit, and Andrew will have to live with neck and shoulder trouble the rest of his life.

Andrew was seriously thinking about quitting hockey after his junior year and decided to give it one last go, so he took the offer to fulfill his dream to play in the Canadian Hockey League. He packed his bags and left for Tri City Washington with one torn labrum and the other surgically repaired. Upon arrival, the team Doctor suggested that he go home. He thought Andrew’s shoulder should have nine months rest at least. Andrew thought otherwise. The team doctor’s plan of nine months recovery for each shoulder would have Andrew miss at least eighteen months of hockey. Most likely two consecutive hockey seasons. To Andrew that meant an end to his career. He began playing after four months and just before Christmas break, it was obvious to Andrew’s agent that hockey was no longer his sole passion and focus.

Andrews’s mental illness began showing in the way he played the game. In a game versus the Calgary Hitmen before Christmas break, Andrew was given the assignment to shadow the WHL’s leading scorer in front of thousands of fans at the Pengrowth Saddledome, home of NHL team the Calgary Flames. Andrew felt disconnected before and after the game. The pressure of being responsible for the league’s top goal scorer sent his mind into confusion. At one point in the game, Andrew was roaming around the neutral zone far from the play. Everyone on his team, including his coach began screaming at him to get in the play. His coach screamed, “What are you doing?” After the game, Andrews’ agent confronted him and said if he wanted to play at the next level, he would have to do a lot better than that. Andrew replied, “Relax, it’s Christmas break.”

Andrew is a very competitive person and hates to lose, even today. Andrew was living in a pre-fall state of happy euphoria. This is common amongst people with grandiose schizophrenia. Andrew lost touch with the reality of his situation. He had no concern about the details of the game anymore. Nor did he care that he was still thought to be a fit for the NHL. Andrew could care less that he was dining with NHL executives and playing before thousands of diehard CHL fans.

In Andrew’s final game of his career, his emotions got the best of him. While carrying the puck up the ice he nearly fell over while making a routine move around a defender. After his shift, he totally lost his composure on the bench. His coach had to encourage Andrew to settle down. Throughout the rest of the game, the rink was a mystery and he had a hard time performing the most routine skills. Before the third period, he began hallucinating in the locker room. He saw color circles everywhere. Bright rainbow like circles began dancing around the room. In the period before he got hit hard, but it was a routine body check, not hard enough to cause any serious damage. At the time, Andrew thought he had received another head injury but looking back, he knows that his schizophrenic delusions had set in under the immense pressure.

So how does a player so gifted and talented, end up losing it all? Andrew had many dark secrets. People all across the hockey world were so shocked to learn that he was not all about hockey. His wild stories have baffled so many people. Andrew had everybody fooled during his hockey playing days, maybe even himself. What’s funny is the fact that Andrew is no longer that reckless thrill seeking kid.

As you can see, Andrew has a very special brain. It can work in great ways but it can also completely misfire, sending him reeling, near to death. In hockey, it gave him unnatural confidence, a unique vision of the ice and fearlessness. He played extremely hurt for two years. He played through two torn labrums for ninety games at a very high level. He was addicted to hockey and the natural high it gave him. Injury wasn’t enough to hold him down completely.

At the end of his final year, many of his teammates figured he was done. They knew how banged up he was and how difficult it would be to bounce back from two surgeries, serious neck problems, and several concussions all in the span of two years. As Andrew’s fellow teammates continued to get stronger or began to make plans other than hockey, Andrew continued to get weaker both physically and mentally. Andrew found it strange that only his teammates saw his body and mind failing. No one else seemed to care about his injuries too much. Most just saw dollar signs I suppose.

“Follow your heart kid.” Bobby Orr spoke these words to Andrew on the telephone during the summer before Andrew’s last year in hockey. Andrew looked up to Bobby Orr, as Bobby was a great defenseman and possibly the most talented player to ever play the game. He was also a great person for the sport of hockey on and off the ice. Mr. Orr has a warm spirit and a humble attitude. In many ways, Andrew did follow his heart, but his heart led him away from hockey and into the world of music and art. His transition from hockey to the artist’s life was a huge shock to everyone around. He became more and more dependent on drugs and alcohol and his personal life fell apart completely. Many people lost respect for Andrew and couldn’t believe he would just throw away such talent. Things may have turned out differently for Andrew if he could have stayed away from the wild life off the ice, but even with the proper lifestyle choices, Andrew would have ended up with schizophrenia. The schizophrenia may have come later with fewer complications, but the problems were there early in his life and have never left. Beyond drug-induced behavior, Andrew began to have signs of serious mental illness.

Even to this day many people still don’t understand the signs and signals of serious mental illness, but Andrew had them all. His family and friends were greatly concerned by his behavior, and no one really knew what to do. His parents brought him to the hospital out of desperation. You couldn’t reason with Andrew at that point because he had lost all sense of reality. Everything he talked about and did was delusional. Every word anyone said to him had an alternate meaning, and he was nearing death by having no concern for his physical wellbeing.

Andrew got in trouble a great deal his first year away from home while playing for Team USA. He violated many team rules. He was busted for drinking, chewing and drug abuse several times. He failed a drug test weeks before returning home after a terrible year. He only lasted six months out of the nine-month season. No longer did Andrew have a deep dark secret. The cat was out of the bag. Something was very wrong with him, but no one could figure out what it was exactly.

Team USA’s team psychologist stood up for Andrew when Andrew was confronted on the subject of his bizarre movies. The psychologist said, “If Andrew is crazy, what about Stephen King?” The fact that Team USA was consulting with a psychologist was a telling sign that something was off. Team USA did their best to conceal Andrews’s problems, but scouts and agents quickly learned about Andrews’s dark side just by hanging around the rink and talking to players. Andrew became a bad infection to his team. The following year Andrew went out to dinner with the Atlanta Thrashers scout, and he confronted Andrew on having a drinking problem. Andrew denied it and told the scout that he liked to drink beer just like everybody else on the team. However, he didn’t know that Andrew wanted to quit hockey to play music, paint, and write movies.

No one in his or her right mind would ever willingly throw away such a promising career. It is very common for mental illness to reveal itself when a person is put in a high-pressure situation. This is exactly what happened to Andrew. He left for Team USA on top of the world and returned home injured both physically and mentally. The pressure of junior hockey was too much for Andrew. Andrew was bipolar during his year at Team USA and schizophrenic his last year in Tri City, Washington. Being grandiose was far better than being bipolar for hockey performance. Andrew went through deep depression at Team USA. It was his first year away from home, and all of a sudden he had a lot more responsibilities. These demands broke his mental wellbeing beyond common homesickness.

Many people within the hockey world knew Andrew to be an addict. Andrew was an addict no doubt, but there was more going on that Andrew and his family didn’t see or choose to see. When you are focused on achieving a goal as lofty as the NHL, there is little else to think about. Every day was about how Andrew could get bigger, stronger, and faster. Andrew happened to meet enough demands to silence many critics. As long as he worked hard on the ice, his personal life mattered less. He managed to do this his senior year in the WHL. Even after quitting and ending up in a psyche ward, the owner of the team called his family and tried to get Andrew back playing. By this point, there were no more critics to silence because it was unsure if Andrew could reenter society let alone put on skates.

Unfortunately, mental illness is often associated with drug addiction, and many people don’t see the difference or the role that mental illness plays in developing drug addiction. When a person has an overactive brain on a large scale such as Andrew, any drug can be the answer to weeks spent in overdrive. Every drug that Andrew tried became a part of his plan to find peace.

Andrew had countless sleepless nights when he was a teenager, especially toward the end of his hockey career. He was experiencing mental disturbances that were swept under the rug by his addiction problems. People were trying to free him from addictions when they should have been treating him for mental illness. This, of course, is all easy to say when looking back at these things, but at the time nobody wanted to admit that Andrew was no longer emotionally fit to handle the pressures of high stakes hockey. Here is a phone conversation that shows how the general public still lacks a basic understanding of serious mental illness. Andrew received the phone call a few years ago from an old hockey coach whose name we will not use.

“Hi this is John Doe. Is this Andrew Downing?”

“Yeah, this is Andrew. Yeah, I remember you. How can I help you?”

“Well, we are doing a special on players who left high school hockey early and didn’t succeed. We know this won’t be an easy subject, and I’m sure you don’t look back at your decisions as being all bad. We just think Minnesota could learn a lot by realizing that leaving high school hockey early is not always a good idea.”

The conversation carried on about several different topics, and finally Andrew needed to lay it all out for his old coach.

“Did you know that I tore both my rotator cuffs before leaving high school hockey? Did you know that I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was nineteen? Did you know any of that?”

“No. I didn’t know any of that. Even so, don’t you think your parents could have taken care of that if you would have stayed home?”

Andrew was heart broken at the lack of understanding and compassion. This man had no clue about schizophrenia, and here he was suggesting that it could have been avoided by simply staying home for two more years. Eventually Andrew told him that his senior year in the WHL was a childhood dream come true. Of course, the man was upset that Andrew felt that way, but Andrew was far more devastated at the realization that the modern world was living in the dark ages of mental illness still. As if Andrew’s mom and dad could make demons disappear from his room or stop the voices telling him to kill himself or convince him that there was no secret code to the universe or save him from the thoughts that he was in fact the antichrist or Jesus.

Andrew’s parents have been blamed for many of Andrew’s problems, and the basis of these arguments are delusional themselves built on idealistic philosophies. Andrew’s parents aren’t perfect, and Andrew may have gotten in more trouble at home where he had more connections to get drugs and alcohol. Even some of his best friends figured it was best for him to get out of town before he ran into the law. The question of how great could Andrew have been, given a healthy body and mind still looms with many hockey people in our town and region.

“I miss the game so badly, honey, but I don’t envy NHL players. I can’t imagine facing the violence that they endure night after night. Professional hockey players are gladiators. As a kid, I never watched much of the professional game. I was a true Minnesota rink rat. I lived and breathed at the outdoor hockey rink. I grew up naive to the brutality of the game. If I had known what the Canadian game was all about, I don’t think I would have sought professional hockey in the first place. The first time I saw a real bare knuckle fight in a game from ice level, I knew I had entered a new world. The power game and intimidation through violence is no longer just Canada’s game either, it is a wide spread success model in the game of hockey.”

“In my short little career, I remember tough guys crying before and after games from the stress of their new- found roles. Blood was spilled often, and injury became the norm. Any sort of pain pill was a commodity, though beer was the preferred choice. I guess I am faint of heart or too philosophical, but brutality never had a place in the game I grew up playing. I thought of the game more as a circus act, players dancing on skates and performing amazing skills at high speeds. That model drove me to train and pursue the game of hockey.”

“I didn’t know the roots of professional hockey and how street violence has always been an important part of the game. I never wanted to knock someone unconscious or lose my teeth by being sucker punched in the face. I had to change my defensive style of hockey to avoid being forced to fight. I didn’t want to be a part of a game that encouraged street violence. Street violence changed the vibe of the entire game. Instead of preparing for the great game of hockey, we all prepared for war. The feelings I had in my stomach as I watched my friends get brutalized was awful. Street violence has always caused conflict in my soul even when I was most corrupt. Cheering over Derek Boogards shattered jaw never sat well with me. The day I watched it happen, I was glad my friend got the better of him, but later in life it haunted me. As soon as street violence entered the game, I wanted out. I could understand physical play and passion, but the intent to injure made no sense, and it happened all the time in the junior leagues I played in.”


Excerpted from "Marriage and Schizophrenia" by Andrew Downing. Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Downing. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Andrew Downing

Andrew Downing

Andrew and Stephanie are a husband and wife author team. Their book , Marriage and Schizophrenia : Eyes on the Prize, chronicles their fourteen year partnership. Andrew was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of eighteen only two years after being rated number one in his age group in North America by the NHL central scouting agency. Andrew was projected to be a professional hockey player by the time he was fourteen. At age eighteen he was no longer fit to live in society on his own. Stephanie and Andrew came together shortly after Andrew was diagnosed. Their book is a heart breaking but hopeful story of their battle with severe mental illness. Doctors told Andrew that he should not have a family of his own. Andrew and Stephanie are now happily married with two children. Their book chronicles their journey in depth. This book is more than a story of mental illness with insights for every reader to enjoy.

View full Profile of Andrew Downing

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