Bryan Fugate lives with what his wife calls “one of the most terrifying illnesses.” He has schizophrenia.
A Marysville native, Fugate was 19 when hallucinations and dark thoughts became so overwhelming he was hospitalized for six days. He learned he has the severe mental disorder that affects how people think, feel and behave.
Now 25 and married to his high school sweetheart, he is vigilant about taking nearly a dozen medications daily and maintaining a routine. He eats well, gets proper sleep, avoids crowds and stress, and walks his dog, Daisy, an Italian greyhound.
“You learn a lot about yourself. You accept and move on,” Fugate said Monday. In the quiet back yard of his parents’ Marysville home, with his wife, April, by his side, he added “I try to laugh.”
“He’s my guy,” said April Fugate, 25, whose relationship with Bryan began at Cedarcrest Middle School.
“I used to take April home on my bicycle,” he said. They married in July 2015, two years after his diagnosis.
Engaged by 21, April said she never considered not marrying Bryan because of his mental illness. “He wasn’t ever a different person,” she said.
Some time ago, she wrote a tribute about her husband, calling it “Bryan is my Hero.” This year, they decided to share it publicly.
“He has overcome so much and I couldn’t be more proud,” April wrote in the piece now online at www.bryanismyhero.com. “Secondly, I share his story so whoever reads this can think about schizophrenia differently.”
For the first time, Bryan Fugate plans to speak about his condition next month when they join in the annual NAMIWalks Washington, a fundraising walk for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The 5K is scheduled for 8 a.m. June 2 at Marina Park in Kirkland.
Schizophrenia limits what they can do, but “Bryan has really owned his diagnosis,” April wrote. “He has learned how to live the fullest life he can.”
Bryan Fugate, who once worked for Banner Bank in Everett, is no longer employed. He receives Social Security disability payments, which he calls “early retirement.” His wife works for Snohomish County’s Human Services Department. She is studying for a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership.
They share an apartment in Arlington, but spend considerable time with Bryan’s family in Marysville. Along with his parents, Keith and Karen Fugate, he has a brother and sister. He enjoys motorcycle riding with a retired uncle, John Davies.
Bryan’s paternal grandmother also had schizophrenia, and was treated at Northern State Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, which closed in the 1970s. After his diagnosis, Bryan and his dad walked the grounds there. His grandmother, who died before he was born, had “shock therapy — all that stuff,” Bryan said. “It’s come a long ways.”
April and Bryan graduated from high school in 2011, she from Marysville Pilchuck and he from Marysville Getchell. Help from his wife and family is critical to his wellness. “Not having an advocate, I don’t know how people do it. April helps daily,” he said.
“Today is a good day, tomorrow might not be,” April Fugate said.
They have opened up to close friends in the years since his six-day stay at Fairfax Behavioral Health, which has a psychiatric hospital in Kirkland. One goal is to keep Bryan’s world from “getting smaller,” April said. Social withdrawal and the inability to experience pleasure can be symptoms of schizophrenia.
For the Fugates, camping is a favorite activity. Seeing a movie in a theater has sometimes been too intense.
In her tribute, April wrote that it was Bryan’s own “I’m not OK” realization that helped him get needed treatment. Early on, his symptoms included hallucinations, disorganized thinking, fears and voices. Those indicators of psychosis can and sometimes do come back. In those cases, strong medications may mean Bryan sleeps for a day or more.
He keeps daily logs of his condition, and also has counseling sessions. There’s no cure, schizophrenia is progressive, and medications bring serious side effects, among them nausea, shaky hands, and painful pancreatitis.
By speaking out, Bryan Fugate hopes to break down the stigma associated with schizophrenia, which affects about 1 percent of the U.S. adult population.
In high school, he saw “A Beautiful Mind,” an Academy Award-winning film about John Nash, a math genius who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. “It’s very scary, very intense,” he said. He believes education will lessen the notion that equates schizophrenia with danger. “Mental illness is misunderstood,” he said.
At Fairfax, he was helped during intake by a man who typed with one hand. He recalled the man explaining he had Parkinson’s disease, and saying, “Bryan, everybody’s got their stuff.”
“I’ve had some down days,” said Bryan Fugate, who hopes someone will be inspired by his story. “It doesn’t matter what you face. I think you have to get up every day and give it 100 percent.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
The annual NAMIWalks Washington, a 5K walk that raises money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is at 9 a.m. June 2 at Marina Park, 25 Lakeshore Plaza Drive, Kirkland. Information or to donate: www.namiwalks.org/