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Stalking Irish Madness

Aug 28, 2008

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Sarah Handel

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It's tempting to characterize journalist Patrick Tracey's family as beautiful, but damned. They hail from Ireland's County Roscommon, and for generations have been plagued by schizophrenia. When I say plagued, I mean it — the "Irish madness" claimed his great-great-grandmother, grandmother, uncle, and two sisters. His mom, after watching her grandmother committed to a mental hospital, suspected a genetic connection and swore never to have kids. Handsome, "half Irish and charmingly persistent" Mr. Tracey changed her mind, and she had five — Paul and his four beautiful sisters — Elaine, twins Michelle (Chelle) and Seanna, and Austine. They had a fairly typical family life, until, in 1976:

I was an average eighteen-year-old, home for the weekend during my freshman year in college. When the phone rang, it was Keith, Chelle's boyfriend, calling from Manhattan to say Chelle was on a bus back home. He keeps it short. "Michelle," he says, "is not well."

And so it began, the sickness of his own siblings from which it was "impossible to turn away." Patrick Tracey decided to face it, and went to Ireland to confront the disease. Have you had experience with schizophrenia? Leave us your stories here.

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