I’ve been thinking about my big brother, imprisoned in his own Schizophrenic mind. I’ve been thinking about our childhood, and if there were any signs his brain was in trouble. He definitely got in lots of trouble, but that’s normal for a young boy, right? Especially one living in a dysfunctional home. But I wonder if his extreme behavior may have been an indication of more than teenage angst and acting out against the hurts from abusive parents. I wonder how early the schizophrenia gave him symptoms he was too alone to share.
My big brother is quite a bit older than me, so I can’t speak as to what he was like as a young child personally, but I do have some stories others have told me.
Like when he set our house on fire before I was even born, when he was about 4 years old. I’ve been told that he took my Dad’s cigarette lighter and deliberately set fire to the shag (Yes, in the 70’s) throw rug. I guess both my parents were home, but busy with the newborn, and they saw him do it, but were too late to prevent it, as they said NO, the fire had already consumed the rug and moved onto the couch. My Dad’s black faux leather couch he bought himself with his raise when he became a manager. He has still not forgiven my brother for this destruction of his prized property. I was told no one was hurt, and my Dad put out the fire himself – according to him – but the fire department helped – according to my Mom. The house itself was fine, but everything in it was smoke and water damaged. It was a brand new house, in a nice suburban subdivision that my Mom got to pick out the design and layout and they had it built. Mom still says that was her favorite house and the fire was such a “shame”. They moved 7 times in the first 10 years of marriage, and that house was 2 before the one I called home.
My earliest memories of my brother have him about age ten I guess, making me about 3. I loved listening to him play guitar, he was already really good by then, able to play any melody he heard. He taught me to pluck out Twinkle Twinkle on it while he held it for me, and even let me use his lucky pick. He was not allowed to play guitar in school, so he chose clarinet. He learned that easily too, but never enjoyed it, and dropped it as soon as he could. Sometimes after school, he would allow me to try to make music on that clarinet, and would laugh warmly when it all it did was squawk. He’d pretend to step on an invisible cat every time I squeaked and squawked and we would roll with laughter. He always made me laugh. I adored him.
Also about that age, and the next few years, he did lots of silly tricks with me. He would put his hands around neck, while I held onto his wrists, and he would lift me up, by what appeared to be my head, but the weight was really supported by my hands on his. It freaked out Mom and she would tell us to stop. He loved animals, and often came home with live snakes and frogs, and when he didn’t he would bring home a wavy branch and hand it to my Mom saying, “Check out this snake I found” just to hear her scream and make me laugh. He would tousle my hair while making gorilla noises pretty much every time he walked by me. Anything to get me to giggle. And he hated when I got sick, which was way too often with my asthma and secondary infections from steroids. I spent much of my childhood with a fever, alone in my room. I have so many memories of him playing the guitar in my room to help me sleep, until the fever broke. He like playing heavy metal music, but for me, it was always a pretty gentle little song. Sometimes he even played my favorite songs from Mary Poppins or Sound of Music. He’d always stop playing and go back to his room when anyone noticed he was in there, like he didn’t want to be noticed or caught being nice.
This brother was always an outsider in our family. If I felt it, I can only imagine how alone he felt. I have some memory of him being “sick” and staying in his room for family events, like birthday parties. Every Christmas Eve, I remember opening my gifts, and not being surprised that he was sick again. My Mom would ask him to join us, but then just give up when he said no. We also often went out to eat without him. He’d just say “Nah” when asked to join us. He was the middle brother, a dull shadow under the eldest brother’s star status, and sweet and special like his little brother.
I remember him getting in trouble for wearing a sheik hat to school when he was in 5th grade, so I must have been about 3. He refused to take it off, so I got to go to school with my Mom to speak to the principal and take him home. Everyone was so serious and angry, and I remember laughing at my silly brother and not understanding why everyone was angry – I loved his hat. I had the same teacher when I reached 5th grade, and she told me he had been wearing that hat every day for 2 weeks when she finally had to make it stop. She figured he would get tired of it, but it became something more and he could not stop wearing it without threat of suspension.
It was also some time around this age that he molested me, just mentioning this in the timeline, not going into details today. I actually can’t remember much of this time period clearly, only isolated events. I do know that I was not afraid of him, and never told anyone, because I adored him so and either I didn’t want him to get in trouble, or I didn’t even know it was wrong. Plus, it was nothing compared to what my Dad was doing to me, so it seemed a normal part of life to little me. Dad encouraged his young boys to collect porn magazines and watch it on cable with him, making sure they knew women were only good for sex. Everyone in our house was overly sexualized and not permitted to keep our childhood innocence.
It seems like fifth grade was like a point of no return for my brother, and I really have to wonder if he was also molested by my Dad, and if that abuse caused him to start on me, or caused the short circuit in his brain chemistry that would later develop into Schizophrenia. But we’ll never know if Dad hurt him, since he can’t tell us, he lost touch with reality so long ago. And I also wonder if his pre-puberty hormones triggered some brain changes at that time to start his decline. Again, only speculation.
As I grew taller and my hair grew longer, people started calling us twins, and I loved that. We had the same cheekbones, same green eyes, same fair skin and freckles, and the same auburn hair! His was long, wavy, and unkempt like a rock star. Mine was long, wavy, and unkempt like a tomboy. We’d also both stuff our wild hair into a ball cap to avoid brushing it.
I idolized this brother and his cool long-haired friends for a few years, until he slipped out of my life. For the next few years, although we lived in the same house, I have very few memories of him at all. He pushed me away, no longer let me in the room when his friends came over, and most often, simply only came home to sleep. He even started forgetting to make gorilla noises for me. But sometimes, on very special nights, he would knock on my door late at night and ask, “Hey, Wanna see the moon?” Everyone else would be watching TV or whatever, and we would go out back to where he set up a telescope. He’d lift me up, because it was on a huge stand and too tall for me to see into. I remember the first time I saw the craters in the moon, jump right out through that telescope at me. It was magical. My brother explained all about the phases of the moon, told me the names of the craters and how they formed. Sometimes he would tell me about constellations, or meteors, or astronauts. I would get cold, but never complained, never wanting those special astronomy lessons to end. For years I wanted to be an astronaut myself – until many years later when I saw what they do at space camp and realized my motion sickness that prevented traveling to the super market without vomiting would most likely prevent me from successfully completing that G-force spinning simulator.
- Key Role In The Development Of Schizophrenia Played By Malign Environmental Combination (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Stresses on infants possible schizophrenia cause (stuff.co.nz)
- Gene Found Responsible for Differences in Schizophrenic People (counselheal.com)
- Midweek conference – schizophrenia with Dr Ian Hickie (blogs.abc.net.au)