Coping, Denial, Delusion – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, part 8

Snakes (M. C. Escher)

Snakes (M. C. Escher) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do you cope with having a condition like schizophrenia? At the time, my brother was so lost inside his own mind that we were unable to explain his condition to him. So the label, with the full force of the stigma, was on our family, not him. I felt my mom was more concerned with keeping this a secret than actually helping my brother get better, but the way to contain this terrible news was also the way to help him. Lock him up in a mental hospital.

The next few years, my brother was in and out of hospitals as combinations of meds were tried and adjusted to control his symptoms and return him to reality – to us. When he was out of the hospital, he either stayed with us – Me, my mom, and the youngest brother (and more often than not, the youngest brother’s girlfriend who stayed with us even though she was in high school with me – because her father was an angry alcoholic, but that is a whole different story when I ever get around to writing about that brother, jeez so much to say, so many branches, and I am so impatient to get this story told) in our 2 bedroom apartment, or he would stay with my dad when my mom begged him to help and give us all a break. My dad then lived in a 3 bedroom house all alone, but was way too inconvenienced to take in his son.

I remember my mom crying one evening on the phone with my dad, after just hanging up with the hospital – they called saying my brother was again ready to be released. She told my dad she was at her limit and trying to keep things together and begging for my father to allow my brother to stay with him this time. When I first moved in with my mom, she gave me her room and moved her bed to the living room. But when my brother needed shelter too, she moved in to the bedroom with me, and my brother slept on the couch. My other brother and his girlfriend slept in the other bedroom. And sometimes, just to make life fun, my brother with schizophrenia’s girlfriend, the Madonna wannabe, came to stay with us too, because she NEEDED my brother and couldn’t live without him. All these lost and broken souls sheltering together for different reasons. What a mess.

At some point in there I graduated high school, 4th in my class, with several scholarships and awards. I only came home to sleep, and didn’t do much of that at all, I actually slept more peacefully on park benches or library sofas. I didn’t feel safe at home. I left for college, left the state, and thought I left all my troubles behind.

My brother stabilized on his meds, and starting coming back to us. He was still altered, but could at least recognize us and take care of his personal needs, and seemed mostly OK. We were able to tell him about his illness, and the importance of taking the meds carefully every day. He understood. He decided to go live with his girlfriend again because she pressured him. My mom did not want him to go, did not want to risk losing him again, but he did go. My mom also seemed relieved when he left though.

He was difficult to contact, his girlfriend was controlling and I dare say abusive to him. I was not there, but I think that is true from what I now know. She made him “work” for his meds, he had to please her to get relief from the voices in his head. She would hide his meds and make him earn them back, taunting him. My brother sounded so sad and lost on the phone when he told me that. She threatened to send him to jail on many occasions, again, and again, he sounded so sad. He said he didn’t understand what he was doing wrong and why she got so angry. And then, at some point in the next year, I heard that I was an Aunt again. I had a nephew in a far away state, to an unmarried terrible woman. My brother freaked out. He told me on the phone, “Hey guess what, guess I’m going to be a dad . . .” and he just kinda laughed in an odd disconnected way. His schizophrenia became uncontrollable soon after this news. My brother needed rescued again, and hospitalized again. He was now suicidal and made a few attempts. I think he knew he could not be a father and it tore him up inside. He must have felt like a complete fuck-up. I am guessing, because that is how I felt just a few years later when I tried taking my own life.

None of us have ever met his boy – an unknown nephew and  grandson out in the world. I have seen pictures, strangely enough, from my father, who seemed to have an unusual relationship with the girlfriend, and I suspect he did actually meet him. I don’t know any details and only have suspicions. At age 18, when I plummeted into my first deep and dark clinical depression, my brother’s illegitimate son was just one more event I could not think about. Sometimes I feel guilty for not reaching out to that kiddo, my nephew,  but I know it was not up to me then. I am angry that my parents did not step up and do the right thing here either, but then, well, they certainly have a track record for not doing the right thing.

My mom’s actions were I think an attempt to try to protect my brother, although I am not certain it was for his benefit or if it was to keep our family secrets. My mom took in my brother, and cut off all communication with the girlfriend. She changed her phone number. She made it unlisted. She grew paranoid and started screening phone calls and looking outside before answering the door. She steamed all of our letters open before giving us our mail. She told very practiced lies to everyone. She created her own delusional world where her children were all safe – and begged us all to play along.

I was so lost in my depression at that point, and living with my boyfriend many states away that I don’t recall where my other brothers were living or how these events actually happened. I never went back home. Never. My boyfriend became my fiance, and then my husband, and I never had to go back to them. I tried to live my life on my own and move forward, but inside I was a complete mess, and felt like a fraud. The self-loathing was relentless, the depression and anxiety barely controlled – I felt like I could break at any moment, and only striving for an outward image of perfection kept me going. My own perfect world based on delusion and denial.

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Learn more about Schizophrenia:

Some articles about schizophrenia seem to show a link ( a link is not a cause, huge difference) between childhood trauma and psychosis. I don’t know what happened to my brother when he was little, but I think it was terrible. I only know what I endured, and that he was in the same house for years before I came along to distract my father. I think my brother was his first target.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419102440.htm : “children who experience severe trauma are three times as likely to develop schizophrenia in later life.”

There is also a link to substance abuse. Most researchers don’t think drugs alone cause schizophrenia, but it is part of the story for sure. Many people with schizophrenia have substance abuse and addictions in their past. This article explains some symptoms and links fairly well.

Schizophrenics are not usually violent, they tend to be withdrawn and more dangerous to themselves. The media and politics add the violent misconception to the disease.

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/complete-index.shtml : “”People with schizophrenia are not usually violent. In fact, most violent crimes are not committed by people with schizophrenia.7 However, some symptoms are associated with violence, such as delusions of persecution. Substance abuse may also increase the chance a person will become violent.8 If a person with schizophrenia becomes violent, the violence is usually directed at family members and tends to take place at home.The risk of violence among people with schizophrenia is small. But people with the illness attempt suicide much more often than others. About 10 percent (especially young adult males) die by suicide.9,10 It is hard to predict which people with schizophrenia are prone to suicide. If you know someone who talks about or attempts suicide, help him or her find professional help right away.People with schizophrenia are not usually violent.”

And of course there is a genetic component, something that makes one person more prone to schizophrenia than others.

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/shared-genes-link-depression-schizophrenia-and-three-other-mental-illnesses-201303015944

Five seemingly different mental health disorders—major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (I think PTSD fits in here too!)—may be more alike than we think. A ground-breaking new study has identified a handful of genes that are shared by people with these disorders. This work could help find new and better ways to diagnose and treat mental illness.”

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Coping, Denial, Delusion – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, part 8

    • Your observation is spot on. I struggle to write about this time period, and I know the writing itself is not as engaging. I know what you mean by clinical, just the facts all jumbled together. My memory is terrible for that time, so much trauma all at once. And I think perhaps I don’t want to put myself in the place where I usually write my memoirs and risk feeling it too deeply. But I promised myself I would look back and get this story out there and hopefully let it breathe and process and see what I can learn from it.

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