Tag Archive | schizophrenia

Do you hear what I hear?

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Hearing voices. Auditory hallucinations. That means I am crazy, right? That I have finally lost it, gone over to the land of no return, no more reality for me?

That’s what I thought the first time it happened. I was terrified. I was scared to tell anyone. I wasn’t sure what really happened. Maybe it didn’t really happen. Maybe I was just thinking something, I didn’t really hear something.

But then it happened again. And again. And umm okay I thought about telling my husband and psychiatrist. This was about 15 years, before I was diagnosed with PTSD. With my brother’s history of schizophrenia, we were all sure that I was starting some psychosis. I was put on anti-psychotics. The meds did not make the voices stop, they made me sick, anxious, and caused visual hallucinations. The doctor said that was impossible and was simply my psychosis advancing. I was given more meds to try. I played along for a while, until some combination of the meds and my situation made me give in to suicidal urges. My suicidal ideation became a concrete plan and I made the first of several attempts that year. The only times I have ever attempted suicide I have been heavily medicated. Otherwise, I only have this ideation, this distant aching thought that I wish to be nonexistent, which is VERY different from looking up lethal dosages.

Anyway, back on topic, I realized I have not talked here about AH – Auditory Hallucinations and that they can be part of PTSD. I wanted to share my experience and some of the research I found. Here are some links to read more about AH with PTSD.

http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/hearing-voices.html

“In the past, when someone uttered the phrase ‘I hear voices in my head’ the immediate assumption was that they had a mental illness such as schizophrenia or psychosis. These days however, we are more attuned to the nature of auditory hallucinations and understand that it is a complex subject that has many different causes. There is also far more support and understanding for those who experience voices, hopefully showing that they are not alone.

The experience of hearing voices differs from person to person. Some people hear the sound through their ears, just as if someone is speaking. Others hear the voice from inside their head. There may be one voice or several. The voices can be encouraging and supportive or malevolent and intimidating. You may recognise the voice as someone in your life – or it may be an entirely new voice.

Some people believe they can hear other people’s thoughts, while others may feel threatened by their voices. In some cases, the voices try to tell people what to do which can be incredibly frightening for the listener.

The important thing to remember is that admitting that you hear voices in your head is not an admission of insanity – it is an important starting point to help you regain control.”

http://blogs.plos.org/mindthebrain/2013/04/24/hearing-voices-ptsd-and-auditory-hallucinations/

Among combat veterans with PTSD, 30-40% report auditory hallucinations (AH). AH are more frequent in combat veterans with chronic PTSD and it has been suggested that this may reflect a distinct subtype of PTSD that may be under recognized for two reasons: first, patients are reluctant to report AH and, second, more emphasis has, traditionally, been placed on the intrusive images associated with PTSD and less on intrusive auditory hallucinations.

It is important to recognize that such patients do not have the overt changes in affect or bizarre delusions characteristic of other psychoses e.g. schizophrenia.  AH in PTSD appears to be seen more in veterans with higher combat exposure and more intense PTSD symptoms and who report more severe symptoms of hyperarousal. The AH are typically: ego-dystonic; contribute to an increases sense of isolation and shame; associated with feelings of lack of controllability; consist of combat-related themes and guilt; non bizarre; not associated with thought disorders and, overall, more refractory to treatment interventions.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/842449_2

“Auditory hallucinations are present in several nonpsychotic disorders, as well as a proportion of the ‘normal’ population.[23] Auditory hallucinations in PTSD may be chance occurrences, which are perceived as threatening, secondary to the heightened arousal state of PTSD. Misdiagnosis is likely to persist without a longitudinal approach and understanding of the underlying biological basis for the illness and its later course, as the clinical presentation is difficult to differentiate on a cross-sectional basis. Symptoms such as hallucinations have been shown to be clinically indistinguishable in adolescents with PTSD or a psychotic disorder.[24]”

http://www.med.upenn.edu/ctsa/ptsd_symptoms.html

“Rare cases of PTSD may involve auditory hallucinations and paranoid ideation. Individuals who experience auditory hallucinations may experience tinnitus, a constant ringing in one’s ears, or they may hear a voice or set of voices that are not physically present. Individuals who are experiencing paranoid ideation are highly guarded and constantly suspicious of being harmed and harassed by those around them. When the trauma involves violent death, symptoms of both complicated grief and PTSD may be present.”

As for my own experiences, mainly I have a deep man’s voice that I hear. It is loud and startling. I usually hear it to my left, causing me to turn my head and look for the person who might have said something, but of course no one is there. It is so loud that I am startled, often I jump or gasp in reaction. The voice says horrible things to me. I don’t think the voice is my father’s voice, it sounds much deeper and raspier to me-like a demon radio announcer. It does however say things to me similar to what my father would have said – similar – but not exactly. So this voice is not exactly a flashback. I do have those too, reliving experiences, and this is different. This voice I hear I don’t leave reality, I am still in the current time, there is no visual component either. I will doing ANYTHING and this voice can intrude.

Like yesterday I was walking down the hallway and noticed my dog sleeping sweetly in my son’s room. I felt warm and smiled as I walked by on my way to the bathroom. Then I heard this deep voice, booming, almost like through a PA announcing “She is going to die”. Instantly I am filled with sadness and fear for my dog, dreading her death. She is in good health. No one is going to hurt her. I know this. So is this voice a remnant of my father hurting my past pets? I don’t think he ever actually said those exact words to me. I generated that, not remembered that.

Other times I will be talking to Hubby, about nothing in particular, and I will hear the voice say “You are a fool, stupid slut, no one loves you” or “He hates you, its a trick” or “why do you keep trying?”

Again, these voices I hear are similar to messages I received as a child, but not exact memories. So I think it is related to PTSD. Is it psychosis? Well…I do hear voices from nonexistent people. Is it a form of schizo-blahblah whatever disorder? No one knows. But it seems related.

All I know, is it sucks big time. It is getting more difficult to manage, not easier. Meds do not help, and I have tried them all. This is seriously debilitating, and makes it impossible to have relationships and be around people since I am in constant battle with the voices in my head. It is exhausting to keep saying “shut up, they do love me, I am worth it, I am safe, no one is tricking me here, go away”. I used to shut off the voices instantly – like talk to the hand. But this new therapy program wanted me to listen to them, to sit with the feelings, to explore the thoughts. Okay, great, so I have done that, and now I hear them more than ever and feel everything the voices want me to feel. Is this supposed to be better? I am not sure how long this stage is supposed to last. No one has an answer for me on this. I am supposed to keep using my cpt tools and working through it without losing my mind completely, which I actually do fear will happen one day. The mental exhaustion of sorting through all of this is too much sometimes. That’s when I choose to zone out and mindlessly watch TV for hours on end.

So I have been paying more attention and I think I hear other sounds too, not just the voice – like squeals, cries, wind, footsteps, scrapes, other creepy there might be someone in your house horror movie kind of sounds. That might be the hypervigilance producing something for me, since I am always on guard, once in a while it gives me something to hear. Research thinks these sounds and AH are related to dissociating and flashbacks somehow but the mechanisms are not entirely understood in our amazingly complex brains. I think I used to listen so carefully for signs of danger, and now I generate sounds of danger similar to memories.

I am resisting a slew of snarky comments, about how fun this condition is for me. You get it. But I am curious if anyone else hears stuff too. Don’t worry, you can tell me, I won’t tell anyone, and I won’t think you are crazy, or at least not any crazier than I am. I would like to know how anyone copes, manages, handles it, other than simply waiting for it to go away.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

PTSD and Schizophrenia May Be in the Same Spectrum

PTSD and Schizophrenia may be related as varying degrees of a similar malfunction.

I was describing a recent flashback to my therapist, and I finally got brave and actually described it without watering it down. I told her how it seemed so real, and that I could see, hear, feel, smell – everything- my past superimposing and flickering over my present – leaving me unsure for moments which age I actually was.  I told her I was afraid to say that before, afraid I would get taken away and locked up. She smiled her sad smile at me, knowing what I meant. I asked her if any of her other clients describe flashbacks as powerful hallucinations – and she said yes.

So that got me thinking – woah – what if my brother’s schizophrenia is similar to my PTSD flashbacks? What if all hallucinations work on the same mechanism, the same spectrum of disorder, but that schizophrenia is much more severe?

What if schizophrenia is a flashback that doesn’t end with a safe return to reality?  I shudder at the thought. 

Turns out some recent studies have been thinking along the same lines. Check out this article: http://healingattention.org/documents/doc_litreviewpsychosis.pdf

Excerpts from that article:

“Paranoid delusions: faulty attempts to explain traumabased hallucinations? Some people, when faced
with negative, emotionally loaded, or unusual or anomalous experiences quickly jump to the
suspicion of external threat, i.e. they become paranoid. Hearing voices when there is nobody
there is often (but not always) a negative experience, and is often experienced as unusual

or anomalous. Paranoid delusions are sometimes, therefore, understandable attempts to make sense
of hallucinations (in various sense modalities) (106, 146–148, 155–157).
Paranoid delusions can, of course, develop in the absence of hallucinations. Is there a difference
between the hypervigilance to threat acknowledged in PTSD patients to be the outcome of
trauma and the belief that people are out to get you which is labelled delusional in traumatized
people diagnosed psychotic? (30, 33). Having been severely or repeatedly abused as a child is
likely to render other people a serious potential threat, a threat that can easily be generalized to
anyone or anything that is reminiscent of the perpetrator or the circumstances surrounding the
abuse. The processes by which hypervigilance develops into fixed paranoid delusions would
appear to be a fruitful research avenue. Again, Nadel and Jacob’s (159) work on the impact of
trauma on the brain is salient. Whether we label this PTSD, DID or schizophrenia, the resulting
fear, distortions and impoverishment of lives remain. Heightened sensitivity to stressors: the Traumagenic
Neurodevelopmental (TN) model Many of the theories attempting to explain trauma’s relationships with hallucinations and
delusions, such as high levels of distress in the face of anomalous experiences and hypervigilance
to threat, are consistent with a heightened sensitivity to stress in general. A study of 271 severely ill
in-patients found that the two subscales of the Brief Symptom Inventory most strongly related to
sexual and physical abuse were psychoticism and interpersonal sensitivity (164).
Heightened reactivity to stressors is a cardinal feature of schizophrenia (165) and is considered
the core of the constitutional vulnerability that forms the diathesis in the stress-diathesis model.”

Diagnosis – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, Part 7

We now come to the part of this biography, that although expected, is devastatingly sad. The part where we find out my brother, at age 24, has Schizophrenia and will likely never recover.

First I need to back up a bit, to my Junior year of High School, when he was 23. The last post he was still living in CA, still independent, though definitely living dangerously with his choices and affiliations with drug dealers, and using drugs himself.

An update on the rest of my broken family:

My oldest brother got married during my Sophomore year, and I became an Aunt during my Junior Year. I can not recall if my CA brother came back for his brother’s wedding. I doubt it, but I just can’t recall if he was there or not with all the holes in my memory, and not one person will discuss this time period with me to confirm or deny anything. I was not interested in my niece at first, and in fact tried to ignore that I had one. I think I was just not overjoyed at another little girl starting life in my family.

I was still living with my father when school started that year, but at some point my boyfriend that year (who I used to refer to as my First Love although I now know how tainted that love was – this past year has taught me so much about love, that I will now give that title to my husband) gave me the strength and encouragement I needed to tell my Mom about my Dad’s abuse, and get me out of his custody. My relationship with my Mom at that point was non-existent and I wasn’t even sure she would take me in, but she did. And I wasn’t sure I was actually any better off over there. I don’t recall moving out, more holes, but I do recall having Christmas at the apartment that my Mom and the youngest brother shared. Perhaps that is another reason my PTSD flares up and causes me great pain each November, just figured that out as I was preparing to write this post.

But before I moved out, my CA brother came to stay with Dad and I for a bit. He brought his live-in girlfriend too. Our apartment was suddenly very crowded. His girlfriend dressed like Madonna and was a professional groupie and lawsuit fraud specialist – meaning she specialized in falling in various McDonald’s across the country and suing them for fraudulent pain and suffering. She showed me he neck brace. She said it was so easy, and as long as you started a new case in a new state, no one ever looked up that you had done it before. Her Mom taught her how to do this, that is how her mom supported her family. Her appearance was so startling in our little town, her bleached blond wild hair, black lace bustier, low cut super tight jeans showing her navel ring and thong panties, 6 inch heeled boots, and so much jewelry on each finger, wrist, earlobe, eyebrow, toe that she jingled with each breath. And the makeup, all the makeup, wow. This girl was as tacky and trashy as they come, and she tried to become my best friend, or big sister or something. I politely listened to her stories of “banging” band members back stage to get passage on the latest tour bus. She showed me pictures to prove many stories. But she also assured me that life was all done now, because she loved my brother. I did not want her to love my brother, I wanted her to disappear.

At first it was great having my brother there with us, hearing him play guitar and just hang out and play computer games. But I noticed that when I came back from school, he’d still be laying right where he was when I left. He’d ask me to borrow cash for cigs. Told my Dad he was looking for a job and would get his own place soon, but it was pretty obvious he was not trying to get a job. My Dad got angry, and kicked out his good-for-nothing butt, and said not to even call us until he had a proper job, that he didn’t raise any free-loaders. Or that’s what my Dad said he told him. I didn’t get to say goodbye, I just came back from school one day and he was gone, and my Dad was so proud of himself. (Soon after, Dad decided it was time for me to have a “real job”, that babysitting was not enough and he was terrified I might get ideas from my brother’s ways. So he made me a fake birth certificate with our computer and scanner to show me as 16 and not still 15 to start earning some money and not be a loser like my brother. I did start working, and was then required to buy my own clothes, bus fare home from school, and even contribute to household expenses, like using the laundromat and my own medical bills. He often showed me his paycheck and the alimony deduction, and made me feel so guilty for any expense I caused him.)

We didn’t know where my brother and his girl went for quite some time, but apparently they crashed at his girlfriend’s parents’ house for a while, in some Northern state, until the girlfriend completed another lawsuit, and my brother stole a car. Now some of these events may be out of order, but did occur within that year or two. I remember hearing the word felony, and that he won’t get off easy this time, that he crossed a state border with a stolen car. My parents just pretended it wasn’t happening. My Dad felt my brother was getting what he deserved, as he always knew he was good for nothing. My Mom said nothing at all – nothing was wrong. I overheard something about early release if he was willing to cooperate with a halfway home. I had no idea what that was. I thought it was like a free shelter, I had no idea it was a prison, and he was only allowed out to work, which he was for some reason unable to do.

At some point he got out, and he and that girl got an apartment with her latest settlement cash. Here are some other events that may be out of order:

She called the police and had him arrested for domestic abuse on many occasions. We learned later it was when he would try to break up with her (from the girlfriend’s father), and she would attack him, and he would push her away. We learned that SHE actually hit him quite often. You don’t often hear of this, but I do believe my gentle brother never raised his voice, and definitely not his hand at her, and instead fell victim to another abusive relationship. (I now know my first boyfriends were actually toxic, if not actually abusive to me, but we didn’t know better or how to help ourselves)

My brother disappeared. Vanished. Missing. His girlfriend called and said he had not come home or gone to work for several days. She said she called the local police (they were living a few states away from us, not as far as CA, but still very far) but they weren’t helping much because they were so lazy (not because of how often she calls them).

Park Bench

Park Bench (Photo credit: pigpogm)

My Dad, and I think one if not both, of my other brothers loaded in a car and went up to search for him. It took several more days, but they found him. They found my brother sitting alone on a park bench, a few blocks from his home, staring off into space. Sitting in the same clothes he had left in days ago. He did not know who he was or how to get home. He did not know his own Dad and brothers. He was dehydrated, shivering cold, and hungry. I guess he mostly slept in the car, on the long way back to us, but never did figure out who he was or where they were taking him. He just went with them because they asked him to. No fight in him. My oldest brother told me he seemed grateful to be going some where, and acted more like a lost 4 year old than a lost 24 year old.

I was living with my Mom when my Dad came in with my brothers. (I think, real fuzzy about this too, I may have just gone to my Mom’s while my Dad went away to look for my brother depending on the timing) My Dad just said to my Mom, “Here he is. I found your son.” And then he sneered and left, acting disgusted. My Mom tried to hug my brother, but he was not making eye contact with any of us, and instead was staring through us, and laughing. Not a happy laugh, but a disconnected laughing sound that came from a non-smiling face, and empty eyes. I think at first, everyone thought he was high on something, so they just sent him to the couch to sleep it off.

But sleep did not improve him. He was talking and laughing to himself and seemed to be very busy, although he was sitting all alone. He would respond when we spoke to him, but he was also responding to the invisible people he saw and heard next to us. My mom took him to the hospital. They tested for drugs and found him to be clean. I’m not sure how long it took, days I think, with many referrals, many specialists, and many appointments, but one day my Mom came back alone, without my brother, and plopped a huge binder on my lap. Told me that my brother was not well, that he was going to be in the hospital for a while, and that I should read that binder, that we should all read it, but that I could not tell anyone, not a soul, this was not to leave our family. I said nothing, but opened that binder and read the title, “When someone you love has Schizophrenia.” My mom just stood there as understanding crept in my brain, and then must have showed on my face, but she said nothing else to me. She motioned to the binder again, as if begging me to read it, and then left the room. I heard the stifled sobs coming from her bedroom as I sat on the couch with this weight. The binder itself was heavy and imposing on my lap, but it felt like the ceiling was sitting on me, not just a binder.

I read that title again, and immediately thought it was stupid. They had to be wrong. I, like most people, only knew about Schizophrenia as a stereotypical joke. I was in the habit of calling my friends “schizo” if they were acting nutty or two faced. It was part of my teenage vocabulary, like “lame” or “gay”. It didn’t mean anything. And then, all I could think about was one of the terrible poems my Dad had taught me when I was little.

Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
I am schizophrenic
And so am I

I remembered laughing at how clever that poem was, because to rhyme, it should have ended with “you” but ended with “I” instead, because obviously schizophrenics think they are more than one person. So clever, so funny. Wrong. I closed the binder as that poem taunted me, pushed it aside, and left. I just could not be in the same place with those terrible sobs and that terrible binder. I don’t remember where I went, probably to the parkway for a drive. I had no friends at that point, everyone had abandoned me when they found out about my creepy Dad. But even if I did, I was forbidden to share this burden and embarrass my brother (or my Mom in reality) any further. So it was one more thing to swallow down and feed my ulcers. I had two actively bleeding by then.

My brother does not have a split personality, or multiple personalities. Instead, he sees and hears multiple personalities all of the time, and can’t distinguish which sounds and sights are real. He lost touch with reality, but he does know he is not one of those voices. His senses lie to him. He hears people talking, and the real ones and the hallucinations all sound the same.

I’ll share more on what it was like for him those first few years of experimental meds and hospital stays, and living and struggling nonstop, 24/7 with this terrible disease in another post.

I did eventually read that binder, multiple times, but just as my family could not cope with my recent news of being molested, I could not cope with this news of my brother not being able to be my brother any more. That there was no hope of recovery-ever, and that managing symptoms would be difficult, if  not impossible. It also said his lifespan would be greatly reduced, and hope for assimilation in any normal lifestyle was severely limited, if also, not impossible.

And so we all continued in our lives, as shells of who we really were, living in shock and denial, hiding our painful pasts, hiding our painful current lives and just trying so damn hard to be OK on top of all the pain and secrets. We all withdrew into ourselves, into our work or studies or boyfriends or girlfriends and had taken the final step to becoming not a family as I now understand a family can be, but separate strangers tied together only by the same last name.

 

Rehab and Serenity – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother – Part 4

1986 was very difficult for my family. My brother was living in a drug rehab facility, and we were attending weekly, all day family support sessions. It was intensive counseling to support every member of the family, which pissed off my Dad entirely. He did not buy into any of this psycho mumbo jumbo garbage, and didn’t think we should all have counseling and suffer because of his one messed up son. I do think he attended each week though, because my family was all about appearances, and would only show grace and charm to outsiders. I also think it was a condition of my brother’s release with no jail sentence.

The support sessions used a divide and conquer strategy. Each of us went into a different breakout group in the morning, based on age, and then back together to share in the afternoon.

I recall one breakout group, the counselor gave us little kids a paper and asked us to draw our family, but, and this is a big but, we were supposed to rank our family members in closeness and trust. I was in fifth grade. I drew my dog at the top of the page, bigger than anything else. Dad had let me pick out a puppy over the summer, after our old dog died (because my Dad poisoned it, but that’s a different story) and was threatening me daily to return that dog to the pound. I was not having much luck training my puppy (on my own as a 10 yr old), and she was wild, and growing bigger by the minute. I was so determined to save that dog’s life, not to have it hurt or abandoned by my Dad, so it was top of my list. My cats were next – I told them everything, and they hugged me anyway. And then my brothers, and then my parents. I still remember the counselor looking at my paper in shock, open mouthed. I asked if I did it wrong? He said No. But then he patted my shoulder and gave me a look I did not understand until many years later. He knew how messed up my family was, but could not say what he was thinking.

Mornings usually started with a video. Every morning I would struggle to keep my eyes open, as a video showed corny stories about families in trouble, but always coming together for each other in the end. I knew these weren’t real. Real families did not love each other or hug or talk openly. My head would nod as I struggled to focus, in the darkened room. I think that is when my sleep troubles started full force. I was staying up at night to keep my Dad out of my room, finally realizing at this age that he should not be touching me, and feeling like I was completely to blame for it. This was when I learned that sugar and caffeine helped me stay awake. We didn’t have time for breakfast at home, so I always brought some change for the vending machines and had M+M’s and Pepsi throughout that video to stay awake and pass the quiz on it later. I also learned to tap my finger nails into my thumb – a nervous act I still do today to remain present.

We always had one hour with my newly drug free brother. We would talk about how he wasn’t supported in the past, and how he needed our help to stay off drugs when he returned home. We learned how he was an invisible middle child, My oldest brother was the Super-Star, My other brother was the Angel, and I was the scapegoat. I thought it was all stupid. I felt insulted that they thought they knew anything about me. But I answered every question the way I knew they wanted me to. I noticed everyone else did that too. I don’t think any of us spoke an ounce of truth during any of these sessions. We all had secrets, and we all had years of practice keeping them hidden.

Each day ended with a group hug – for at least 30 seconds, ugh, stop touching me! – and the Serenity Prayer. I learned to hate that prayer. I still cringe when I hear it.

At the time, I felt this prayer meant I had to accept every terrible thing in my life. I felt powerless as a child. I did not gain the wisdom to know the difference until just a few years ago. This is a terrible prayer for an abused child from a dysfunctional family. My mom bought a plaque with that awful prayer on it and hung it up in our dining room. I would look at my brother’s empty seat, look at my abusive father who insisted I sat next to him, look at my mom, too afraid to eat in front of us because her husband called her fat, and then I’d look at that plaque and ask to leave the table. But I had to clean my plate or hear about kids in Ethiopia, so I ignored my urge to vomit and mechanically shoved in all the food. Each bite made me more numb, and numb became my status quo for years. Fine I thought – I may have to accept my life – but I don’t have to feel it. That’s when I started disassociating mind and body and mentally living somewhere else fairly regularly.

I assume my brother did the same, lived mentally elsewhere, or maybe the schizophrenia was doing it for him, now that drugs could not.

 

Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother – Part 3 – Drug Abuse

I remember answering way too many phone calls from the police station, asking for my Mom to pick up my brother. Speeding. Theft. Vandalism. Throwing bricks at moving cars on the highway-cracking windshields and causing accidents, but no deaths yet. Possession of drugs and drug Pairs of Fenala (I had to look up paraphernalia in the dictionary). My Mom searching his room after one of these phone calls, and tears coming steadily down her face,  and gathering all kinds of strange items, like pipes and vases (bongs) and bags of powder and grass from under his bed and in his closet. I would always just watch silently, trying to figure out what was happening in my house, but no one ever talked to me. Except to tell me not to tell anyone about anything.

Then one day, my Mom started packing my brother’s clothes into a suitcase and put it in the trunk of her car. Then she waited for my brother to come home and told him we were going out for tacos – something my brother still can’t resist. But we passed up Taco Bell. She said she wanted to try a new place, that we all needed a change. My brother said “whatever”. But he didn’t know about the suitcase in the trunk. I was so confused, but again, just stayed quiet. We pulled up to what looked like a hospital. Then she said to my brother, “They are expecting you. We want to help you. If you walk in there willingly, they won’t send you to jail. Please. Just walk in. There are guards that will catch you if you run. I don’t want you to get hurt.” I saw two huge men dressed all in white, but holding handcuffs. My brother turned around and looked at me in the back seat, a long, ghostly, searching look – but I had no answers for him. Then he looked at my Mom, and just got out and quietly entered the building. The two men grabbed his arms and escorted him away. My brother never looked back. Another man came out for his suitcase, and asked my Mom to sign some papers, but told her it was better if she just left. My mom took one last look at the door my brother entered and got back in the car to take me home. I hated her. I loved my brother. How could she give him away?

On the way home, we talked very little. We both cried – mine of out fear from not knowing, and her from fear of knowing her son had a drug problem. But all she said to me was, “Your brother needs help. They can help him here. We’ll come to visit him soon.”

The next day at school, my teacher asked me if I was OK. I was angry and embarrassed that she thought I wasn’t. Apparently my Mom had called her and explained that I needed to go to an intervention today and then will need to go every Wednesday to attend family counseling at the drug rehab center. I heard this from my teacher – not my parents. This teacher had taught my brother years ago and was “not surprised at all”.

I had no idea what an intervention was, but I was fairly excited to get to leave school. Although I was a perfect student, school was a long, tortuous, boring ordeal. My mom picked me up, and we drove, in silence, to that building where we abandoned my brother. This time we parked and went inside. My Dad was inside with my other brothers. We were all taken to a quiet room, and given instructions. We were supposed to convince my brother he had a drug problem, and to do this, we were supposed to list out everything he had done wrong recently. Things that were harmful, hurtful, or out of character for him. I didn’t want to get my brother in trouble, and I didn’t want to tell this stranger anything. The counselor handed out papers and pencils to write out the events, then left the room for a while. When he returned, he brought someone who looked like my brother, but seemed like only his outline, or his physical form. It seemed that his spirit had been removed. His eyes were cold and blank. He looked around the room at his family as if we were all strangers, and sat down in silence in the chair in the front of the room, facing the rest of us.

Then the counselor asked us to start reading our complaints. One after one, we all took turns listing his wrongs. Each comment made him flinch, like we were throwing knives at him, but stared stonily at the floor. My mom said “You stole money from my purse”. Flinch. My Dad said “You are failing your classes”. Flinch. My oldest brother said, “You kissed my girlfriend”. Flinch.  I didn’t want to read mine. I didn’t want to throw another knife. This seemed way too cruel. The counselor took my paper and read mine aloud. “You kicked our dog” That one was not just a knife, not just a flinch, it was like all his bones had been removed and he no longer had any structure in his body. He went limp and looked me in the eye with the deepest sorrow I have ever seen, and then looked away to blink away his tears. When he looked back at us again, the sorrow was gone. It was like he was gone. He listened to the rest without flinching at all. When all of our lists were complete, the counselor asked if my brother had anything he wanted to say back to us. He looked right at me, and whispered, “I’m sorry”. But he did not look at anyone else, just hung his head in shameful silence. The counselor thanked us for coming in, and escorted my brother back to his room. I watched him walk away, and saw the guard buzz the locked doors open for them to enter the residential hall. The counselor returned with a Doctor, saying they will start the detox tonight. That they will attempt to keep him comfortable and monitored for safety during withdrawals, and that the worst should be over in 3 days, but that they would keep him for a few weeks. Weeks – I was stunned. And then they handed Mom a bag with his belt and shoelaces, to prevent any suicide attempts.

I was in 5th grade. My brother was  junior in high school. I asked my Mom how he would make up all that school work? She just shushed me. No one told me anything, and no one answered my questions. No google back then, so I went back to the dictionary to look up everything I heard the doctor say. I went to the library and learned about drugs and detox. I was already in the habit of looking up my asthma medications and side effects, so I knew exactly where to go. I learned that detox was very dangerous, and that my brother’s heart could stop, and that it would be very painful for him to detox. That he would sweat and shake and throw up for hours. But I kept my knowledge to myself, as my mom read People magazine and pretended everything was fine. I prayed for my brother that night, prayed that he would survive the detox, that he wouldn’t be in so much pain, and that one day I would see him smile again.

Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, Part 2 – Adolescence

Read part 1 here

I remember the detectives coming to our house when I was perhaps in 2nd grade, my brother then a freshman in high school. Two men, in black suits, asked for my parents when I answered the door. They had briefcases and badges, and some sort of walkie talkie/CB. They arrived in a plain black car. My Mom told me to go to my room while they talked. We had a one story home, and my room was just off of the living room,  so I pressed myself against my door to listen. I used a trick from Get Smart, I tried various objects on the door and wall to hear better, like a cup. I found the best way to hear was to lay on the floor and put ear near the crack under the door.

I heard the first detective ask a bit about my brother: What is he like? Is he an angry young man? Does he have any friends? Does he have any girlfriends? Any hobbies? My Mom started answering the questions, when My Dad stopped her and asked why they wanted to know. I had played with my Dad’s briefcase enough to recognize the “click-click” of the detective’s case opening. Then I heard some papers rustling, and the detective took a deep breath and said, “Your son is in serious trouble. Is he here?” (No, my brother was not home at the time)

I pressed my ear into the door crack so hard it was hurting my cheek, but I had to know what my brother did, and was feeling scared. The detective said, “Do you know an Ellen?” My parents said No. But I knew an Ellen. My brother had her over a few times, I thought she was really pretty, with short blond hair, bright blue eyes, pretty skirts, and one time she braided my hair for me while she waited for my brother to shower. I guess my brother thought she was pretty too, because I remember them kissing on the same couch where those detectives were sitting.

Ellen had complained about harassing phone calls, that were frightening her, and were escalating in severity. They said they traced the calls to our home, and made some recordings. They asked my Dad to look at the phone records and see how many times calls had been made. Dad simply said, “Thank you for letting us know, we will look into and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” The detective said it wasn’t that simple, and that they would need to take my brother “in” for questioning and possible arrest. My dad said they weren’t taking his son “in” any where, and that they should leave, that they had no right to come in here and accuse his family of anything. My dad said surely my brother must be friends with this girl and all the phone calls could be explained, and that phone records did not prove anything wrong was done. My dad used that voice with the detectives that always scared me in to doing whatever he said. It was cold and commanding, no emotions at all, but you could feel the hate underneath it. It was impossible to argue with that voice.

So in the era before cell phones, my parents had no idea where their teenage son was or when he would be home. I waited a while after the detectives left to come out of my room, knowing that if I came out instantly they might guess I was listening. My Dad got out a magazine and sat at the table reading, waiting for my brother to walk in the door. I got out a book and started reading on the couch, turning myself invisible, as was my greatest skill back then. My brother came in at last and Dad used that scary voice to say, “Sit down. Now”

“Who the Hell do you think you are, embarrassing me like this? Who the Hell is Ellen? And how dare you use the phone that I pay for you to use to make your dirty phone calls!”

“Huh?”

“Who the Hell is Ellen?”

“I don’t know” (I stifled a gasp – he was lying to my Dad!)

“You’re a lying sack of sh**, you stupid SOB. But you keep that story and you’re going to jail. They can’t prove it was you or your stupid friends using our phone to be mean. You called Ellen because you were dating, and then you broke up with her and she made up this story to get back at you. Right – Isn’t that how it happened?”

“Er – Yes. Yes that’s what happened”

———————————————————————————————————————————

I remember the day I came home from school in 4th grade and found my brother and his friends all sitting at our dining room table with towels over their heads, steam or smoke coming out of the towels. He said they all had colds and were breathing in the medicine. His eyes were vacant, glossy, and so red. I was frightened and just went to my room. I’m still not sure which drug they were using, guessing they had bongs under those towels though.

I remember when one of his friends dared him to see how far he could kick our little dog. He refused a few times, but those friends were calling him a pu**y and he had that distant look in his eyes again when he finally gave in. That tiny dog traveled a good twenty feet (looked that way to me anyway, like in slow motion) in the air before falling down in the grass. I scooped him up, and can still remember the look on my brother’s face as his eyes met mine, shame and grief, but he said nothing and got in the car with his friends. I was shocked. I just sat there holding my dog, who was fine, completely fine, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t understand how this brother, my sweet gentle brother who loved all creatures could be so cruel. What was wrong with him? When he finally came back that night, he saw me with the dog and just nodded at me. He looked relieved the dog was OK, but also embarrassed. He tried to tousle my hair and do gorilla sounds, but I pushed him away. I was so angry at him. He just shrugged and walked away.

My brother played guitar more than any other activity. He tried football and basketball freshman year, but gave up when my Dad would not attend junior varsity games, not when he can watch his older brother, star quarter back on the “real” football team. So no more sports for him. His good friends, not the ones that dared him to kick the dog, came over often to jam. They formed a band and started competing in “Battle of the Bands” and playing at the local fairs and such. They had dreams of being rock stars and moving to California. My brother could by then play anything by ear, tune his guitar perfectly by ear, and create complex compositions in the style of Yngwie Malmsteen – his idol. He had a huge crush on Stevie Nicks, and still does a bit. He got two after school jobs and started saving up: First he bought a mustang, then he bought an electric guitar, then an amp, then a foot pedal special effects board, then some recording equipment. Now that I think of it, he bought way too many things, really nice things in the matter of months,  for a high school kid. Did delivering pizza really tip that well? I’m now guessing he delivered more than pizza. More on this in the next post.

My brother is brilliant and would often tutor his friends on assignments, but rarely turned anything in for himself and his grades fell from nearly perfect to non-existent. Although he had the highest score in his class on PSAT, he just didn’t  or couldn’t care any more. Whatever he did was not noticed, or not good enough for my Dad, and especially never as good as our eldest brother. He skipped school often. He was suspended many times. My Mom just ignored it all, and focused on her perfect children. His failing could have been her fault, so in her world, he was not failing – he was fine. No one is sure if he was experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia at this point, but it is suspected that his behavior and early drug use could have been him trying to cope with what his brain was telling him. Maybe the hallucinations had started and drugs silenced them for a bit? Again, we’ll never know, because he can no longer access those memories.