My eldest brother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when he was 14 and I was nine. No one in our family knows exactly where it came from or whose family it came from (because no one else has been diagnosed with it), but looking back, it is pretty obvious that my mom’s mom definitely exhibited some similar symptoms to my brother’s. Plus, mood disorders (bipolar, depression, etc.) seem to be prevalent on my mom’s side as well, so it could have come from there.
I seem to have a tendency toward manic episodes as well – either super pumped about everything or super irritated about everything. However, I also recognize this and have learned many ways to deal with it (so has Greg…bless his giant redneck heart), so I am fairly good at stopping those irritable days in their tracks and moving back up the scale to positivity and optimism. Admittedly, the last 22 months since Cora died have proved to be a bit more difficult than usual (mood wise), but I’m still fairly good at recognizing and controlling my emotional response to things most days.
Lately, I have been doing a LOT of research on Schizophrenia because my brother lives in our basement and I want to make sure I understand his symptoms and recognize the signs of his moods from day to day. Many people think that Schizophrenics are violent or dangerous, but the truth is usually the polar opposite. I’d say about 95% of them shy away from society when their symptoms (voices in their heads) get to be too much to handle and most of them run from any kind of confrontation – actually, from any kind of communication at all – because they have such high levels of anxiety that interaction with people stresses them out.
My brother is truly a gentle giant of a man. He shies away from contact on his bad days and he comes upstairs and talks my ear off on good days…usually while I’m trying to get work done. I’ve learned that the key to getting along with him is to read his body language. If he looks away from me as soon as he sees me and practically runs in the opposite direction, he’s definitely not having a super communicative day and I just leave him along. If he sees me and smiles and asks me how my day is going or gives me a hug, he’s doing all right and I can interact with him. If I hear him giggling downstairs, his voices are either whispering some really funny shit to him or he’s in a great mood and watching something funny on TV – either situation is win/win for everyone because he’s in a good mood!
No matter what is going on with him from day to day, though, there are always things to giggle about. There are always things about him that make me laugh out loud after the fact. And, well, sometimes you just have to laugh because if you don’t laugh, the whole situation might seem kind of tragic.
Short term Memory? What short term memory?
My brother has zero memory for the present most of the time and it often feels as though I’m living with a Dementia patient. He will ask me the same questions five times in one conversation. A long time ago, I would give him elaborate answers and talk his ear off about anything he asked about, but it became quite tedious when I realized he wouldn’t remember what I’d said anyway. Then, I started giving him short, cryptic answers because I didn’t want to waste my energy telling him things he wouldn’t remember. After a few years when our conversations were very dull and very one-sided, I started spicing things up by giving him outrageous answers and telling him things that couldn’t possibly be true, just to make myself laugh.
Last year he came upstairs and asked, “What are you and Greg doing this weekend?” Rather than telling him that we were going camping and planned to fish all weekend, I told him that we were flying to Vegas for a SciFi convention and that I was going to dress up as Princess Lea and Greg was going as Chewbacca. I also told him that we would be partaking in a weekend filled of debauchery and depravity and we may have to stay an extra week because we’d be so ridiculously exhausted from all the sex we were going to have with Star Wars crazed strangers.
Not a word of a lie, he said, “Oh, it sounds like you have a busy weekend planned. Good for you.” He told me to have fun and went back downstairs while I went back to packing for our weekend of “debauchery and depravity” out on the lake. He came upstairs ten minutes later and asked, “So, what are you and Greg doing this weekend?” to which I replied, “Meh, not much. Might do a little fishing.”
Last week, he asked me why I play roller derby. I told him it was mostly because I am thinking of becoming bisexual and there are a lot of hot chicks on my team who wear tight shorts. I also told him that I enjoy having the crap kicked out of me by manly women and am secretly into S&M. The following day, when he asked me the same question again, I told him that I play because my feet don’t fit properly in my regular shoes and skates just feel more comfortable to me. I explained that if I didn’t play, I wouldn’t get to spend as much time wearing skates instead of shoes and my feet would hurt all the time. 😉 He, once again, didn’t question either of these answers to his question. I am still giggling.
This morning, he came upstairs and asked where Greg was going this morning with the boat. I told him that Greg and his friends had just started a new sport called Boat Pushing where they unload a boat and motor onto the sand and fire up the motor and see how far the boat could get on the sand before the engine died. He looked at me kind of funny and then he said, “Uhm, that doesn’t sound like a sport and replacing the motors must get pretty expensive.” Seriously??? He can’t help it, though; the anti-psychotic drugs and anti-anxiety meds he is on are frying his brain cells. He’ll realize later today (if he remembers) that I was poking fun at his silly question and he’ll come upstairs and say something along the lines of, “Uhm, Jo, earlier when you were telling me about Greg and the Boat, you were kidding, right?” I may or may not tell him that I was pulling his leg. J
Are You Kicking Me Out?
It doesn’t matter what we say to my brother, how we say it or how many times we say it, the nature of his illness is that he will inevitably become paranoid about everything. I could tell him that he uses too much laundry soap (in fact, I have) and explain to him how much to use when he’s doing a large or small load, and he will sit downstairs for hours, letting the voices take hold of him, until he’s convinced he is going to get booted out of the house for it. I’m not kidding. He will come upstairs, sometimes days later, and he’ll start the conversation with, “I don’t want to start anything and I’m not trying to upset you or complain, but, are you going to kick me out?”
Even though I expect this regularly and I know it fills him with a truckload of anxiety on a regular basis, I can’t help but giggle about it – not to his face, of course – I’m not a monster.
Every time it happens (two to three times per week…), I smile, shake my head and tell him in a calm and quiet voice that he is not going anywhere, he is safe and happy here in our home and we want him to stay that way. It usually takes me ten minutes of repeating this to calm him down and then he’s good for another few days. If I truly want to give him shit for something, I have to wait for the days when he is in a really good frame of mind, so I can present the problem to him when he’s receptive and not in a brooding mood. Even then, it doesn’t always work, but sometimes it’s unavoidable – for instance, when he leaves his door wide open all night in the dead of winter or when he walks across his carpet with mud all over his shoes or when he leaves his oven on for hours after he’s left the house. He has a LOT of sticky notes all over his place, reminding him to do (or not to do) certain things for safety. J
Here are some of the most recent reasons he’s been convinced we will kick him out of the house. And, I’m sorry if you don’t find humor in them, but to me they are hilarious because, seriously, none of these things would ever faze me let alone cause me to evict him. They are all SO RIDICULOUS that it’s easy to see how truly hard it is for Schizophrenics to distinguish between what is real and what their minds are telling them.
- He said he was going to do a load of laundry on a Tuesday and he forgot. He came upstairs in a panic on Wednesday and went on and on about how sorry he was for forgetting. Why yes, I’m going to evict you for not doing laundry when you said you were going to…
- He left his window open a crack a few nights ago and one of our cats crawled through it and slept on his bed. OMFG! I’m kicking you out for letting the cat into its own house. How dare you…
- He left his TV on really loud all night and it woke me up at around 4 a.m., so I went downstairs and turned it off. He came upstairs at 8 a.m. to say hi and I mentioned that he has a Sleep function on the TV so he can set it to turn off by a certain time. That was it, not a big deal. Ten minutes later, he came upstairs and asked if we were going to kick him out for being too loud. *sigh*
- He refused my invitation to come to Greg’s parents’ place for Easter dinner. The next day, he apologized profusely for being so anti-social and asked if we were going to kick him out. I shall evict you for refusing to partake in that delicious turkey dinner. Traitor!
· He asked me if he could borrow $10 until payday and I gave him $20 and told him to pay me back whenever he could. The day after payday, he knocked on my front door (he does this when he thinks he’s in BIG trouble for some reason) and apologized profusely for not paying me the day before…Once again, *sigh*…
You get the idea. He once had a huge anxiety attack because he left a sock behind in the dryer and was convinced we’d give him the boot because he was being messy (the guy’s suite is immaculate all the time and makes my house look like a pigsty). How can you not laugh at that?
My entire point with this post wasn’t actually the Schizophrenia or the things my brother does or says because of it, but that you have to make an effort to find humor in everything or life will be so much more difficult. My brother still finds a lot of things to laugh at and be happy about, despite his illness and the truth is it I couldn’t let myself laugh at his disease, the sadness of what he goes through would probably consume me and drag me into the depths of despair. His life, despite being so simple on so many levels compared to most people, is also incredibly difficult. Just think of how much you struggle with listening to your own thoughts and shutting them down and your brain probably functions properly. Imagine now that everywhere you go, no matter if you’re in a crowded room or all by yourself, there is a radio playing in your brain and you just can’t shut it off. Wouldn’t that truly suck ass crackers?
Find humor in the things the most difficult aspects of your life and everything will seem a little bit easier.