Schizophrenia is a devastating and nightmarish illness for the person afflicted, but it also takes a staggering mental toll on those close to him or her. In most cases, a person with a severe perceptual and behavioral disorder like schizophrenia will slowly drive away everyone in their life but their family and closest friends.
Tragically, in many cases, the irrational and sometimes frighting behavior common to schizophrenia isolates and damns the suffering party to a life of solitude and government custody, in the form of homeless shelters, mental institutions or in the worst cases, jail.
If I have learned one thing in this life of mine, it is that family are people you can’t get rid of. I hold to this notion, unable to imagine myself or anyone else as human without it. Even though it can be a pain, someone has to take care of, and probably live with the crazy family member.
Schizophrenia often comes out of the blue, so many of you may just be growing accustomed to your loved one’s new terrible view of reality. If this is you, and your spouse or child or sibling has suddenly brought the concept of “crazy” tangibly into your life, do not give up hope. My brother is schizophrenic, we live together, and somehow we have both survived.
The first and most important thing to remember is that you are the sane one. No matter how unnerved you become by the ensuing antics, you cannot act out. Try to remember that if they’re not wearing pants, waving a turkey leg, and screaming that you’re the devil, they are not in your reality. They are in a horrible and senseless reality.
Think for a brief second about how god-awful lucky you are to not be where they are, and let your compassion take away your anger. Take a deep breath, and talk calmly to them about what is going on. Don’t pander to their delusions, don’t be consoling, and don’t talk to them like they were a child or a puppy. Just talk about your reality and try to bring them into it.
There may come a time when you will feel like you have lost the person you used to know. I know for a fact that this is impossible, and should never be believed. After watching my brothers brain do cathartic cartwheels and astonishing acrobatics for over seven years, I truly understand the deep rooted nature of “personality.”
While our thoughts, feelings, and actions make up the most visible part of our individual “self,” there is an indefinable foundation underneath. At times I would watch my brother revert to his personality at various stages of his childhood. In other cases, he became people I had never met before, some terrifying, some depressing, and others severely annoying.
But through all of this, I have seen the real him surface repeatedly. Sometimes only for a few moments out of a year, but lately he has been himself almost regularly. Time has given him tools and experience to fight the madness with, and I would tentatively say that the efforts of myself and my family in counseling him have helped as well.
There is no golden cure to the exponentially growing problem of schizophrenia. The road back to normality is twisted and hard, but it’s the best and only solution. If your brother breaks his ankle, do you leave him by the side of the road?
Good luck to everyone.