When I was 15, one of my brothers, who was 21 came home from college because he wasn’t well. He would sit and stare and do nothing for awhile. Later he would start talking but he said strange things and acted bizarre. He could be generous but was also unpredictable. I feel bad now because I was afraid of him for no real reason. He scared me because he seemed unusual.
My parents tried to figure out what had happened to him. He seemed fine when he had left home. They suggested maybe someone slipped him some drugs but settled on that he had been brainwashed by a cult at college. That his new girlfriend had brought him into the cult.
Of course, there was no cult, but the story grew. I was told not to speak to certain neighbors as they were part of this cult. My father didn’t believe in mental illness or psychiatry. He thought the hospitals were like the one in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and discouraged my brother from going.
They also accused people of being witches. It was like mental illness was contagious. It was scary and confusing living in that home.
It can be difficult to be the sibling of anyone with a chronic illness. All the time and attention was on my brother and I felt ignored. My older siblings moved out and i just had my younger brother to confide in. I felt everything was strange at our house and didn’t have any friends over. My brother felt like every family has their own issues and we weren’t that unusual. I think he was able to roll with everything easier than I did.
Sonya Sones wrote a book of free verse “Stop Pretending, the day my big sister went crazy” about how she felt as a sibling, that I read as an adult and could relate to. I didn’t want to be home. I stayed out and used alcohol, other drugs and later sex to escape.
My brother didn’t get treatment except when he would get picked up for 3 day observational holds. This started in 1979 and it may have been easier to be taken in. He would be yelling or saying he was some famous person and the police would take him to a hospital. They said he had paranoid schizophrenia and put him on anti psychotics. Not Thorazine, but similar. All they did was slow him down. So, then you had a slow moving psychotic man. He knew he was not acting normal, so he would imitate people around him, which was even stranger.
The last time he was picked up, it was in a different county. They tried lithium this time. It was 6 years from when he had originally come home. Everyone told me it was like magic. He was back to his old self. I don’t know what his diagnosis was. Maybe bipolar, or schizoaffective like me. I was looking forward to seeing him. But, when I visited him, he wasn’t well. He was edgy and nervous. My mom said they had to adjust his medication, but she was waiting until Monday ( I think I came there on a Friday night). My brother took off and we didn’t know where. He had been talking about hiking at Yosemite. On Monday I got a call that he had fallen at a waterfall at Yosemite and died. No one knows if it was a suicide or accident. People do fall there.
Recently I was talking to my oldest brother and he was saying that he wished there was the information then that there is today. I thought he meant support, but he then said that we would know it was a mental illness and not a cult. I was perplexed that he had believed that. The 1980s weren’t exactly the dark ages. I have had to let go of a lot of anger towards my parents for what I now feel was dependent adult abuse by not getting him treatment, and all the time he thought they were right.