Are you close to your sister?
It’s a question that once made me blush from the neck up, cast my eyes down and fumble for a response. But these days I have the answer down pat. Just say it. Clearly and strongly, nothing to be ashamed of – “My sister has schizophrenia, so we have a complex relationship.”
Mother’s Day marked one year since I last saw my sister.
She hasn’t always had schizophrenia and even once it did start developing it took a long time before a true diagnosis was made. The realisation that something is wrong creeps up on you like an uneasy feeling you can’t shake. With my sister it started with odd little things – giggling at nothing, strange ideas, fixations on strange ideals and thoughts.
A complex relationship…? Today that means my sister doesn’t talk to me, or to our parents. We don’t know exactly where she’s living. Her last address was a homeless shelter for victims of domestic violence. Not that she is a domestic violence victim, but she’s not one to let reality get in the way of her current fixation. And unfortunately since moving to her new accommodation she’s adopted the other homeless people as her “family” and shut the rest of us out – her mum, dad, sister and extended family. Her 13-year-old son is the only one allowed into her world at the moment.
A complex relationship…? Last year that meant I was visiting her every day at a psychiatric ward in Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital after she managed to convince her local GP that she was “well now”, the schizophrenia was gone and with the aid of that GP weaned off her medication over a 6 month period. The end result was a psychotic episode where she walked out of her workplace at lunchtime to buy a sandwich, hopped on a plane and “moved” to my hometown of Sydney.
After arriving at Sydney airport with nothing but her house keys and her ATM card, she went missing for 2 days and was thankfully found by the police and taken to St Vincent’s hospital where she spent the next 5 weeks “settling in to Sydney”. Most days I’d head up to the locked psychiatric ward to visit her, not an experience for the fainthearted.
The ward was shared with 15 or so other patients and as you passed through the locked door all ID and personal belongings had to be left at the door. Some days my anxiety would go through the roof as the door clicked shut behind me – I always kept my photo ID in my pocket. At that point, I was the only family member my sister was choosing to trust and speak with, her advocate and her only connection outside of the locked psychiatric ward. I felt very close to my sister then.
Pick any point in time and the complexities of the relationship can vary from one extreme to the other.