real life

"It’s been a year now since I’ve seen or spoken to my sister."

‘I haven’t heard from my sister in more than a year…’




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.


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.

My sister didn’t always have schizophrenia. She was a healthy, happy, intelligent girl who often got stopped in the street as a teenager and approached about a modelling career. That was until she got  involved with drugs at the age of nineteen.  And not just any old drugs – heroin. The days (and years) of her heroin addiction are a story for another day, but as a family we helped her fight her addiction, always believing she’d beat it and get through to the other side.  We were a “normal” family – things like this didn’t happen to people like us, did they? Well they were and they did. We were told the odds of beating a heroin addiction were around 10%, but as a girl with enormous family support and a “normal” background, she had a better chance than many.

What we didn’t explicitly know was that if she was lucky enough to be part of that 10% who survived the heroin addiction, mental illness may await us at the other side. Luckily we didn’t know I suppose, we needed a lot to hope for during the addiction days. Schizophrenia wouldn’t have been high on our list of preferred outcomes, although I guess it beats jail and death, the two outcomes we prepared ourselves for almost every day during her addiction


A complex relationship?  She also has that with her 13 year old son. Thankfully he lives with my parents, who provide him with the stability and love he craves and deserves. He is an amazing boy who has been through a lot. My sister provides him with many of the material things he needs – she’s been known to buy him new bicycles week after week…

Sometimes I reflect on how the experiences my family have been through have changed us.  I have a lot more empathy and understanding for people these days and a lot more compassion. I’m a lot less judgemental and I never take a happy day for granted. A calm Christmas Day is an absolute blessing to be treasured – it sure beats the Christmas’ I’ve spent visiting my sister in psychiatric wards.

And I’ve learnt a lot about forgiveness. I didn’t think it was possible to still love and care about someone who has threatened to kill my parents and has ripped my families’ hearts apart at times. But I do.  Oh, and I also developed a real dislike for those bloody car bumper stickers that show the happy families all in row – don’t those people ever worry that something might happen to one of those family members and they might have to pull a sticker down…

It’s been a year now since I’ve seen or spoken to my sister. I’m confident that one day my phone will ring again and it will be her, ready to resume where we left off. Until then I’ll hope that we’ve done the best we can for her along the way and that she’s happy in her world, creating her own bumper sticker in life.

This post was written by a Mamamia reader who has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her sister’s identity.

How about you? Are you close to your sister…?