Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Looking for advice on relationship with schizophrenic roommate


#1

Hi, first post here, I’ve read some of the material on the main part of the site and other sites, but still can’t say I really understand my roommate, and reading articles just isn’t enough, so maybe you nice people can help me.

So, I don’t know how much you need to know, so I’ll just start with basic background, and tell you about the problems I’m most concerned about.

I’m a 24-year-old female, my roommate is a 25-year-old female. She first moved in with me and my boyfriend (who had been living together for 3 years already) about 2 years ago. We met working at a sub shop, found we had similar interests, became friends. In fact she was the first work friend I’ve had in years who I actually saw outside of work. She told me pretty early on that she had been diagnosed as schizophrenic but didn’t have hallucinations, just delusions. It transpires this wasn’t exactly true but more on that in a minute… After we’d known each other a few months, her living situation came into question. Her roommate at the time was moving to another town, and she didn’t know where she was going to stay after the lease was up. Her mother and stepfather live in town but aren’t much of a support system, beyond sending occasional care packages of food (she’s gluten-intolerant as well). After finding my friend more than once crying in the back of the shop because she was afraid she’d be homeless, and jobless if she couldn’t pull her emotional state together, we offered her to move in with us. The first 8 months of this situation were very uncomfortable, owing to the fact that there were three of us in a one-bedroom apartment. Things improved when we moved to a two-bedroom. But about a year ago, I learned that she is in fact having auditory hallucinations… of my voice. And apparently, in her head I’m a sadistic bitch.
Since I’ve known her she’s been admitted to the mental hospital three times – once before she moved in, twice after. The first time I believe she admitted herself. The second time, our downstairs neighbor called in a domestic disturbance, the cops broke down our door to find her banging her head against the floor, they admitted her. The third time she was actually only admitted because she had gone off her meds, and couldn’t get an appointment to refill them for a couple months, and being committed was the fastest and easiest way to get her back on them.
When we first met, she had bruises on her arms that made me think she was being abused. Turns out she was doing it to herself.
She hasn’t been admitted to the hospital in a year, or exhibited signs of self-harm. She consistently has problems adhering to medication (big surprise, right?). We’ve monitored the situation, and finally have her taking them without prompting, by means of a daily alarm. Keeping my fingers crossed that this method works longer than the others we’ve tried…

So, to put it simply, I’ll split it into her problem and my problem.

Her problem (as I see it) is that I torment her in her head. She says she knows it isn’t real, but that doesn’t stop her being upset by it. (I in fact have experienced similar disturbing thoughts that I know aren’t logical, but still feel badly about.) She says that she hates it because in real life she likes me, and knows I’m not like the “me” in her head. Apparently the things I say in her head usually take the form of personal attacks, saying she’s a bad person for thinking highly of her physical appearance (which she doesn’t, and I know this and would never antagonize her over it), making fun of her psychotic episodes, etc. We both know it’s irrational; I’ve been as supportive as I can, even risking my own job by leaving my duties to comfort her when she had breakdowns at work. The effect that these hallucinations have on our relationship is that she finds it hard to trust me, and finds herself trying to protect herself from my cruel remarks. It’s not clear to me if she means saying or doing a certain thing would make the me in her head say cruel things and that’s what she’s afraid of, or if she’s actually afraid the real me will follow suit. But, it is what it is. In her head I’m critical, cruel, and don’t even choose attacks that I might, if I did have a mind to attack her personality. The things I actually find it hardest to deal with, in having her as a roommate, are cleanliness (which I understand can be hard for those with schizophrenia), and secretiveness. Which leads me to…

My problem. I can’t stand being lied to or having things hidden from me, and when I found out that she was hearing me in her head, I almost felt betrayed. I managed to get over that, since I know it’s not her fault, and can understand why she didn’t want to tell me. But, I do know that she lies, usually when she’s afraid of getting in trouble. Sometimes she has breakdowns and breaks things (plates, a pearl necklace of mine, a bottle of hot sauce thrown at the TV), and if we confront her about it, she will immediately deny it. She often admits guilt later, but it honestly really pisses me off when she lies. I can step back and see that, in perspective, I have somewhat of an obsession with truth, and I can’t expect everyone to conform to it. But the upshot is, I don’t feel I can trust what she says, and I’m not sure if the lying is because of the schizophrenia, or possibly childhood abuse, or some other psychosis.
More importantly, I can’t see how to get her to open up. She never tells us about her problems or feelings without prompting, and I always feel like I’m making her uncomfortable when I ask. We’ve talked a good deal about our situation nonetheless, but we’re both stumped as to how to reconcile the me in her head and the real me.
Edit: I should add that I already have problems with self-esteem, and directly after her revelation suffered a depressive episode, because I was sure that she sees me this way in her head because subconsciously she does think I’m mean. I suffer from social anxiety stemming entirely from the feeling that people don’t like me. So her hallucination is particularly disturbing to me.
Oh, and I also have OCPD, which makes it hard for me to accept that people have different ways of doing things. And the three OCPD obsessions (order, rules, control) obviously clash horribly with schizophrenia.

But before even trying to reconcile it, I’m trying to understand it. Why is it me she hears? Why am I mean? Does this reflect on how she feels about the real me, or just how she feels about people in general? Or how she feels about herself?

I’m stumped, hoping someone here can shed a little light on it.
Thanks!


#2

Wow. You have been a very good friend to her.
Please dont take the things she says personally. There is no rhyme or reason to why its your voice she hears. i will say that living with other people is sometimes hard for people with SZ. My son has to have his privacy.
If your friend is stressed, it will make her symptoms worse.
If she is worried about her symptoms, she may start worrying that she will be kicked out, and it may be why she hears your voice.
SZ is a very chaotic disorder, and most of the time your friend may need a lot of privacy. She is probably lying because she is afraid of what might happen.
My son also does this.
I think this is a result of her being worried about losing her place. The thought process is going to be skewed, but sometimes you can kind of read between the lines.
All you can do is reassure her-maybe give her more room. She sounds like she has pretty good insight-but it`s always a struggle. She needs her space.
There is no reconciling, just understanding.
I wish you luck and patience


#3

Try to get her into a monitored group home. Your relationship with your boyfriend will end if it hasn’t already unless you get her to move out.

You’ve done enough for her…above and beyond. Let the professionals handle her from now on.

My 2 cents.


#4

Think of the mechanism that creates the voices as the same mechanism that creates our dreams. That’s how I look at my delusions and hallucinations. It is pulled from our daily life, but it is a screwed up version of that. It’s just like how we sometimes dream about having sex with people of the same sex (if your straight). Or it’s like the weird stuff that seems random thrown into our dreams.

So, don’t think any of this is about you the real person. It’s just dream land crap. If she had a psychologist to talk her through her delusions, it would benefit all parties involved. You could see a psychologist for your OCPD and how you can deal with her. I know you want to help her out, but you need someone in your corner to help you (so you can help her).

You are a special and great person for wanting to help your friend. Most people quit taking their medication after a year and a half. Having a diverse support system (with psychologist, social worker, pdoc, family, friends) will help her the most.


#5

First of all, to interpret hallucinations (and intrusive thoughts) is a very tricky business.

For one, to take them at face value have lead many of us SZ’s down dark paths into lots of negative feelings, of shame, guilt, fear, distress and confusion. It seems to me that in this particular situation, you taking them at face value leads to you having similar feelings. Also, for the SZ to take them more or less at face value may lead to delusions. I can imagine that in this case, your roommate’s mean hallucinations in the form of your voice may lead into delusions of paranoia or of a persecutory kind - if taken at face value. It seems to me though, that she is not quite doing this.

You will find here on the forum many SZ’s who found by trial and error that interpreting the hallucinations as mere meaningless noise (ignoring them) has brought much solace. To go beyond that in interpretation has often been thought to be impossible in the history of psychiatry.

If you do want to push further in interpretation of the hallucinations, I suggest that you take seriously the notion that experientially, these differ quite substantially from ordinary thoughts or cogitations for the SZ person. Both in form, and in content. Hallucinations are different in form, for they are more like perceptions: most significantly, i think, they are experienced involuntarily (unlike the typical cogitations), and experienced to come from a different source than the subject itself.

Content-wise, they are typically upsetting. What does it mean when something is upsetting? Elements I think are that one did not expect it, that it runs against the person’s other beliefs, and does so rather strongly. I can tell that my hallucinations and intrusive thoughts typically questioned or undermined aspects I used to be very sure about, and reflectively still was. I think it is significant that hallucinations of such a kind are upsetting. It shows to me there are strong opinions or feelings that conflict with what the hallucinations have to say. That means there is no clear-cut endorsement of the content of these hallucinations - to say the least.

Taking such issues into consideration when interpreting hallucinations is important, I think, for it may now become apparent that these aren’t your everyday run-of-the-mill cogitations or thoughts, to reports of which normal expectations and rules of attributing responsibility, agency and the like apply. These are rather distinct mental phenomena, and quite the unusual ones for that matter. It may very well be that no clear way of dealing with ‘hallucination-talk’ is available. As opposed to ‘thought-talk’: it is quite ordinary to talk about your thoughts and there are certain expectations concerning future behavior etc. when someone reports thoughts. For said reasons, I do not think it is fair to graft hallucination-talk onto the model of thought-talk.

A better model to me seems what @metime suggests: that of dreams. It seems to me most people can have a fair bit of distance when talking about or interpreting their dreams. I think it is well-recognized we aren’t responsible for our dreams in the same way as we are taken to be for our daily cogitations. And there also seems to be this room for discussion: maybe it means this, maybe it relates to that. This seems to me to be a good way to look at hallucinations as well, if one wants to go beyond mere noise. Rather distanced, and also, when no interpretation seems satisfying, there is the possibility of saying: ah well it is just a dream.


#6

Just one additional comment - I used to volunteer as a counselor for troubled gifted children. One of the first things we were taught, and were told was most important, was that the kids were going to lie to us, and that we shouldn’t overreact to that. That the reason why, 95% of the time, was because they were afraid of something.

From your description, your roommate sounds insecure around you, about her living arrangements. She might lie because of fear of eviction, and if your own OCPD has caused you to react more strongly to this, then in turn her anxiety and fear would ramp up, leading to more lies and possibly more hallucinations.

It sounds like something of a self-feeding dynamic, so I hope you can use what sounds like your better insight to cut the power to it. I’m sorry it’s so frustrating, and I hope it gets better.

Edit, to summarize: try not to make it dangerous for her to lie. Instead try to make it safe for her to tell the truth.


#7

Thanks everyone, this helps a lot. I guess one of my problems is that I was trying to relate to her delusions by examining my own psychoses. What you all seem to be saying here is that with SZ, the things you see or hear don’t really serve any cognitive purpose; they’re “noise”, or a repository for thoughts and worries like dreams.

That’s a really good point that I didn’t think of while trying to find common ground in my own problems. I also “hear voices” sometimes, but I know it’s my own subconscious voice, and if it does take someone else’s voice, that’s because I’m actively trying to imagine what someone would say, or running over an actual conversation to see what I could have said different. I have lots of little compulsions like that, and even if they’re considered abnormal, they do serve their purposes. Rehearsing a conversation before I have it makes me more confident. Picking at my skin or biting my cheek keeps me calm and helps me focus. Having everything in its proper place on my desk makes me feel in control of my work. Etc etc, all my idiosyncrasies have this in common: that they allow me to live my life in an otherwise normal way. I guess that’s not true of someone with SZ.

Looking at SZ delusions like dreams helps. I know I’ve had dreams that I couldn’t explain on any level, even some that disturbed me because they involved, like @metime said, sex with people I’m not attracted to, or actions on my part that I would never actually do. When I have dreams that disturb me, I try at first to figure out why I had it. Usually I either come up with nothing, or what kind of show I was watching before I went to bed. Looking at delusions/hallucinations the same way makes sense. Hopefully a counselor has suggested the same to my roommate.

As to suggestions for counseling, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I myself see a counselor once or twice a month, so I do at least have someone to talk to about it, and a lot of our conversations do involve my roommate. I’ve even considered a joint counseling session with me and my roommate, maybe my boyfriend as well. I’ve also suggested multiple times that our roommate see a counselor in addition to taking her meds, but there are several stumbling blocks in the way. One is our transportation situation, we totaled our car a month back and are now all stuck getting everywhere on the bus. In addition to that, she only works part-time as it is, and taking more time off might put additional strain on all of our financial situations. (She has applied for disability benefits by the way, which we had to coach her through, she’s now on the waiting list.) But putting all that aside, she says she doesn’t see a counselor because none of them have been able to help her. She says that they all seem to hit a wall, and identifies the problem as being with the counselor rather than herself. I’ve never seen one of her sessions obviously so I can’t be sure. In my case, I’m the kind of patient a counselor loves, because I love to talk, and it’s not at all hard to get me to open up. It occurs to me that a counselor might have a much harder time getting the measure of her, as she’s not very forthcoming. Still, it seems like they should be able to do something. I get the feeling that maybe none of her counselors have gone beyond the general conversational style of counseling. I can’t think why, when they know her diagnosis, as interpersonal, conversational therapy seems to be the least useful for treating minor depression and interpersonal issues, to say nothing of using it to treat SZ. I suggested that she try to find a counselor with a more practical approach. I’m not sure what kinds of therapy would be best for SZ, but my roommate is the creative type and really into New Age thought (as am I), so I suggested she try to find a New Age type therapist, or someone who does art therapy. I also wonder if EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy might benefit her. My own counselor recently suggested it to me, not because I have any particular trauma I’m trying to deal with, but because in stressful situations my mind goes blank and I have a vague awareness that what I’m going to say or do isn’t the right thing, but can’t for the life of me remember, in that instant, what I should do. Apparently EMDR allows you to connect the two sides of your brain, which allows people with PTSD to distance themselves from trauma, and might allow me to access the part of my brain that works fine when I’m not put on the spot. Maybe it could help desensitize my roommate to the disturbing feelings that come with her delusions. Have you heard of SZ being treated in this way? What types of therapy have you had success with?
I know my roommate has kept a printout from when she was in the hospital, a list of coping skills. They mostly seem to be distraction techniques, things that engage both mind and body, like cleaning, bouncing a ball, etc. Do you find coping skills like this useful?
I also once suggested she put her delusions in perspective by telling us about them. I imagine that would be uncomfortable for her, and I’m not sure if it would help, but I tried to make sure she knows she can tell us, just be like, “Hey, guess what you just said in my head?” and I can react lightly, laugh it off, make it clear that I don’t really feel that way or would never really say that. She seems to know this already, but I thought maybe hearing my response would somehow help her. But, as @flybottle said, hallucination-talk may not be constructive like thought-talk can be.


#8

Keeping this gal as a roommate tells me you enjoy the pain on some level.


#9

I suppose that’s true…
But to be honest, I have more than once seriously considered trying to find her a group home, or other accommodations. I’m not perfect, I get frustrated, sometimes enough that it consumes me for days. But this seems to stem from a sort of mental block I’ve developed about her. Almost two years of being something between a friend and caretaker has been very taxing, I admit, but it got much harder when I stopped seeing her as a friend and equal. I’ve been working through that lately by reminding myself that she’s just a person, like me, with problems, just different problems from mine. And when our relationship isn’t overshadowed by her illness, we are very compatible. We have similar beliefs and interests, and have interesting conversations. But I realized that I was allowing her problems to overshadow me more than they should. I was always wondering what she was thinking, if she hates me or is afraid of me. I’m learning to let go of those feelings, and try to forget her delusions unless they’re brought up.

But yes, I can be masochistic (ironic, since in her head I’m sadistic). But I am of the belief that the harder something is, the more rewarding it is in the end, assuming the end is obtainable.
I think in our case, the “end” of being friends who can rely on one another for emotional support is obtainable, but only if we both work hard at it. I get the feeling it will be very rewarding. In fact, the very second I met her I had a clairvoyant feeling that we would end up being close, though I never imagined she would live with us.

The other reason we have kept her around is that my boyfriend is better acquainted with this kind of all-encompassing psychosis than I am. He grew up with a mother who became paranoid and aggressive when she drank, which was all the time. He seems to understand our roommate, in fact he even once said something to me relating delusions to dreams, he used almost the same words, that like dreams, they draw from everyday life, but get twisted. The times that I was ready to kick her out, he reminded me that A. We can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment without her rent, and B. She’s trying, she’s getting better, and I should take pleasure in helping someone who has no other support system.
DO NOT suggest there is any less-than-innocent reason for his support of her. I’ve heard it a million times, considered it a million different ways, and decided I have nothing to worry about, and have no need to hear once again how odd our situation seems to others.
Suffice it to say, I know my boyfriend is right, that I would be very grateful to have this kind of help if I was in her position, and that he has in fact been patient and understanding with my psychoses. Why should we not give her the same chance?
On the worst days I remind myself that at least I’m getting advance experience on what it’s like to raise a teenager…


#10

I just think for your own mental well-being and health, you need to show this person the door and put a classified Ad in the paper looking for a new roommate to pay the rent.

You seem consumed with this person to the detriment of all else in your life at this moment.


#11

Quite the opposite… I was at one point, and I’m now choosing a constructive approach rather than obsessing and ruminating, or eliminating her altogether.

I’m obsessive in nature anyway, if we had a conversation about Battlestar Galactica, or human rights, or whatever I’m interested in today, you’d call me obsessed then too.


#12

I have a son with schizophrenia and I have a very close friend with schizophrenia both relationships ARE very rewarding. My friend has been ‘in recovery’ for two years now and is an extremely loving, friendly, and even outgoing person. When I met her she was in relapse and I made great efforts to help her, as did her mother- and father-in-law. Obviously none of us regret our efforts. My son was diagnosed mote recently, has come off his meds, is still in denial, but I’m not going to abandon him either, no matter what. I accept him the way he is. I would like him to accept his illness and take his medication, but it is his choice.
I don’t understand people who suggest abandoning others when they need help. I’m not going to go into it, but it’s cruel and foolish and would lead to a society and community that I would never want to live in.
what I do suggest is that you help her to find out about the ‘schizophrenia recovery movement’, and maybe get her on this site - it really helps a lot of people - make sure she has hope. And keep telling her how much you do value her as a friend. The mean voice she hears in her head is probably expressing her fear of losing you, and maybe things other ‘false friends’ have said in the past.


#13

Thank you.
I’ve thought of referring her to this site, but that brings up the problem of explaining why I know about it. I’m not sure if it would be more beneficial to her to say I just ran across it and thought it would help her, or if I should tell her I came here looking for help in supporting her.
I’m never really sure what to do in situations like this. I don’t know if telling her I’m aware of her state and thinking about her problems will make her grateful that I care, or embarrassed that I’ve looked into it, or maybe even cause the voices to get worse.
It’s kind of a big problem in communicating with her, because I’ve become ultra-sensitive to conversations that might have a negative impact on her. The problem is I have no idea how to determine what I should or shouldn’t say, or the right way to say something. I often ask my boyfriend for advice on that, but I still can’t figure out his logic for myself.

And that reminds me, anyone have any tips on how to tell her when her hygiene and cleanliness aren’t up to par? If she needs a shower, my boyfriend will usually do something like sit down next to her and saying something like, “You were working hard today huh? You’d probably feel better if you take a shower before bed.” I just have trouble finding ways to tell her things like that without sounding like an overbearing parent. She is getting better on personal hygiene, but still can’t seem to get the hang of rinsing dishes. I feel bad when I just repeat it, every day, that she needs to rinse this dish, rinse that dish, rinse out the cup with milk in it, etc. I’m just not sure repetition is doing the trick, but I don’t know what else to do.


#14

I have the same issue. I think my son could benefit but he may feel uncomfortable about me being here. But, honestly, I do.t think you have said anything that could hurt her. Quite the opposite. I think if she came across your posts, she(d see how much you care about her. Also, a lot of people stay largely on either the Diagnosed board or the family board. And you’re not using your own name.


#15

You guys have been so helpful, it makes me want to ask more questions!

A strange symptom I’ve noticed in my roommate is sometimes she stares off into space with a strange look on her face, something between dissatisfaction and disgust, sometimes her mouth is turned down so drastically it looks painful.
I’ve asked her a couple times what’s wrong, and she always says nothing. Obviously I’m not sure if she wasn’t even aware she had just disassociated, or if she just doesn’t want to tell me what she was thinking.
Have you seen this symptom in your loved ones with SZ? Ever figured out what might be happening there?


#16

I do that, and I’m not sz! She may be hearing or seeing things or she may be lost in thought. Either way, if she doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t make her. everybody has a right to a private inner life. But if you think she really looks miserable, maybe distract her. Offer her a cup of tea, comment on the TV, suggest a plan for the weekend. Normal stuff.


#17

Yeah I’ve stopped asking her about it, and it hasn’t happened in a while. The distraction technique sounds better than referring to it directly.


#18

Hey, first of all thank you for being such a good friend. I have sz and lost most of my friends during my psychotic break and none of them would move a finger to help me so I think your friend is very lucky to have both you and your boyfriend around.

I’m sorry I didn’t see all the posts, but is she on any medication? Are your boyfriend and you able to talk to her to get her to see a doctor?

I wouldn’t turn my back on her just yet, it’s difficult but if you’re all she has stick around until she’s able to be on her own. Its a terrible thing to abandone someone when they need to, I speak from experience. She would never forgive herself for saying some things or even hearing your voice, which is not her fault at all.

About the dishes thing, I think repetition does some part of it, but remember if she is not capable of doing it, she won’t. You can’t use the same standards as you would to a “normal” person.


#19

She is on medication, Zyprexa and Prozac. She has trouble keeping up with the Prozac more, at first because she thought it wasn’t the “important pill”, and now she’s saying when she swallows them it feels like it gets stuck in her throat, which is odd because they’re the lightweight capsule type pill.

I just don’t know which things I can expect from her as if she were “normal”. I’m reluctant to blame every little problem she has on SZ. For instance, I myself had a pretty hard time learning to clean up after myself, but eventually I did it. I just can’t be sure, when she leaves trash around, doesn’t take the trash out ever or do other chores, if that’s from SZ or if she’s just being lazy. I know lazy, I’m lazy. And it looks pretty familiar to me. I try to tell myself it’s because of the SZ, but I don’t always believe it.


#20

If she’s on meds, than she’ll eventually get better at it. I have a hard time cleaning after myself, but it’s been a battle. I do it, even if I don’t want to. She would benifit imensely joining this website. Just say “Look I did some research and found this. It’s a supportive community, and I think you’ll like it.”

If she wants recovery she will eventually start doing those things, it’s not lazyness per se, it’s the illness, it gives us little strenght to overcome little things sometimes.