Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Making amends with (maybe?) schizophrenic sister


#1

Hi everyone,

The person in question is my oldest sister (Q). My family has suspected something off about her for a while now; mainly she has always been paranoid, especially with money. Our biggest tip-off was when she told us she thought her coworkers could read her mind. No one really knew how to breach the subject.

Anyway, about two years ago on Christmas we had a huge family… argument? Incident? Q is very confrontational and during the whole week around Christmas she had been getting into a fight with just about everyone; My mother and my older brother and sister, mainly. My dad and I were the only ones who weren’t involved in a “heated” discussion.

Long story short: she overhears me talking to my boyfriend about our suspicions with her paranoid tendencies; my brother intervenes by physically placing himself between us; they struggle; brother manages to push her away; she trips and bruises her ankle. The next day we, as in my siblings and I, confront Q about her behaviour (being set off by the smallest things and the paranoid tendencies). It doesn’t go well at all. Thankfully my older sister lives on her own, so my brother and I left and spent the weekend with her. I haven’t spoken to her since.

So now, two years later, I’m thinking of initiating contact with her. Given the context of our estrangement, I’m not really sure how to approach it. My older sister invited her to lunch when she was in Q’s neck of the woods and basically got an e-mail calling her the scum of the earth for the Christmas incident. I realise that I may be met with anger or a letter that calls me the scum of the earth, but at the very least I think it would help me move on from the incident. I think, even after two years, I’m having trouble processing what happened.

The worst part is I’m not even sure how to begin if I wrote a letter. Q was angry that I “talked behind her back” to “someone she didn’t know” (i.e. boyfriend I’ve been seeing for 2 years~ at that point and she met on a few occasions). When we were, uh, “talking”, I don’t believe there were any other transgressions. I apologised to her about talking behind her back, even though I thought I didn’t do anything wrong. As far as I can tell, I already told her I was sorry for the things that might’ve hurt her.

If you guys have any feedback or comments, it would be greatly appreciated.


#2

A simple invitation is enough at first.

Invite her to lunch or tea or coffee or for a walk.

If she says no, she says no. If she gets angry, she gets angry.

If you do get together, follow her lead. If she brings up the incident(s), first listen. Then listen. Answer any questions she asks you. If she seems to feel calm and engaged, maybe ask, “Would you like to hear my perspective?” If she says no, don’t tell her.

I don’t think we can underestimate how frightening and tormenting psychotic illness is (if your sister is not diagnosed, there are a range of illnesses and other causes for these types of symptoms), especially with paranoia and other delusions of persecution. The limbic system and fight or flight systems are working in a way that reveals terrible danger everywhere and makes the whole body respond to fear. Maybe this is one of the reasons people cannot be talked out of delusions; the entire physiology is on high alert/ even panic during stress and the delusions are convincing explanations the brain subconsciously comes up with (and seeks evidence for) for awful experiences.

Your sister needs someone she can really trust. A person who is soothing and safe.

I think a nice, positive card with a simple, kind message and invitation is fine because you already apologized for talking behind her back.

Best to you and good luck


#3

Hereandthere response is spot on. Your sister can either accept the invitation or not. how old is your sister? I’ve been told by folks who have family members with mental illness that as our loved ones reach their 40’s they tend to mellow out. Good luck with your sis.


#4

We’re relatively young; I’m 25 and Q is 33. Q has always been more suspicious of others (particularly our parents) since she was in her teens but I believe the break from reality happened in her mid to late twenties. Even if Q is, from what I know, not diagnosed with anything, I think a delusion is a good sign of something going on. From what little I’ve heard about her, she’s been burning lots of bridges with relatives and generally keeping a low profile.

I’m wrestling with this for a few reasons. I know she’s in a vulnerable place; everyone needs a support network. Especially people with mental illness. At the same time, I don’t know how I’d be able to handle someone who constantly distrusts me and, might, expect me to backstab them at a moment’s whim. It’s difficult to build a relationship on the assumption that the other people is waiting for the right moment to screw you over.

I want to help… but I don’t know if I have it in me to be that kind of person for her.

Thank you both for your replies. I still have much to ponder.


#5

You have good reasons to be concerned. I think there is a way to be loving and supportive without enmeshing yourself in your sister’s life. Trust your gut.