Step daughter with schizophrenia

Where do I begin? My step daughter was reunited with her father after a 15 year split last February. I was engaged to her father at that time and we were getting married in May. She had a tough time with this as she just kept thinking “what about mom?” (mind you, her mom has since remarried twice). She was having some issues at school and for some reason went to a therapist to get diagnosed with ADHD and instead got diagnosed with schizophrenia. Apparently this mom has known she was seeing things for a quite a while and just chalked it up to her being “odd”. She was in the meeting with her mom and step dad while they were telling the symptoms of teenage schizophrenia and we all feel as if she’s manipulating all of us. They were told at the meeting that she shouldn’t be punished for talking out of line and for her grades slipping as that’s part of the disease, but at what point is it too much and she should be held accountable? I understand the irrational behavior, but she’s also a teenage girl and needs to be taught that is not acceptable behavior. How do you know the difference between her disorder and her being a teenage girl? I’m so confused at what I’m supposed to do.

Schizophrenia is a very disabling disease and the person who has it suffers horribly. Most people are never able to hold down a job. Work and school, even when un-stressfull to someone like you or me, can cause stress that puts the sz brain on overload and cause an episode. Episodes should be avoided at all costs, since every relapse can worsen the disease, and make it harder to treat later. Suffers of schizophrenia also have a much higher incidence of suicide. So what they are telling you is absolutely true. She’s not just manipulating you, she really is ill. For instance the example you mention where she’s concerned for her mother because her father is remarrying even though her mom’s already remarried twice, that’s an illogical thinking error. And those kinds of cognitive issues are part of the disease. It doesn’t make any sense, but while she’s symptomatic you won’t be able to convince her otherwise. My husband for instance is convinced that the state of his hair, is indicative of his relationship, and even when he’s well there is no convincing him that this is illogical.

Most of all she needs you to be nice to her, and patient with her. Stay calm, even if she’s rude or provokes you. Don’t take it personally. If she’s seeing things, then she’s in a state of psychosis and may not even remember what she said after she comes out of it. Living with someone with sz means learning to set limits, but it’ll be in a different way than you would with an ordinary teenager. You guys are going to need to learn a whole new skill set to communicate with her. You have a lot to learn. Ask for some book references from the psychiatrist. You guys will also have to adjust your expectations for her. For a lot of people, just staying on their meds and reaching a level where they don’t suffer constantly, is a bigger accomplishment than finishing school.

Thank you for your response. Any information is better than what I can find (or not find) on the internet. Part of the problem is that my husband has no legal rights to his daughter and her mother is not allowing us to go to the psychiatrist appointments with them. We’re getting told snipits here and there until it’s our weekend to have her and then everything comes to light either from his daughter or her mom. Neither of them tell the full story. Then you throw the step father in the mix and you get even more of the story. It’s like all of a sudden you get bombarded with an overload of what’s been going on for 2 weeks regardless of if you try to talk to them in that time frame. I know I need to see a counselor because this is too much for me. At my house with my children I have one with anxiety, one with autism, and a baby…you throw that in the mix every other weekend and my stress level goes through the roof and I end up in tears.

I can understand how it must feel to have someone in your life (not on a permanent basis) that has sz. Its really hard to understand them when your not sure yourself of what exactly is going on or how to react to them.
My mom was diagnosed with sz 3 years ago at 48 years (im 30) and since I never really had a good relationship with her, I still find it hard to talk to her and tend to take it personally. I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet, or it could be that I just always knew she was a little odd and learned to care for myself. In that way eliminating the need to depend on her. Now that she has gotten worse, I find it really hard to relate or sympathise with her.

Maybe you could try to gently put limits on her behavior and encourage her to apply herself at school. Don’t be insistent, but see if you can. It would be worth it if you could keep her from falling down into the spiral of dysfunction. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried.

Since this is a help forum and I have no where else to turn, let me describe a little more on why I think she’s manipulating us a little bit. #1, she is manipulative. I could tell that from the start and that has nothing to do with the sz but everything to do with her upbringing because her mom and grandma are the same way. #2, last year she was failing in school but her dad told her he would pay her if she got her grades up to a C by the end of the year. She managed to do so and even get some at B’s. When she started sliding again this year and we confronted her on it, she said what are you going to give me to get them up, last year I got money. We aren’t in the position this year to give money so she doesn’t care and let them slide. #4, she’s supposedly been seeing this black shadowy figure since she was 4 years old but everything I read says hallucinations don’t come on that young. #5, since the diagnosis, she’s all the sudden seeing more people and now she’s afraid of these things when she never was before. #6, since the diagnosis, she’s more outspoken (for lack of a better word) than she has been because she knows we can’t do anything about it to punish her. #7, She has a habit of “crying wolf” and being proven wrong (which has nothing to do with the sz). It’s almost to a pathological liar type deal where she will say it and say it and say it until someone can prove her wrong and then she’ll change the story. For instance…she was caught by her step dad’s son with her hands down her boyfriends pants at school. I was told by her step dad that she was “trying to tickle his kidney”, so I asked her about it and she gave me the same answer. I said, you do know his kidneys aren’t in the front of his pants right? And then she changed her story to she was buttoning his shirt and there were 2 buttons on the end and it was confusing her. I just said, why were you buttoning them inside his pants? Then she changed it to her hands weren’t inside his pants it was just a misunderstanding. So I dropped it and told her to keep her hands to herself. It’s stuff like that where it makes you wonder if the diag is a correct diag or if she’s just putting it on for show because she wasn’t this bad before the diagnosis. It’s just confusing.

First of all I sympathize with your stress … like you needed one more problem in your life!

I see what you mean. You know, a person can be a jerk, and then get ill on top of that. For your sake, I hope she’s just ill, will get treatment and go back to her lovely self afterwards.

4 Childhood onset does happen. I know a girl and her brother that had it start in early childhood, so it’s certainly possible. I think it tends to happen mostly in people that have a strong family history. 5 hallucinations are pretty scary, that wouldn’t necessarily raise a red flag for me.

6 that sounds like typical teenage crap. She should have boundaries and limits, in fact it’s necessary for the health of everyone. However, there is a different way of doing it than with a regular teenager, it needs to be done calmly without drama. I don’t have my notes handy but I’ll try and look it up for you. You guys will get the hang of figuring out what’s illness related and what’s not.

7 the pathological lying thing. It’s sometimes hard to tell when someone is ill and when they’re just lying. My husband is a really good guy, he’s always been hard working, honest, always kept his word. I knew him when he was always like this. And now with his disease I get a lot of lying about stupid stuff- I can see him do something and he’ll still swear up and down he didn’t do it, until he sees he can’t wiggle his way out of it then he’ll make up something else. Or sometimes, when he’s delusional, he’ll make up this story. He seems like he really believes it. For example, one day he told me that he had to confess to me that he’d done something bad, he’d sold my jewelry, and he got 600 for it. Where’s the money? I hid it. Where’d you hide it? I buried it. Where did you bury it? out by where we buried the bird. Well, tomorrow, we’ll go get it. I have to confess something to you, I didn’t sell it, I have it in my coat but I was thinking about selling it…. and this could go on for hours. He never sold my jewelry, but I hide it now just in case. So, it’s not so cut and dry, even if she does have family that has a habit of lying, and she has a habit of crying wolf. What you say about them makes me wonder a few things, one, is she bi-polar? Does she have mood swings, and fly off the handle?Sometimes the drama queen stuff is more bipolar. You can still have hallucinations and delusions and be bipolar. If she really were making all that stuff up, she could have borderline personality disorder. “Out of the fog” has a really clear description of borderline personality disorder, and a very nice list of traits.

You know, I’ve thought about her having other “issues” (for lack of a better word) but you can’t tell her mom that. She’s definitely anorexic because she’s told me she doesn’t want to eat because she doesn’t want to get fat and I told her mom that and she does nothing about it. I don’t know about her mood swings at home, at my house she’s just down all the time. We have nothing for her to do because her friends aren’t around, she can’t drive, and she doesn’t want to play with my kids who are younger so she just sits in a corner and watches tv. She does bite my husband’s head off quite a bit and she’s stabbed someone at school with her fork because they made her mad and she’s broken a computer screen because she was mad so some type of personality disorder may be here. Thank you for the reference, I will definitely check that out.