Some of you know in addition to my sz son I care for. I have a schizoaffective sister that I love dearly but who I am unable to help for many reasons. The most important reason is she normally does not want my help and when she does sometimes ask for help she ends up resenting me for doing just what she asked me to do. She stopped speaking to me in April of 2017 for absolutely no known reason other than her ongoing conditions.
I had gotten her out of her shell so to speak. Started bringing to our house for an occasional dinner, movie and sometimes a sleepover. The visits were difficult and sometimes I got emotional by the end of them and I am sure that was as unhelpful as anything ever could be. BUT we never really had a falling out or a big argument or a major misunderstanding that would explain her not calling or writing anymore and never answering her door to us anymore. Total silence. She had been taking Wellbutrin back then and I saw that it helped to some degree with her anxiety but today she admitted that when she stopped talking to me she stopped taking her medicine too. In fact she never returned even to her family doctor. She will soon be 58. She should indeed see a doctor at least once a year.
Anyway throughout the silence, I still wrote her and sent cards and left long messages on her answering machine for most of the entire time. Today she called back. As hard as she is to deal with emotionally I was as happy as a lottery winner. I was giddy.
I said WOW I am so happy to hear from you!! (and I was) Then she talked (as she always does in an excruciatingly long non stop run-on circular sentence all about herself for exactly 90 minutes straight-seemingly without needing to take a breath in between. I tried as I always do to interject an answer or a thought here or there but honestly to no avail. I know she couldn’t tell you one thing that I attempted to say.
In the past when we were talking and associating, she would know all my buttons to push even with her often delusional mind. She knew if she even remotely came off sounding like a victim I would rush to the rescue in whatever way I could. drive way out of my way to take her a block from her own house because I don’t know her ankle hurt or something…or give a “stern talking to” --to her slum lord who never fixes anything in her tiny closet-like apartment" etc etc etc…and as I mentioned earlier once I was done doing her bidding, she would immediately find a reason to be angry at me for doing what she asked me to do. I can’t explain it.
So just to show that I have learned a lot about myself since my sister’s absence, in part due to much deep introspection about what is “unconditional love” and also working with my therapist on boundaries and expectations and accepting reality…when she slipped into her conversation about (1) I hate to go the store in this heat I miss having a ride there from you (the store is maybe 6 blocks away and she walks there all the time anyway) and (2) maybe you could just call my landlord and tell them my floor needs repaired? I very calmly said to her. "I really love you sis, and I can see that you have been taking care of yourself all of this time without my help. I know you can keep on doing that. I won’t be able to take you to the store because I only get to your side of town once a month for haircuts and the farmers market, and we can visit you then if you like, but I just want to visit as long as you will have us, I want to enjoy your company and not solve any problems. I won’t call your landlord either because you have been handling your apartment and your landlord for a very long time and I think you have it all under control. [No she doesn’t do things as efficiently or expediently or as completely as I would do them but she’s not me, and that is that] That was the only moment in the whole 90 minutes that there was about 60 seconds of complete silence…I think I stunned her.
She said um oh well um, I just thought, um well, she was almost speechless, not quite-almost.
I then added that I have learned in her absence not to under estimate her and not to disrespect her by trying to “take over” her responsibilities. (Granted that might have been ‘overkill rhetoric’ on my part as I do no such thing in reality, I just wanted to drive it home to her how utterly serious I was about not being her “savior” anymore-not fixing things ) I realized on a personal level no matter how difficult she is I still love her, maybe not so much for who she is now but what she means to me in my life. She is my sister forever-good, bad or indifferent, she has survived as much if not more in her life as I have we may not ever discuss it be we have much in common. I just turned out differently. I went down different roads than she did. I could so easily be her.
By the end of the 90 minutes (all of which I remained unemotional and very surprisingly calm) she was saying to me “Sis I know I need to go back to the doctor and get my medicine, I want you to know I am going to do it” I said, “That is really great sis, I am proud of you now I am going to need to hang up because I have things I have to do now” She said oh oh oh okay, and proceeded onto another run on sentence, it took me about 5 times of calmly repeating “okay sis I am so happy we talked now I am hanging up and we will talk again on another day” then she said ‘can I call tonight’ and I said no I wont be able to talk tonight -I need to take a phone break now, I know you understand, (I know nothing of the sort) but she finally said “bye sis love you” (pause 1 second) … and I hung up quickly.
It was one of the very few times in my life that I actually felt really good about the whole experience in spite of the lack of conversational reciprocity.
I think I felt good because I set clear boundaries that were comfortable for me.
I felt especially good that I remained completely calm and non reactive to her even with her never ending circular self centered stream of speech which normally frustrates me to no end. After all of these years I just accepted she is different than me but I don’t love her any less for it.
What I focused on was the sound of her voice not what she was saying because what she says is what she has said for years the subjects never change, but the sound of her voice and it’s familiarity is nice in and of itself, and her odd attempts at humor that she injects at unexpected moments. I closed my eyes and imagined her laughing, she has a great laugh that I recall. I could see in my mind her gorgeous thick dark blond hair that she is so very proud of and extremely vain about in spite of the fact that she chops it off all crooked and puts pins and clips in it in unflattering ways, it is still really pretty hair. I also love the laugh lines around her eyes-her pretty blue eyes, you seldom see her laugh but when she does the sun shines day or night, her whole face laughs, it’s a gift each time. I am flattered that even though her memory can fail her she can often recite sound advice I have given her from years ago, about drinking plenty of water, getting some sunshine and exercise, and eating regular meals made of healthy food. Hearing her recite that back to me was very comforting whether she does those things or not. I felt connected to her.
So my sz son and I will likely go visit her in a week or so-she asked us to and she said please call ahead to tell her we’re on our way and we will. I am not even sure how it will go, she is highly unpredictable when it comes to her moods.
Sometimes her delusions will say to her that I am bad or I should be avoided. I hope that won’t be the case, I think I am ready for anything. I love her unconditionally, she is who she is. She’s made it to 58, I have to assume she is getting something right somehow. Could I make her life better or advocate better on her behalf or cater to her many whims (maybe) BUT it would be at my own expense and my own mental health, I would resent all of my time being completely consumed and especially I would resent her for not being pleased at my efforts, things would never go as I imagine. Acceptance is everything. It is so hard to get to but once you are there, the path feels some how easier to be on. Today I heard from my sister, after 2 and a half years, and I am very happy I did.
Thanks for letting me share this with the group. There’s really nowhere else I could have done that.