Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Surprise Call from My Estranged SZA Sister

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.

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Ha. My husband does the very same thing. I understand your position completely. I call it the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” phenomenon.

I am encouraged to read about your talk with your sis and of your strength with boundaries. I am working on boundaries, myself, and after such a long time with no boundaries, it is a difficult thing to do.

I hope your visit with son and sis goes well.:heart:

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That’s wonderful, Catherine. Thanks for sharing.

In addition to my spouse, I also have a sister with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, she lives a long ways away and isn’t in touch much due to her symptoms.

I was briefly living closer to her, and although I was never able to see her, she did phone at times. Our phone conversations could be quite stressful, as she would want me to do things that had the potential to get us both into trouble. I finally was able to be warm and loving but firm that I was not going to do what she wanted and I eventually did have to hang up on her.

I felt guilty initially, but she left me a message a couple of days later telling me she thought I had grown as a person. First time she’d given me a complement, perhaps ever, and it felt so good! I was able to talk with her during a hospitalization recently (first time she’d been treated), and I made sure to tell her some of the things I’ve always admired and appreciated about her. It felt like a really nice interaction.

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@Catherine good that you are starting to re-establish contact. There’s some similarities to my situation with my brother with bipolar disorder and some important differences. First the ages are somewhat similar, my brother is the eldest and my age closer to your sister. I have two brothers and a sister. His depressive symptoms started in high school, but were misinterpreted as mononucleosis.

He had an initial manic episode while I was in what’s now called middle school. My parents sent him to a private hospital and were indulgent in what I considered his bad behavior, alway bailing him out and replacing vehicles he crashed while drunk and self medicating. He always seemed to be grabbing resources and attention, and I being in my early prodrome withdrew and tried to be invisible, thinking my parents had enough on their hands.

My senior year of high school my parents were away for an extended trip and I was on my own and he had another manic episode and ended up in the hospital, and my sister and I were faced with trying to cleanup and salvage an utter mess that he’d left behind at his apartment and care for a dog he had mistreated while he was ill. It was a miserable trip, and my younger sister and I minds were blown by the sheer mayhem and flotsam and jetsam left behind by his mania and a flooded apartment. Far too much responsibility to put on our shoulders.

When I got ill, I vowed I would never be like him, so I suffered in silence and did everything I could to conceal my struggles. Eventually my dam burst and I ended up back at my parents home, just in time for him to return after a break up with his girlfriend due to more substance abuse problems. Now it was his turn to fade into the background while I got psychotherapy and faced my illness head-on albeit without medication. A year later and I started medication and a year after that I moved out, having been continually employed at the time.

He and I maintained an arms length relationship since then. I tried not to get too sucked into his ‘drama’ and he the same. I tried hard not to rub in his nose that I was successful in my recovery and that he was not, even though I had the ‘higher difficulty’ disease. He seemed to realize I could call bullshit on much of his excuses and blathering about how rough he had it and what a special and difficult case his disease challenged him with. My other siblings took up the slack, and a middle brother would call him frequently as he needed venting sessions to talk at a sibling to voice his grievances, theories, etc. My sister would take drunken calls and visits from him too, until her husband reached his limit one time too many and banned him from their house and blocked his number from their home phone (my sister still takes cell calls).

Anyway, there was an incident and he became estranged from my middle brother. None of us completely understands why he developed such a specific animosity for this brother, even though he calls us to talk at length about his many perceived failings etc. There’s some sort of sibling rivalry or some concern over inheritance or power or what have you that the rest of us don’t understand or care about. His rants are so illogical and incoherent, all we can get out of it is he doesn’t like the cut of his jib and he seems to get increasingly agitated when this brother is visiting our parents and he starts self medicating with drink.

They have started talking again and attempt to be civil to each other, but it’s rare that we all get together in the same place at the same time. It’s as if we’re a different type of nuclear family where we all avoid getting too close to each other for too long, otherwise we risk a meltdown that no one wants. Better to work the control rods remotely by telephone and compare notes from time to time. I think we all fear a Three Mile Island or Chernobyl catastrophe sooner or later, probably when one parent or the other passes on, or at a graduation of a niece or nephew.

I keep the peace by keeping maintaining that arms length and hope I can swoop in at an opportune moment and avoid a meltdown, but I continue to watch the gauges and hope for the best. I think we all know eventually we’ll have to decommission the reactor someday and deal with any possible ‘toxic waste’, but we’d rather not think about it too much.

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