Living with a Family Mental Illness
February 15, 2014 6:43 AM Subscribe
My younger brother has been living with a schizophrenia-like mental illness for about a year. It's hard for me to interact with him. I'm looking for perspectives from those who've had loved ones with mental illnesses, and books or other resources that will help me better relate to him.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My brother was an intensely moody teenager, and we grew distant while I was away in college and he was in High School. He stopped seeing most of his friends, barely graduated, and then dropped out of his first semester of college and was hospitalized. He was suffering from hearing voices and other delusions. That was a little more than a year ago. He didn't receive a specific diagnosis, but his symptoms are most similar to those of schizophrenia. He was originally prescribed a combination of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications which he no longer takes. After a year of my parents trying to coax him to a psychiatrist he hated, he recently found one he gets along with better, and who is alright with him being unmedicated, though he still attends only rarely. I was away from home for a year, which was when he dropped out and was hospitalized..
I'm living at home between two different conservation corps jobs, and living with my brother is rough. There's a constant stream of domestic disputes and upsets - my brother refuses to go outside to smoke, he throws his trash outside the window, he cooks and leaves all the dishes out and burner on, he builds up laundry and old food in his room, and due to complicated family car logistics, his DUI arrest from a year ago landed a breathalyzer interlock in my car. None of these would be unbearably frustrating on their own, but recently they've been building up a bit on me. There's an endless series of dramas - last week he announced he wanted a one-way ticket to New Orleans (across the country; we went there once on a family vacation) where he said he would live on the streets till he found a job. When my parents told him they thought that was a bad idea, he got intensely frustrated and accused us of not having any faith in him. The idea seems dead, but there's a constant stream of family disputes that often involve my brother having unrealistic expectations or disordered thinking.
My brother is also very difficult to interact with - imagine a stereotypically surly teen turned up to eleven. He's terse, uncommunicative, and accusatory, and the few times I've had a longer conversation with him he's talked about his view of the world (which includes a lot of frightening religious delusions) and he got very upset that I didn't agree with him, though I was doing my best to engage him and be supportive. He gets very defensive and angry when you talk about his illness, or when you bring up something you'd like him to change. My mother talking to him about smoking in the house has made him start shouting on a number of occasions.
The situation is complicated a bit by our family business, which keeps our parents out for twelve hours of the day. When I'm away from home again in April, he'll be alone in the house again all day - which he has been before, but still makes me worried. I might come back for a few months this fall, but after that I might be leaving for the peace corps. I'm currently in the application process. I've been tempted to not go because of my brother, but I feel like I have to keep my own personal momentum going.
There's no immediate crisis that's prompted this question - my brother has been making gradual improvements, and recently started dishwashing at our family restaurant. He plays a lot of guitar. His psychiatrist is alright with him being unmedicated. His situation probably isn't going to change for a while. He's doing better but doesn't want to go back to school. We don't have enough money to send him to a residential program of some kind. Even though there's definitely been improvement since he was first hospitalized, and he is doing way better than a lot of people who have similar issues, but I still worry about him not being able to care for himself.
SO, metafilter, I'd love advice from people who've had loved ones with mental illnesses. How do you deal with the constant strain of someone who doesn't take care of themselves well? How do you relate to and support someone you love, but is consistently angry for reasons you don't understand? How do you deal with knowing that you won't always be able to support them? What books would educate me about mental health issues?
Thanks in advance for your thoughts and advice.