An Especially Different Unhappy Family Story
May 22, 2012 12:00 PM   Subscribe

My mentally ill brother may not be doing so well. I'm estranged from the rest of my family. How to address? Wall of sad text within.

My brother has paranoid schizophrenia and lives in a group home. He is supervised most of the time. When he is not doing well, he gets himself arrested by demanding money and waiting for the cops to show up. He has spent a good percentage of his adult life in jail -- maybe he feels he would be safer there somehow during the bad times.

He has never articulated his bad feelings, beyond repeatedly asking, "Do you pity me?" At times, he just asks this question, over and over again. When he is feeling better, he is good -- he jokes, talks about T.V. shows, meals he's eaten he's enjoyed, asks me about my life.

It's my speculation (based on zero expertise) that the 'Do you pity me' question is related to/ is a precursor to/ the episodes where he can't handle X Y and Z and tries to escape it, usually by getting himself jailed.

But, there's more. I'm estranged from all other members of my family. This is something that took place after a long period of bad acts, preceded by many earlier periods of bad acts. My lack of contact is something that my therapist supports. I am in agreement with him. He especially believes that I need to avoid a relationship with my mother. I am in agreement with him.

But my mother is legal guardian of my brother.

My therapist has advised me in the past to contact his M.D., go around my mother, and tell the M.D. what's up, if anything. I feel really uncomfortable with this. Part of this is the violative nature of such a thing, given she is his guardian.

The other thing is that it might backfire in ways that would cause my brother stress. My brother recently told me all the family is telling him that they have no idea why I will not have relations with them (not true). He was, to some degree, stressed by this. In the past my mother told him about some heated language that had occurred in another family fight, contextualized by 'look how awful X was to me.' My brother then was to some degree stressed about this. I say 'to some degree' because it is hard to tell what his emotional weather is, but when he presses a point, as he did in both cases of family gossip, it's unusual. If I do something w/r/t my brother of which my mother disapproves (like talk to his M.D. w/o her knowledge/involvement), her wrath will be mighty and no boundary will she observe.

The bottom line is that less stress for my brother makes him safer. I trust nobody in my family to handle this responsibly, unfortunately.

I call him once a week. In two of our last three conversations, it was "Do you pity me?" x 1000. I am alarmed.

Do I go to his MD (as my therapist advised in the past) and the group home people, and let the chips fall where they may when my mother hears of it? Alternatives?
posted by angrycat to Human Relations (6 answers total)
Can you express your concerns about this warning sign directly to your brother? Crazy does not equal stupid. Plenty of people with mental disorders learn to recognize the warning signs of an upcoming episode and take action beforehand to mitigate the situation/get themselves to safety.

Can you just express it as an observation/concern and let him know there are ways to seek safety other than intentionally getting arrested?

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Would it be possible to discuss not only your brother, but also your concerns about your mother with the MD? That you are seeing some of his past warning signs crop up, you hope some extra attention can be paid to him, but don't mention to your mother you've brought it up? Most people in the mental health industry are very well aware of bad family dynamics, and it wouldn't be difficult for the people involved with your brother's well being to simply point out to your Mom the signs, and not who first saw them.
posted by Dynex at 12:22 PM on May 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

It may be something you can't impact. But when your brother is in a generally good place, would he be able to discuss some "advance directives"? I've seen templates for this among peer-support networks. The idea is that you discuss the bad times with him and find out what he prefers in terms of care--identifying whom in the family can talk to him, seek help for him,etc. It would be a time to say "I've noticed that just before a bad time, you often start asking if I pity you. For me, that's a sign and I want to tell your doctor about it. Can we write that down in your advance directives?"

What you can say about your family relationships is something like "I know you wonder why I'm not closer to mom. I want to tell you that I just got really hurt too many times. But I'm doing really well, and YOU'VE never hurt me. I still really want to talk to you on the phone. Mom and I are both okay -- even though we're not talking to each other."

It might upset him -- but lots of things upset him. It may be important to let him know everything's okay.

And yes, it's okay to go to his doc and say -- I think another episode is coming. Doc may not be able to tell you anything because of privacy issues--but they can hear you out and might appreciate any info about anticipating episodes.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of this is the violative nature of such a thing, given she is his guardian.

Please allow me to disagree. As legal guardian, your mother has certain rights and responsibilities to your brother. That does NOT mean that you have no rights or responsibilities yourself.

If you've noticed indicative behavior, in my opinion, it's kind of a responsibility to notify his doctor. Your mother never has to find out about your involvement. Let the doctor know that your visit or conversation has to be totally confidential.

In light of your circumstance, I think that you're awesome for continuing to keep an eye out for your brother when you're working through so much already. Sure sign of GREATNESS right there.
posted by snsranch at 2:04 PM on May 22, 2012

Thanks guys -- guess I knew going to the MD was the right thing but felt unsure about it.

A number of times, in a number of ways, when he seems to be doing pretty well we talk to him about the getting arrested response. He's like a brick wall, swears it'll never happen again, end of discussion.

I've been more on the fence about talking to the group home people because they have shown signs of flakiness (it's run by a husband and wife who discuss their potential divorce in front of the residents) and could see them handling shit with less than finesse.

But fuck it, they're in charge of supervision and I need to try to ensure that they keep an eye on my bro.

Thanks so much, all
posted by angrycat at 2:41 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a big can of worms. You talk to your brother regularly, but you don't talk to the person who is his legal guardian. It sounds like you're trying to do an endo around your mom, and that may not actually work. Have you talked to your brother about how he feels having your mom as his guardian? Can he really talk about it? If you won't talk to your mom (and I well understand why you might not want to) I wonder how much you can really do? Are you ready to fight the entire family? Because that's what it may take. Are you ready to be his guardian? That may be the result. I know you want to help, but how much are you ready to take on?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:06 PM on May 22, 2012

« Older dating/life in your 30s for nontraditional 30...   |   Help me help my marriage Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.