Friday, February 09, 2007

Going Crazy

My sister went crazy for the first time back in 2001. I didn’t realize what was happening at first. She was 38 at the time with no history of mental illness.

Initially, she started complaining about things that just seemed odd. She would talk about the people at work and how they were out to get her or were somehow involved in a conspiracy. Then she began to have beliefs that someone was breaking into her apartment whenever she was out. She would call me and say that things had been moved and she was positive someone had been there. She would claim that pictures on the wall had been taken off or blinds had been opened that she knew had been closed. One day she called in an extreme panic because someone had put a jar of frosting in her refrigerator.

Each time, I would try to reason with her and talk her out of these crazy ideas. Her son was only five at the time and certainly it was within the realm of possibility that he had found frosting in the cabinet and moved it to the refrigerator. She would then insist that that was impossible because she did not have a can of frosting.

It didn’t stop with the break-in delusions. Over the next few weeks she became convinced that there was a camera in her cable box. I still wasn’t sure what was going on and would just make jokes about it. I would tell her things like, “Gee, you’re the only person I know with the TV watching you instead of you watching it”. I have a vivid memory of her calling me saying that she had just found something suspicious in her son’s toy pager. She had called the police and had them examine it.

As you might imagine, this wreaked havoc in all areas of her life. She had been dating someone and decided that he was involved in a conspiracy with the government. One night, she had a date with him but was afraid to answer the door. She decided that the best course of action was to pretend that she was not home. She called me and said,” I was afraid that he might slit my throat”.

Before long she was unable to work. She ran out of money and was forced to move in with our parents. It was obvious to everyone at that point that there was something terribly wrong. Her paranoia was constant and bizarre. I bought my parents a carbon monoxide detector and she was concerned that it was actually a listening device. She kept throwing it in the trash and my dad kept retrieving it. She also fixated on my mom’s computer and would not allow her to have the speakers plugged in. They can listen with those you know. Even though everyone else could see that we had a big problem, she remained in complete denial. Any suggestions that she see a doctor were quickly dismissed.

There are few options for help for a mentally ill family member when that person refuses or is incapable of acknowledging the problem. All too commonly, families are forced to wait until something bad happens in order to get help.

My parents had been out one evening leaving my sister and her son alone in the house. When they came home they discovered my sister passed out at the kitchen table with letters she had written to family members and a half-empty bottle of pills. They could not awaken her and rushed her to the hospital. She was physically all right after a few hours but clearly not doing well mentally. Her doctor explained that the next step needed to be a commitment proceeding in order to get her admitted to a psychiatric unit. This was to be the first of many hospital stays.

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