When I was growing up with my brother, I thought all boys acted the way he did. I expected my male classmates to be afraid of going up stairs, be not very talkative and eat lots of peanut butter. My world was shaken when I went to kindergarten and discovered some boys were different. I thought they were weird. I measured everyone against my brother.
When puberty struck, I began to realize, maybe my brother was different. In my house, there was nothing but hushed whispers when my brother was “not feeling well”. The unspoken rule was don’ t talk about your brother to any one even your parents. Breaking the rules meant stares and silence. Consequently, I had to create my own explanantion and understanding of what was happening to my brother.
One question that my brain played with was, is he normal or am I ? My first venture into the metaphysical thought process at age eleven. If he was normal, what was going to happen to me? Will not being afraid of heights get me into trouble? So many questions, at a time when no one really understood mental illness.
Another thought process for me was, if my brother’s behavior is abnormal, is it like measles and will I get it? In a way, his illness permeated life and how the family functioned. There was a contagious nature to the illness in that it created imbalance and often sadness. As much as my parents tried to create a sense of normalcy, it was almost impossible. We just never knew what was coming next. My parents had no tools to manage the situation. At the time, services and support didn’t exist.
As I got older, I realized schizophrenia was not contagious. Knowing that, didn’t relieve the sadness I felt for my brother and his struggle.