“Am I a horrible person?”

I received this comment a few days ago, and I wonder if anyone — somebody, please? — has a response for the person who wrote it. This wrenching question seems to me to embody one of the most painful and awful choices that siblings and even parents of people with severe mental illness may sometimes feel they have to make in order to save their own lives and their own sanity….Or not. What do people think?

“I have a schizophrenic brother, he became ill at 27,
and it was a terrible time. My brother is now 54 years old, my parents have long since died. I have no
relatives that care about him or me. I have to tell
someone I don’t know where my brother is, he was in a
group home and was told he could no longer live there
this home was horrifying. I tried all my life to help
my brother, I had no life, I finally just had to let
him go, I pray god is watching over him. Do you think
this makes me a horrible person?

4 Answers from comment section:

#1 Wow.
I want to respond – though I’m sure how. It can very difficult to find the right words sometimes.

You asked: “Do you think
this makes me a horrible person?”
No. I do not. Caring for someone with mental illness is a very difficult road to follow. It can take so much out of you and from you…that there is simply nothing left to give.
If you are unable to care for yourself properly, meet your own personal needs (physically, spiritually, & mentally) – then how can you expect to do it for someone else?

I can’t imagine what a difficult choice this was for you.

Best wishes,
~V.

#2  I ask myself this question as well. My wife is suffering with a serious mental illness. Her diagnosis is major depression with psychotic features, although bipolar has not officially been ruled out. I’ve been writing about my experiences as a care provider. It’s not easy. I don’t want to quit or walk away from her, but it’s not necessarily easy to keep going. I plan on continuing to blog about my experience as the family member who is trying to help, so that people like this reader can hopefully find some encouragement.
And I don’t think that this person is a horrible person at all.

#3

Hi Pam,

No, I do not think that this person is a horrible person at all for detaching from her brother’s problems. Whether we like it or not, we have to find the solutions to our problems. Her brother has to do what we all at some point have to do: reach out for help. He has the ability to do this. I’m sure of it. And I know it isn’t easy, but it is possible. Sometimes the best form of help comes not from family members, but from virtual strangers who have dealt with similar problems or are in the helping professions. The people who are closest to us can carry emotional baggage and this can both get in the way of helping and result in hurt feelings. But the people who are not so involved in our personal lives can often give a fresh perspective and can be genuinely helpful. This takes the pressure off all concerned. Ideally, family members should be able to provide some support, but not if it robs them of their own well being. I agree with V. if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you be of help to anyone else?

#4  The person writing to Pam described themselves as having “no life at all”.  This sounds depressing and sad.  They sound like the quality of their life is so bad, that they couldn’t take on the burden of seeing to the quality of their brother’s life.

I see in my family that my sister is weakened by a slight touch of the schizoaffective disorder that I have, and perhaps my brother as well.  But I am also confident that they would not desert me, as fragile as they might be.  This gives me strength and confidence to live, because I am dependent on the kindness of others, be it the government, or my husband, or my parents, or my siblings.  I cannot provide a roof over my head or feed myself.  I cannot work for a living.  If it weren’t for charity from the people who love me, I would be homeless.

I don’t think this person is horrible, I think that they are in pain, and they have burdened themselves with even more pain by turning their back on their brother.  One of the ways to have a fulfilling life is to do charity, is to be giving, and to go the distance for someone other than yourself.  How proud this person would be if they had saved their brother!  Suddenly, they would indeed “have a life”.  They would have been a hero.

This writer has traded their brother for a large helping of guilt.  I don’t intend to increase or decrease the feeling of that guilt.  But I know that if I had my brother’s life in my hands, I would not trust him to God, I would do what ever I could to tend to his welfare.  My meager resources would be used, my emotions might be stretched, my patience would be tested, and yes, the life of another human being can be a heavy load, but I would take that load and offer if it were the only thing I had, the living room sofa!  I know that social services would come to my rescue, although it may take a long time for them to be mobilized.  I know a schizophrenic in my area that had to wait two years for a government funded apartment.  But the apartment eventually came, and now he is safe and secure.

Doing what is right can be hard.  Following your heart can lead you into a wilderness that is unforeseen and perhaps, terrifying.  But I know my heart, and it would never tell me to turn my back on either my brother or sister.  In fantasizing about helping them, I can only believe the final result would be satisfaction.  And knowledge that the heart has won.

5 thoughts on ““Am I a horrible person?””

  1. Dear Pam,

    From the looks of your current blog discussion on the roles and responsibilities of family members when one of them has schizophrenia, it seems I’ve come to you at the perfect time!

    I read Divided Minds as part of my research for an upcoming book on dealing with schizophrenia in the family unit, which is aimed at offering families touched by schizophrenia a range of coping and support techniques via the stories of people who have been through similar experiences. I am focusing on two different aspects: How families dealt with their loved one’s illness (what they did and what they would have done differently, in hindsight), and what the ill person experienced from family members(what needs were met, what needs weren’t, how they could have been better met, etc.)

    Some vignettes will provide the perspective of both the victim and the family, while others will contain either just the family’s story or just the victim’s. The objective of my book will be to provide families with real-life lessons-learned which could possibly be adapted to their own specific contexts and hopefully prevent some of the estrangement and guilt that often haunts families. This is not an attempt to blame people for their responses to a family member with schizophrenia, but to benefit from the wisdom gained by those who have navigated the treacherous course of this devastating illness. Names and identifying information will be changed, of course, unless the interviewees prefer otherwise.

    I know that your personal story involves both supportive and withdrawing actions on the part of your family members. I would be very interested in your reflections on which of these was most helpful, what would have served you better, etc. If you would be willing to grant me an interview so we could discuss these topics, I would greatly appreciate it. (One example of the questions I have, which came from a family already interviewed, is this: “If my mom comes to me and tells me about a sinister plot my brother is hatching to kill her, how do I respond without validating that story or invalidating her herself?”) In addition, if you know of others who may have insight into family dynamics regarding schizophrenia, please give them my contact information. I’ll also spend the next few days going over your blog discussions and those of the other bloggers who picked up the “Am I a Horrible Person?” thread.

    Feel free to contact me by phone at 816-786-6983.

    Thank you for your consideration,
    Najiyah Diana Helwani

    SHORT BIO:
    Najiyah Diana Helwani was raised on the windswept prairies of central Kansas. The mother of six, she has taught English to high school students in the US and ESL to university students in Syria. Najiyah is a public speaker and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for Culturally Speaking, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for people of differing cultures and faiths to build mutually appreciative relationships. Her published works include a young adult novel, Sophia’s Journal, three short stories, several articles and a bit of poetry.

  2. The person writing to Pam described themselves as having “no life at all”. This sounds depressing and sad. They sound like the quality of their life is so bad, that they couldn’t take on the burden of seeing to the quality of their brother’s life.

    I see in my family that my sister is weakened by a slight touch of the schizoaffective disorder that I have, and perhaps my brother as well. But I am also confident that they would not desert me, as fragile as they might be. This gives me strength and confidence to live, because I am dependent on the kindness of others, be it the government, or my husband, or my parents, or my siblings. I cannot provide a roof over my head or feed myself. I cannot work for a living. If it weren’t for charity from the people who love me, I would be homeless.

    I don’t think this person is horrible, I think that they are in pain, and they have burdened themselves with even more pain by turning their back on their brother. One of the ways to have a fulfilling life is to do charity, is to be giving, and to go the distance for someone other than yourself. How proud this person would be if they had saved their brother! Suddenly, they would indeed “have a life”. They would have been a hero.

    This writer has traded their brother for a large helping of guilt. I don’t intend to increase or decrease the feeling of that guilt. But I know that if I had my brother’s life in my hands, I would not trust him to God, I would do what ever I could to tend to his welfare. My meager resources would be used, my emotions might be stretched, my patience would be tested, and yes, the life of another human being can be a heavy load, but I would take that load and offer if it were the only thing I had, the living room sofa! I know that social services would come to my rescue, although it may take a long time for them to be mobilized. I know a schizophrenic in my area that had to wait two years for a government funded apartment. But the apartment eventually came, and now he is safe and secure.

    Doing what is right can be hard. Following your heart can lead you into a wilderness that is unforeseen and perhaps, terrifying. But I know my heart, and it would never tell me to turn my back on either my brother or sister. In fantasizing about helping them, I can only believe the final result would be satisfaction. And knowledge that the heart has won.

  3. Hi Pam,

    No, I do not think that this person is a horrible person at all for detaching from her brother’s problems. Whether we like it or not, we have to find the solutions to our problems. Her brother has to do what we all at some point have to do: reach out for help. He has the ability to do this. I’m sure of it. And I know it isn’t easy, but it is possible. Sometimes the best form of help comes not from family members, but from virtual strangers who have dealt with similar problems or are in the helping professions. The people who are closest to us can carry emotional baggage and this can both get in the way of helping and result in hurt feelings. But the people who are not so involved in our personal lives can often give a fresh perspective and can be genuinely helpful. This takes the pressure off all concerned. Ideally, family members should be able to provide some support, but not if it robs them of their own well being. I agree with V. if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you be of help to anyone else?

    Kate

  4. I ask myself this question as well. My wife is suffering with a serious mental illness. Her diagnosis is major depression with psychotic features, although bipolar has not officially been ruled out. I’ve been writing about my experiences as a care provider. It’s not easy. I don’t want to quit or walk away from her, but it’s not necessarily easy to keep going. I plan on continuing to blog about my experience as the family member who is trying to help, so that people like this reader can hopefully find some encouragement.
    And I don’t think that this person is a horrible person at all.

  5. Wow.
    I want to respond – though I’m sure how. It can very difficult to find the right words sometimes.

    You asked: “Do you think
    this makes me a horrible person?”
    No. I do not. Caring for someone with mental illness is a very difficult road to follow. It can take so much out of you and from you…that there is simply nothing left to give.
    If you are unable to care for yourself properly, meet your own personal needs (physically, spiritually, & mentally) – then how can you expect to do it for someone else?

    I can’t imagine what a difficult choice this was for you.

    Best wishes,
    ~V.

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