A Walk In My Shoes
Brother’s Mind Is Lost
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was awake in my bedroom at the Canyon Creek Apartments in Phoenix, Arizona. I couldn’t sleep, so I listened to my New Kids On The Block album Hangin’ Tough. I turned down the music because I felt a tension in the air. I could hear my mother in the living room waiting for my brother to come home, who was twenty-one at the time. The door slammed shut and my brother was in tears, nearly screaming at the top of his lungs.
I’ll call to him,
“Travis, now calm down, honey,” Mother cooed as I heard her follow him slowly into the kitchen. The kitchen and my bedroom shared the same wall. I didn’t even have to press my ear to it, I heard everything as though the wall was never there.
“No! I won’t calm down!” he yelled, his tone was fussy, growling almost, teeth clenched as he spoke.
“Shhh…you’ll wake Tara,” she soothed, getting slightly closer to him. I could tell her location exactly as to where she stood before my brother. The walls acted like sonar bouncing their two voices right into my ear. My father, this whole time, was asleep in the bedroom down the hall, as far as I knew.
Travis began to cry. “I can’t calm down!” he growled.
“Did you take anything tonight?” she asked calmly knowing previously his past interactions with friends he hung out with.
“No! I can’t make the voices stop! Stop yelling at me!”
“I’m not yelling at you,” she spoke so calmly I was stunned. Where had she learned to be so cool under such pressure, I thought to myself.
A drawer opened. His fingers fondled around for a few seconds in the silverware container and then slammed the drawer closed. “Make them stop!” he growled, half yelling.
“Travis, take the knife away from your throat. Honey, please.”
I could hear his stance change. I could hear his foot move forward toward mom. All the while my hand was relaxed, open palmed, on my Joey McIntyre poster as I tried to calm my sobs. My other hand lay on the white of the wall. At that very second I could hear him move his arm outward. A slightly heavy jacket rustled as his arm moved forward toward my mother’s chest. I knew were the knife was headed.
“You can’t stop them! I want to die!” he cried, tears choking his words as the emotions poured out.
“Put the knife down. Here, give me the knife,” after those words were spoken by my mother, her full cool in action, the clatter of the knife was laid on the counter top.
“What’s wrong with me!” he sobbed into mother’s chest.
All the while, I cried. My body shook. My tear filled eyes I wiped with my left hand. I remember like it was yesterday – my tear soaked fingers trailing down the poster leaving streaks behind.
schizophrenia schiz·o·phre·ni·a [skit-suh-free-nee-uh, -freen-yuh] n. Any of a group of psychotic disorders usually characterized by withdrawal from reality, illogical patterns of thinking, delusions, and hallucinations, and accompanied in varying degrees by other emotional, behavioral, or intellectual disturbances. Schizophrenia is often associated with dopamine imbalances in the brain and defects of the frontal lobe and may have an underlying genetic cause.
My brother had been in the Navy from 1988 to 1991. He was dishonorably discharged for having done something against regulations while he worked in computer programming. He had also been caught many times selling and using drugs on base. These were not symptoms of his schizophrenia. Even way before that, when he was little, Mom had told me stories that he was a very overly hyper child. He was always getting into trouble and was hard to deal, with especially in his teen years. He dropped out of high school during his Sophomore year. That was when all of his mental upheavals really started.
However, in 1996 he suffered a nearly fatal car accident in the state of Washington, were my family had moved to. My brother was the middle passenger in the truck. A Marine friend was sitting on the right and a friend to them both, a blonde woman, drove. The light to turn left was green. Just as the driver made the turn half way, another driver ran the red light, broadsiding the truck. The Marine died instantly. The driver of the truck bit off half her tongue.
My brother had the worst of it. Broken legs in two differently places. Broken left arm and broken right wrist. Shattered jaw. Closed head trauma. He was unconscious on impact. He was kept in a chemical induced coma for six weeks for his brain injury to heal. To encase his brain, a metal plate was placed over the opening. Due to his previous issues with the beginnings of schizophrenia from his teen years into his early 20s, this closed head injury activated it a hundred fold. The doctors and psychiatrist diagnosed him as: Paranoid Schizophrenic.
Now, to the technical information that I have studied for years. How I come to find schizophrenia so fascinating and kept up with my studies on the subject, even though I never went to college to obtain a degree, was when I unknowingly married a residual schizophrenic (that subject will be for ‘Schizophrenia: A Walk In My Shoes Part 2: The Saint Could Not Save Him’).
All the information I fill this article with, up to this point, are all coming from one book: Writer’s Guide to Character Traits (second edition) by: Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D. Published by: Writer’s Digest Books, copyright 2006.
Early Warning Signs of Schizophrenia:
None of these signs by themselves indicate any mental illness.
Sleep disruptions; inability to sleep or unusual waking hours
Withdrawal from family and friends
Difficulty concentrating and paying attention
Deterioration of personal hygiene
Rambling or disorganized speech
Flat or expressionless gaze
Unusual sensitivity to stimuli such as light or noise
Smelling or tasting things differently
Steady, noticeable decline in school or work performance
Threats of self harm or harm to others
Can demonstrate sexual promiscuity
Opposition to authority; truancy, vandalism or theft
Feelings that others are watching or laughing at him
Extreme preoccupation with religion
A growing sense of deja-vu
Believing that independent events are connected
Irrational fear or anger
I can not stress this enough – the list above shows all the basic signs. It takes a combination of them, each person is different in combos of symptoms, to exhibit full on or medium functionality with schizophrenia. A regular person can experience ‘deja vu’ at some point in their lives or many times in their lives, but for a schizophrenic they experience it often to the point it can make them paranoid to take precautions that can endanger themselves and others.
The most common food that I found that my brother did not like and still does not like to this day was – tomatoes. I found this to be strange, so I looked into it years later. What I found confirmed even more that my brother had a chemical imbalance in his brain that caused his schizophrenia. A schizophrenic will absolutely hate the taste, texture, and smell of tomatoes and bananas due to the potassium compounds in the fruit. The smell especially triggers a reaction to their frontal cortex instinctively to stay away from the fruit. It may seem irrational to normal people, but to a chemically damaged brain it is a sign that there is something wrong. Now, there are people who don’t like tomatoes for other reasons, but a normally healthy brain will still try to consume something new.
As for the preoccupation with religion, in a normal person they will do ritual actions that make them happy. A ritual is only something someone does constantly at the same day and same point of time. This does not mean the person will ‘worship’ their toothbrush in the morning. This means a normal person has a routine that they are comfortable with every single day. In a schizophrenic the constant actions of something religious in scope can become so obsessive they take it as full on reality. A fabulous thing my brother said more than once in 1993 to 1998 – “I am an angel from God! I am here to guide you into the righteous light!” He would scream this during false arguments with my parents just to get a reaction from himself onto others. He would then go into a fit and slam the front door screaming at the top of his lungs. He was not under the influence of cannabis. However, cannabis can induce more schizophrenic behaviors if someone does not know they have the chemical imbalance.
Not to be confused with ADHD, having a lack in concentration for a schizophrenic person is sporadic and has no pattern. What can make them lose concentration easily can be the voices in their mind or the basic stress of being in a crowd of people that are talking all at once. For a regular person, losing concentration can stem from being overly interested in different stimuli all at once or being easily bored with one subject you are working on and then needing something to awaken you to get back on track. A normal person will take breaks if they are becoming distracted, but for a schizophrenic taking a break from distraction is very difficult to master if at all.
Those are just a small handful of what my brother exhibited in many combinations of onset schizophrenia when he was not on any medication. In the list above, he experienced nearly the whole thing in varying degrees throughout his 44 years of life so far. Today, for the last five years or more, he has been on three different medications to maintain the symptoms. At this time there is absolutely no cure for schizophrenia.
Traits Of A Person With Schizophrenia:
Experiences bizarre delusions; alien thoughts are inserted in the mind
Has disorganized speech: rambling, incoherent, wandering from topic to topic, provides answers that do not respond to questions
Has bizarre thinking patterns: unusual associations, illogical connections
Experiences disturbed moods: may go from very stubborn to peaceable
May exhibit peculiar behaviors: disheveled appearance; lack of hygiene; inappropriate sexual behavior; agitation; talking to self; jumping around
Is confused; responds to internal stimuli, not to cues in the outside world
Hallucinates; any sense can be affected but the most common is auditory: hearing voices that comment, threaten, or instruct
Is anxious, apprehensive, and plagued by self-doubt
Is socially alienated and feels misunderstood
Is usually expressionless in speech with little body language
Shows inappropriate affect; laughs or cries without reason, or shows no emotion
Feels estranged from self; does not feel real
Has difficulty concentrating; poor memory
Avoids new situations
Can be out-of-control and impulsive
Withdraws from others; is secretive and inaccessible
While growing up with a brother with schizophrenia, I found myself keeping away from all that he exhibited toward the family. His outbursts of raising his voice because mom, dad and myself would be talking nearly at the same time, he would be overwhelmed and yell to us to shut up. Whenever the television was turned up load cause dad’s hearing was going, and if anyone, even one other person was talking along with, he would get visibly agitated. He would then demand the sound be turned down. The slightest argument, or hint of it from my parents to supposedly scold me over something minor, my brother would raise his voice to shut everyone up and then burst out of the room saying, “I can’t take this anymore! Will you all just shut up!”
The worst onset of his schizophrenia was a day I will never forget. He was hyped up on cannabis that was laced with something. He had been gone for a week and my parents were worried sick. He came home one afternoon totally out of his mind. An argument, as I would call it a false argument ensued. I don’t remember what exactly was said, as I was traumatized by his outburst to block it out. I remember coming down the stairs in the house we lived in in Marysville, Washington. I had enough of it. I sat down in the leather chair and yelled at him to just leave the house. He then got into my face, nearly nose to nose yelling at me. I do not remember to this day what he said to me, but I remember gripping onto the arms of the chair shaking. Both my parents rushed behind him grabbing his arms and both saying, “Don’t you touch her!” My father then rushed to get the camcorder to video tape the event. My brother noticed this right away and changed his tactics. He acted normal again as though everything was fine. He then stormed out of the garage yelling at our parents that they were being paranoid.
I was then fussed at for starting a bigger argument. I was in tears and my mother said, “Why are you crying over this? He didn’t do anything to you. You have nothing to cry about.”
What they did not know and still do not understand to this day, now that I’ll be 35 of age this year, because of my brother’s wild behavior due to schizophrenia has caused me to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are other factors for my PTSD that I will be discussing in a later article about that subject alone.
As for now, I will conclude this article by saying this to all readers: If you love someone no matter if they are a family member or a dear close friend, even in school, and they exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia you must guide them to the help they need. Schizophrenia is a quiet mental illness that the person does not know they have. Their consciousness is so removed from reality it takes a healthy person’s mind to recognize that there is a problem. However, there will be times that the one you love can not be saved. No matter how many times you try, a schizophrenic person may never find treatment. There are those that are just coherent enough to allow the realization that they have a problem.
At this time there is no cure only medication treatments and years of psychotherapy will a person with this mental illness be able to cope with their daily lives on a schedule.
In the next article, I will discuss my experiences being married to a schizophrenic and show examples of other people I came in contact with over the years from school all the way into my working retail career.