By: Revanche

The terrible cost of being your sibling’s keeper

June 1, 2014

We stood in the driveway, watching him “craft”. Once able to pick up a pencil, pen, paintbrush or lump of clay, and fashion realistic or fantastical pieces of art with no training, he’s now creating smaller lumps of wood from larger lumps of wood. Inside, a bit of me shudders, watching the hatchet in his hand.

There’s a limited range of things one can say to him, now, without setting off fireworks. Defensiveness, rage, imagined boundaries, bristling. Only his sister can cross those lines, he snarls, and even she doesn’t!  PiC backs off. He’d only asked, “so what are you up to these days?”

I haven’t talked about my sibling for a long time. I haven’t talked to him, for some while.

It doesn’t meant that I don’t think about him, constantly. Or that my subconscious doesn’t dwell on the exhausting morass that our lives have become.


In August 2011, my dad asked me, did I think Sibling was on drugs?  There was something really wrong there, and he didn’t know what it was.  At that point, Sibling had been driving me batty with his machinations and manipulations going on fifteen years; we were at loggerheads over every last thing and the struggle to force him to grow up had become steadily more useless. He hadn’t done a single productive thing to lift himself out of the mire his life had become and over the years, he’d become more nasty and more violently opposed to cooperating with Mom or Dad.

My resolve hardened; he’d spent far too long on the dole as it was, he was actively hurtful and hateful to my parents and it was too much. He had to go and I had to be the one to make the separation.

I went to talk to him and there were clear signs that something was not right. His behavior wasn’t completely the usual manipulative and egocentric, it became literally delusional.

He explained to me very carefully in the same breath that while everyone was concerned about him, he was “linear” now, and he had taught his pets to speak the English language. They could now understand every word we were all saying.

He went on and on about his beliefs about his role in the family, that of “protection” and of misplaced need to be “security”. I backed away slowly, realizing that he fervently believed every word he was saying and that he was simmering with the paranoid need to prove himself which would and could manifest in violence against any one of us should he experience a break and perceive a threat.

Dad was unconvinced that Sibling posed him any danger but it was, and still is, hard to believe him. I don’t believe that all mentally ill individuals, or even most, pose a threat to the people around them. Many of them don’t. But we have a family history of mental illness, and a trend of delusions and violence, that I cannot ignore. A cousin who sounds scarily like Sibling in his ramblings has attacked and injured more than one person. Sibling’s misplaced white knight convictions sound like the beginning of justifications of something awful and twisted.

And amidst it all, Mom’s spiraling condition, much of the anxiety centered on her son, prevented me from taking the necessary steps of getting Sibling away from them.

Leaving home, and him, in 2010, purchased a slice of respite for me, but in its place simmered my own anxiety. My nightmares got worse. I still fought with him: over the phone, during visits, in my imagination, epic battles raged over his transgressions now only inconsistently policed from afar.  PiC and Doggle were no longer startled by my waking up screaming at dream Sibling, going yet another round in endless rounds of desperate attempts to get through to him.

It wasn’t working. It probably never was.


Somehow, it’s still unclear who I was and am fighting with. Is this my brother the master manipulator or some teenage version of him? In some ways, he’s getting what he wants: free housing, “doesn’t have to” work. It’s hard to imagine that this is how he wants to live but he’s rejected every overture of help, every attempt to support his efforts at anything productive. Aunts have come out of the woodwork, offering to sponsor his education, trade or higher ed, if he wanted; nothing came of any of it.

He’s ended up on the doorsteps of childhood friends, acting as though he had rewound life back to high school. If you can ignore that displacement, when he’s speaking to you, it almost sounds like nothing is amiss. He’s adamant that nothing’s wrong but his disproportionate outrage at being asked what he’s doing or what he’s planning to do indicates otherwise; his obsessions and refusal to do anything to live at more than a subsistence level and his insistence that the dog is as responsible for understanding his needs as a human, it’s all disturbing.

He spent weeks obsessively doing laundry, running the machine over and over, day and night, until he broke the machine. He was washing and rewashing the same clothes (in defiance of Dad?) for no discernible reason. Dad can’t afford to fix the machine because it’s a large unbudgeted expense for both of us, and isn’t willing to get it fixed because the amount of water and energy spent was astronomical. Dad has to choose to do his laundry at a laundromat, taking hours out of his already tough schedule, because Sibling can’t be trusted not to do the same thing again in the middle of a drought and wasting hundreds of dollars.

Sibling wanders in and out, leaving doors and windows open, turning on faucets and leaving them running, leaving the stove burning til everything’s scorched beyond recognition.

I banned Sibling from using my car years ago, unable to afford the constant repairs of having a careless driver ding it up, and most unwilling to risk his having a serious accident and heaven forfend, injuring or killing someone. He snuck the keys anyway, and I only found out about it when I received parking tickets because he couldn’t even be bothered to put quarters in the meter when he stole my car.

Dad’s a prisoner, unable to leave the house for more than a few hours at a time lest he come home to a flooded or burnt down house, a stolen or wrecked car. In more than four years, he’s never been able to even say that he would like to visit me because it wasn’t possible.

Sibling requires some kind of medical care but you can’t force an adult to get evaluated and you can’t commit an adult against their will until they pose a clear threat to themselves or others. This makes sense: mentally ill individuals don’t always have people advocating for their best interests and they do have rights. But the fact that we have to wait, amid the slow soul-crushing erosion of our lives around the shambling wreck that is his, until someone is hurt or killed to get any help at all belies the idea that anyone’s best interests are being served.


His dog is as much a prisoner as Dad, or worse. He’s utterly pitiful and needs more healthcare than Dad can afford. The breedist community we live in doesn’t allow Sibling’s dog’s breed, even though he is the sweetest, smartest, most compliant dog we’ve ever met. I’m still trying to disguise him in some way so he can come live with us; but I know that adding the burden of a second 90+ lb dog to the household is going to be a strain on our budget and tax both our severely limited energies.

I can’t just leave him there, but so many things have to change. We need to at least double the dog allowance budget and that has to come from somewhere. Dad would never kick Sibling out, and won’t allow me to do it so long as he’s clearly incapable or unwilling to find alternative housing, so I have to find some other housing for him. Finding housing for someone who can’t or won’t to help himself is a challenge; more so because I can’t convince him to get a diagnosis, unless maybe I go and drive him myself to a doctor. I’m not even sure he’d cooperate then, he didn’t when Dad took him.

Impossible as it feels, I have to do something to change things. This steadily degenerating stalemate is untenable. So, from somewhere, I have to make the time and dredge up the energy to “fix” this as best I can. I’m awfully tired but there’s really not much of a choice, is there?

A similar NYTimes story that struck very close to home for me

26 Responses to “The terrible cost of being your sibling’s keeper”

  1. Kris says:

    Wow. Much love and many hugs! Are there any professionals you can ask for advice about what your options are?

  2. Mary says:

    How very sad and extremely scary for you and your family.
    I have often felt that the people who demanded the closing of so many mental health facilities had no understanding of mental illness or the only mental illness they were aware of was depression.

    A friend of ours had their son try to burn down their home – with them in it, a neighbor of ours now has a brother who is in a ward of the state and in a nursing facility. Both of these men are paranoid schizophrenics and during episodes can and would harm themselves or others. Few, if any, of the people who feel the mentally ill can be mainstreamed seem aware that many of those who can resort to violence go off the meds that keep them at least somewhat calm.

    I can only hope you can find a facility or professional who can give you real help and my best wishes to you all.

    • Revanche says:

      I’ve had both relatives attempt to harm others and dear friends who have lost family because their relatives had paranoid schizophrenia. These are extreme cases, of course, I know plenty of friends who live with mental illness of some kind and manage it very well for what it is. It’s just that the scariest part is simply not knowing if this is going to take that turn and knowing that Sibling won’t accept help or take medications to help.

  3. Oh, my. This is dreadful.

    It’s none of my business…but what the heck. If I were you, I’d see a therapist myself. First, because this guy is driving you nuts and your first priority needs to be to protect yourself. And second, because a competent therapist or psychiatrist may be able to advise on what your brother’s condition really is, what the outcome is likely to be, and what (if anything) can be done.

    We do live in a culture that has abandoned the mentally ill, and with the deinstitutionalization of people who can’t care for themselves but who must ask for care even when they can’t or won’t, there’s not a lot the person’s relatives can do. Do try to rank your survival priorities…and number one is you. You can’t help anyone if you’re out of commission from stress, grief, and fear. Number two is your husband and your relationship with him. Number three is your dad. And I’m afraid the brother is way down there…number four at best.

    Obviously it’s not a matter of “doesn’t have to work”; it’s a matter of “can’t work.” Is there any chance you can get him on disability? From there you should be able to get him into Section 8 housing, which would remove him from your dad’s home. Either that, or remove Dad: get him to move into an over-55 community — there’s a lot of active-senior housing that bears no resemblance to a nursing home or life-care community. Leave the present dwelling to the son. Better to keep paying for it as a roof over the guy’s head than to have your dad staying in it as his home shared with a possibly dangerous adult man.
    Funny about Money recently posted…Farming Out the Chores: Opportunity Cost Recovered!My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Frustratingly, I’ve still not found a therapist I liked or could work with. One felt like it was most bracing to tell me to just “brush it off” and “don’t let it get to me”.

      I have managed to, for the most part, step back and deprioritize him, especially since Mom’s passing knocked me on my tuckus, but … things come up and it’s daunting to think that this is the current detente. Can’t leave the sibling in the house alone – I’m financially responsible for that house so whatever he does falls in my lap. I need him OUT.

  4. jestjack says:

    MAN….Like others have said, please make an appointment with a therapist/counselor as this problem is only going to get worse. And it will work on you more and more. Perhaps during your therapy session the therapist can direct you to assistance. Your folks, IMHO are the most at risk. I have a similiar situation with a tenant at my folks home who is unstable and has fallen behind on her rent. When I try to discuss her getting current or looking for a new place to live…she goes “bezerk” and dashes off slamming the door in my face. This month it’s “showdown time”…she either gets current or I have her removed from the property….period. As I recall your sibling can be hospitalized if he presents a danger to himself and others….it seems leaving a stove on repeatedly fits the bill. IMHO this isn’t gonna get any better….Maybe ask the dog what he thinks….

    • Revanche says:

      You have my empathies, jestjack. I don’t know if it’s different in other states but here leaving a stove on doesn’t warrant “imminent harm” and taking someone in for evaluation; he’d have to actually start a fire and burn the house down or be caught actually holding a knife on someone. Obviously I don’t want that to happen! 🙁

  5. GigiwJD says:

    This sounds very difficult. As we discussed on Twitter, I’ve recently been dealing with someone with related issues. I find it’s is really hard to interact without a detriment to my own wellbeing. Much harder in a situation like yours where the person cannot be removed from your life the way a significant other can. I hope things get better and that the long, hard road to reach that point doesn’t exhaust your resources.

    • Revanche says:

      Thank you … I’m really hoping your situation stays resolved. If nothing else, having the person away from you (and in your case, probably on a more permanent basis) is probably a huge relief. <3

  6. Sabrina (you-know-who) says:

    So sorry to hear that this situation has gotten worse, not better, over the years. It’s clearer and clearer that your brother is mentally ill, not just irresponsible and manipulative. I agree with the previous commenters that a consultation with a psychiatrist, or perhaps a psychiatric social worker, might be helpful to you and give you some leads to resources. As you know, I’ve been through the process of getting my cousin on disability for similar reasons. I think you’d have to have your brother’s cooperation in doing the application, at least for the interview and his signature. Even though you could provide a description of his lifetime of erratic behavior and inability to work, he’d need a doctor’s diagnosis and assessment of his inability to work (I think the dept of social services would provide one if necessary; not sure how it works in your state). Best of luck, and fortitude, in dealing with all this!

    • Revanche says:

      You’re quite right about needing his cooperation & I’m not at the moment up for that effort, but I’m looking into some resources to see what can be done. Thanks <3

  7. Mary says:

    My father was a psychologist and I worked for a short time in a mental health clinic and once used the “whole 4 free visits” allowed on my insurance from work for a personal issue.

    No one talks about the difficulty of finding both a “good” therapist and one you can work with, because we all have unique personalities and lives. You, in my opinion, got a very lousy therapist, based solely on them saying “brush it off” and “don’t let it get to me”! Good lord -the absolute insensitivity and total lack of help is nothing less than appalling!! That was why I got out of mental health – too many nuts on the wrong side of the desk. And I knew several good ones, so that part surprised me greatly.

    Please, keep looking, good therapists are out there and hopefully you can find one you and pic can work with who also has some insight into any cultural issues that may be part of the issues.

    Best of luck to you.

    • Revanche says:

      Difficulty of finding a good therapist: Very very true! I felt like that therapist I had tried, even after giving it several sessions in case I was just misreading the situation, was just awful.

  8. Sigan says:

    Why are you letting this guy control you? You say you are financially responsible for the house but can’t do anything about a tenant? Very strange.

    I understand the love for the brother and wanting to help him but he’s made it pretty clear he doesn’t want help. There is more than one schizo in my family. People bending over backwards to make it right and “he just needs love”. Obviously the annoyed counterpart of “you can’t raise your child right”. None of it worked and all were devastated in the end because the good intentions were rebuffed. Relatives were all stupefied why he would act this way. There is no “why”.

    At the end of the day these troubled individuals are responsible for themselves. If you actively chose to take on that responsibility that is a very noble thing to do. But are you in a position to do as such? That’s a huge commit both emotionally and financially.

    I know its the internet and you can take advice for what its worth but this guy is just going to continue to drag you into a whirlpool of despair. Been down that road and sometimes you gotta learn the hard way. Sorry if this was blunt, i wish i could have rewound the clock and said this to myself a few sun cycles ago 🙁

    • Revanche says:

      Blunt is fine. This is just a rather limited reading of the situation, though. Would that life was as simple as you suggest. Having concern and trying to make a bad situation better for my only immediate family is not “letting that guy control my life”.
      Obviously you’re new here or you’d know that I’ve been actively caring for and supporting my family for 13 years; by now I do have a fair idea of the commitment that’s required.
      I shouldn’t think, though, especially if you’ve walked this road with a loved one before, that it’d be so hard to understand why a parent might not want throw out their now-ill only son, or me my only sibling, to live or die on the street. I may not want to continue supporting him but that’s a ways away from being ready to make him homeless.

    • Mary says:


      Many families seem to not understand mental illnesses, and I would guess that the way your family handled their members had a direct effect on you. I am sorry for that.

      Unfortunately, these “troubled individuals” often do not have the internal resources to be responsible for or to themselves and family members often want to do what is best for all, as Revanche does.

      Perhaps, you could offer her some examples of what did not work for you or your family and why and that might be more help to her.

  9. Clara says:

    Dear Revanche

    I’m a regular reader of your blog, and have just read this posting.

    I have been reading what you have confided on your blog about your brother over the years, and have felt your anxiety through your written words.

    I have felt for years your brother has an undiagnosed disorder.

    Reading today about him doing the obsessive laundry, reeks of him having anxiety disorder, and that his anxiety is at fever pitch. I think that deep down a small part of him knows something is not right with him, hence the anxiety. It also sounds like he has unresolved anger and resentment. He needs help, no question about it.

    I urge YOU to see a therapist, because this stress is in danger of taking a toll on your marriage. You need to protect your marriage, and being frightened and worried constantly does not promote a good marriage. You need to be shown steps, concrete steps, on what you can do,, and in what ways you can be of emotional support to your dad.

    I wish the absolute best for you.

  10. Linda says:

    This is such a touching post and is coming from a place inside you of deep pain. Thank you for sharing it. I hope that there is some resolution or improvement soon because this is a terrible and exhausting load for you to bear.
    Linda recently posted…My (troublesome) left footMy Profile

  11. […] post on the complications of having a family member with a vague mental illness is beautiful and […]

  12. Sense says:

    I think I missed this the first time ’round in the midst of my moving madness. I’m sorry about that.

    Boy, do I ever feel you. Sister was recently missing for a full month; finally showed up in a hospital two hours away. That I didn’t even post about it shows how ‘normal’ this kind of thing has become. I am increasingly worried for her future, like you with your sibling.

    Sibling doesn’t even recognize that he needs help…it sounds like you’ve done everything you can, short of lie and commit him against his will. I can’t even imagine. Even then, there is the fact that after getting released, he’d have to take pills willingly. And go to individual and group therapy. There is so much more row to hoe here, but one step at a time.

    Sad to say, even with those two ingredients: 1) person acknowledges their illness and 2) is willing to do the work like therapy and taking pills, it sometimes doesn’t end. In my sister’s situation, the meds periodically stop working, she goes on a bender, refuses to talk to family, etc. And then there are the poor decisions she makes even when stable…

    I agree with you–from what I have seen, the system doesn’t work very well. They simply do not care about continuity, even after someone is admitted to the hospital voluntarily. There is a cycle: sister sets up her life (job, school, therapy, car, phone, apartment) with the help of a state-appointed case manager. They make sure she has what she needs (to a point; I’m not impressed by them, but they do try to help sometimes). Sister has episode, goes into hospital; now the welfare money is diverted away from the case manager care and to the hospital. Case manager has to simply drop her. Her life falls apart–no one is paying rent, bills, or letting her roommate, work or school know why she is missing. Mom and Dad pick up the pieces as much as they can–they are paying her rent now, and do all the legwork to patch up her life in her absence. But she tries to be ‘independent’ so they don’t even know exactly when she goes missing, her schedule, or who to pay for certain things (she threw away her old phone and bought an iphone and ran up a cc bill before she admitted herself this time–no idea of how to pay even if they were willing!).

    If she is evicted, she loses all of her belongings. If she has a roommate, that roommate is left without help with the rent. Sister comes back to find that she has to start everything from scratch, work her way up from the bottom each time. And this is what it looks like IN THE SYSTEM. WITH HELP from caring family members, to boot. There has to be a way to set things up so that she gets to come back to a semblance of her old life. Right??

    It is so frustrating to see her have to piece together her life yet again–it will happen after this most recent episode, surely. My heart breaks all the time for her, and after 15 years, I’ve finally reached a point where I just cannot anymore. The only reason I’m still involved is because my mom and dad (and their health) are devastatingly affected by her and because I’m the only one she’ll talk to sometimes. But what will happen when they pass? I don’t know, and I shut down before I can think too hard on the subject. You can’t blame an ill person, yet…what do you do when caring for someone takes more than you have?

    I do wonder what life would have been like for you and your family if you had a stable, super-helpful brother. I’m so sorry he was stricken with this awful, highly misunderstood disease. You are the epitome of strength. I have much respect for the extreme doggedness and dignity with which you conduct yourself in times of trial and hardship.

  13. […] One is still going to be horrible. I have to extract him safely and without triggering the Sibling in some way. I can stand him off on my own, I think, but what happens when we leave? What happens when he gets […]

  14. […] can’t deny that I did get to have that relationship for a short time. His later mental issues complicate things further. Much like having gotten a couple good years with my parents before life fully hit the […]

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