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?