Link to Part 1.
She was having a psychotic break. I knew I needed to help her. But how?
Years as a social work major in college had taught me many things, but not how to prepare for a sibling with schizophrenia. (At this point, of course, she hadn’t been diagnosed, but I had my suspicions that this it what it was.) These tragedies happen in other families, not mine.
That weekend in September of 2010, we gathered, all 15 of us, my brother- Mike, sister- Debbie, mom, brother- in-law, sister-in-law, and all the first cousin kids, ranging from ages three to ten, and Julia*. (Yeah, try having an intervention with 5 little boys and 2 little girls running around. God, we tried to keep things as normal as possible for all the kids.) We brought all adults together downstairs to intervene and encourage her to get help while the kids remained upstairs. There was tons of texting going back and forth between all the adults so we could make decisions without whispering. Whispering would likely make her more paranoid, so texting became our lifeline to communicating.
We knew we needed to be delicate. We knew we needed her to believe we still loved her. We also knew she needed help beyond what we could do.
That intervention was basically a presentation of facts that could clearly not have made logical sense. We assured her that there was no family law case pending or otherwise. I don’t remember the words spoken during our intervention, as I often do, I remember impressions and emotions. She wasn’t accepting our intervention. Her delusions were fixed. She was convinced that we were against her and her delusions were real.
It was like her mind was divided. At times that weekend, she’d rave and rant about all the wild delusions she was thinking. I went for a walk with her and she proceeded to tell me about every relationship with a man that she’d ever had, confession-like. She held onto my arm as we walked. I was her eldest sister. I had held her as a baby, when I was 14. I had pushed her in a stroller. I’d watched her grow. I had such hopes that her life would be different. That day, she became obsessed with herpes and needed reassurance that she didn’t have it. “My doctor implanted me with herpes at the hospital when I had Mikayla*.” (Uh, no he didn’t.) I assured her that I was there at the birth of Mikayla and this didn’t happen. “But I need to see pictures just to make sure. Please, Joy, help me.” Laptop in hand, I went outside with her and looked up pictures of people with herpes. (Yes, yes, I did. I needed to wash my eyeballs. Actually, fortunately, I don’t remember those images. Thank God for a dusty laptop screen and glare from the sun.) I do recall how frightened she was. She really believed that she had herpes. I tried to convince her that she was okay. Her fear was very real and she was undeterred from any other line of thinking.
Her delusions weren’t harmful at that point. She was definitely not making sense for how we knew her to be, however, to an outsider, some of her delusions could have been explanations for real events. She wasn’t harming anyone. She was still driving. All things seemed normal on the outside. She was a gorgeous blonde blue-eyed 23-year-old. If she didn’t share her delusions to people she didn’t know, then it became challenging for professionals to believe her family, me.
A dear friend of my mom’s who worked at Sharp Grossmont Hospital was able to give me a psychiatrist, Dr. Ganadjian’s cell phone number. (Miracle!) (I hate making phone calls. I never feel fully prepared and always think of 2,000 other things I could have said better to express my thoughts.) I left a voice mail and described all her symptoms and delusions, and based on those facts, asked if he thought she could be put on a 5150. After all, she was my sister, I had to get her help. She was in a crisis. At some point I did speak with him over the phone and he said, “You need to get her to come in. She will probably have to agree to be here voluntarily.”
She didn’t want to go to the hospital because she was afraid everyone was looking at her. I had an idea, since I knew she wouldn’t be convinced that she needed mental health support, I said, “Julia, since this body odor problem is really bothering you, I think we should go see the doctor. I’ll go with you.” Believe it or not, that worked. To keep wandering eyes from looking at her, I suggested she wear a hat. So when we explained to the intake nurse why she was there, Julia explained why. She even knew the scientific term for body odor, bromidrosis. I gave the nurse some ‘knowing’ looks, like, Yes, she is not in her right mind, please help. It took hours, maybe 12, for a bed to open up on the behavioral unit at Sharp. As we waited in the Emergency Room there were intense episodes of psychotic laughter. At one point as the nurse walked away, Julia said, “She’s a white witch.”
These statements and many others were, disconcerting and heart-breaking at times. There was another and important reason to keep communication open Julia and help her get well…my sister had a 3-year-old daughter, Mikayla.
Meanwhile back in LA County, I was missing my 2010 Back-to-School Night. Fortunately, my principal was supportive. I entered that school year in full blown exhaustion mode. I was completing a rather intense master’s degree online program with deadlines every Sunday and mid-week assignments. It was a crazy intense time. So, guess what? To self soothe, I…(you guessed it) ATE.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
That’s all for now. Until tomorrow–Part 3. Love you loves.