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A Sisters Love

A Family Member writes a personal story of love, courage and hope. SF Auckland is honoured to share this story with you all. Names have been changed to protect the family.

A sister's love


My first contact with SF Auckland was in September 2003, although the events that led to that first contact began probably in about 2000, as far as we are aware. My twin sister Jill was living in Dubai at the time working as a beauty therapist and having a great time, or so we thought. The first real indications that something was not quite right were a couple of text messages and then a letter, all directed to my father, asking him who her real mother was.

In the letter she wrote, among other things, how she knew that mum was not her real mother and that upon walking into a bookshop, "bang", she suddenly knew that Grace Kelly was her real mother. The letter was worrying enough that my father, who is generally hands off, got on a plane the next day to visit her.

When Dad got back a week later he said that Jill had taken holiday from work, and that they had had a great time together, and that she was fine. By chance I was due to visit her the following week and although she seemed 'normal' when in company, when we were alone she was extremely tense and irritable. What she had not told Dad was that she had, following three warnings, lost her job.

The day after I arrived we were on the beach and it all came out - she was sorry to tell me that we weren't twins after all as Grace Kelly was her mother. We had a surreal, calm but guarded conversation (she thought people could be listening to us) where I tried to reason with her that that was impossible. Her reasons for coming to this conclusion were absurd, such as she remembered some official looking black cars driving past our house when we were young - apparently that was Grace Kelly checking up on her!

Every argument I came up with she found a way to dismiss - she even claimed that if we did a DNA test to check her heritage the people at the lab would interfere with the results, because it was all a big secret which it seemed the whole world was in on.

She returned to the UK and got another job, and a pattern began that would continue for the next three years - she would only talk to me about her delusions - they revolved around Grace Kelly being her mother, how she was going to be forced to marry a prince, how they were going to 'get her' like they did Princess Di and Marilyn Munroe etc. etc.
As I live in NZ most of these conversations were carried out on the telephone - sometimes in the middle of the night she would phone me in terrible, abusive rages. Her rages were such that she was asked to leave a number of rented rooms - she described herself as a pawn on a chessboard, being controlled by others. She had no understanding that it was her behaviour that was causing her to be evicted.

I tried to encourage her to see a doctor and she did make an appointment a few times but never went through with it. There were so many incidences to relate, it's hard to describe what an awful time it was. I would phone home and tell the rest of the family if she was having a really bad episode. They would visit her and then report that she seemed fine. It was frustrating for everyone. Sometimes I thought I was the delusional one.

Maybe if I had lived in England at that time things would have been different, but I suspect that her abusive behaviour would have led to us having less contact. For example, on one of my visits home before my wedding in March 2003 we had planned a day with our mutual friends for me to try on wedding dresses. However the night before the shopping day she became extremely agitated and delusional saying she would not marry a prince, she would not step into a wedding dress shop, they could not make her and after hours of her raging, and my older sister and I trying to reason with her, she had what seemed to be an epileptic fit.

I rang the National Health helpline at 4 am in the morning and was sympathised with but told there was nothing I could do, except try to get her to see a doctor (as if we had not tried that - what could we do? Physically drag her there?). I couldn't face my friends the next day - I was upset and also, to be honest, furious with Jill for ruining the day. Jill, however, seemed back to herself, and could not understand why I didn't want to go shopping and told my friends I had got very upset and had PMT! You would say, in retrospect, she was behaving schizophrenically, but it did not cross my mind, even once, that she may have schizophrenia.

I knew something was not right, but often she seemed fine, even to me. In her lucid periods we all tried to pretend everything was going to be just fine. She was holding down a job, she did not seem to be a danger to herself or others - what could we do?

One thing I tried was to say that she could not be a bridesmaid at my wedding, as her behaviour was too unpredictable. We were both really upset about this, especially as she was the only family member able to come to my wedding. After about 8 weeks I relented, on the proviso that she see a doctor about her 'depression', as by this stage she did seem to have become increasingly depressed. She readily agreed - although in the end she never did see a doctor. Life carried on as before although she became increasingly depressed.

In the run up to September 2003 a number of unsettling events occurred in Jill's life, including a relationship break-up and losing her job (through no fault of her own), and I think real depression set in. She felt very alone, not helped by the fact that she felt that even her family were conspiring against her. We knew things were not going well - and at this stage she had begun speaking to a close friend of ours about her delusions and her wish to commit suicide.

Following conversations with this friend and myself on 31st August 2003 we knew that Jill was in a really bad way. My brother rang the Acton Mental health team to see if they could help - no, not unless she was a danger to herself or others. We did not really think she was either of those. On the morning of September 1st 2003 our friend was on an underground tube train on her way to visit Jill. I texted Jill to see how she was - her reply "Fine thanks, J x ". Less than 1 hour later she jumped under a tube train.

Our friend's tube train was delayed due to an 'incident' on the line. She had a very bad feeling and immediately got off the train and asked what had happened. When told that someone had jumped she told them she thought she knew who it was - and she was right. She rang me in NZ - a phone call in the middle of the night I will never forget. I rang my family - within 30 hours we were all with Jill as she lay struggling for her life in an intensive care ward. With multiple serious injuries, she was given a 1 in 8 chance of survival. We were told that if she did survive she would be paralysed from the neck down.

Thank God, she did survive. That was nearly two years ago- a hard 2 years for everyone, but especially for Jill. After one and a half years in two hospitals she has come such a long way. Her mobility is much better than we were first led to believe, and although she may not walk again (but we still live in hope) she does have good movement in her left arm.
She is on anti-psychotic medication and her delusions and rages appear to be a thing of the past. I have just recently been back to see everyone at home - she was 1000 % better than when I last saw her. She is positive and strong, and accepting of her condition - she is amazing. Whereas before her suicide attempt she had a sound body and an unsound mind, she now has an unsound body and a sound mind. Neither situation is ideal, but we think the latter is preferable the former.

So - that's the story so far - it isn't over, but the future, although it may be challenging, is not looking so bad. When I came back to NZ 4 weeks after Jill first went into intensive care I contacted SF Auckland - and it was like finding an oasis in a desert. I think it is hard for anyone to really appreciate how distressing it is when your own family member is in a psychotic rage unless they have experienced something similar themselves.

Finally, at SF I found people who REALLY understood what we were going through. That is why I wanted to become more involved with SF - if our family's experiences could help one person, even in a small way, then something positive has come out of this. I feel passionate about raising public awareness of mental illness so if others are faced with it, as we were, they may know what they are dealing with and so cope with it better, perhaps, than we did.

I want to take this opportunity of thanking those at SF Auckland for helping me when I really needed it - and I hope that I can now give something back.

Thanks also to Jill for allowing me to write this piece and for being a great sister.

Four years later (2007), Jill is continuing to rebuild her life. She has a part-time job, an active social life (including dating) and an amazing positive attitude, despite the fact that she will probably be confined to an electric wheel chair for the rest of her life. As I write this she is on holiday in Switzerland, and she is looking forward to a cruise to Norway next year, among other things. It just goes to show that you never know what life will bring.