Living with a family member who has schizophrenia is like sitting atop a mountain high in the clouds; you can see normal people far below, but the prospect of joining them seems impossible.
From age 10 onwards I’d witnessed my mother withdraw from the world, put on black clothing, answer to different names, and lend greater credence to the voices in her head than those of her own family. I’d hidden in the basement with my younger brother while my father spoke to cops and paramedics upstairs, my mother shouted abuse and cried and finally begged, led off to the psychiatric clinic for the latest forced committal. Entire seasons would pass with my father holding things together and then, just as we were beginning to find a kind of normality, we’d receive encouraging words from doctors about Mom’s recovery. And so we’d trek to the hospital for visits, at first supervised by medical staff and then not, making small-talk with a woman who seemed like a stranger and scrutinizing her face for signs: was she really better? Inevitably, because we loved her and wanted to believe, she’d come home. And for a time there was a fragile happiness. She laughed, displayed the childlike enthusiasm that held both kids and adults entranced, and even hosted parties for a social circle of Bengalis who my parents had known ever since emigrating to Canada in the late 70’s. Beneath the elaborately prepared Indian dishes and careful conversation lay a declaration: she is better now. Our family is whole. That dark chapter is past. But then she’d begin to complain about the side-effects of the medication. She’d stop speaking and start listening to voices we couldn’t hear. The heaviness we’d tried so hard to repel would return and you’d hate yourself for ever having believed otherwise. The cycle of committals, recovery and eventual relapse would continue and you wanted to spit in the face of anyone who seemed happy: it was an illusion, a sucker’s bet.