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We knew there was a problem when my sister started tacking up black sheets over the windows in her bedroom.

We started to realize the full severity of the problem when she called the LAPD around 2 AM one day, claiming my mother had a shotgun and was planning to use it. The cops came by and sneaked their way up the dark stairway of our home in the San Fernando Valley, guns drawn, and when I walked out from my bedroom, all groggy and confused, they yelled at me to put my hands where they could see them. Despite never having previously had a gun pointed at my face, I wasn't scared. Instead, I was annoyed that the whole mess had woken me up.

The onset of my sister's illness didn't disturb me much—mostly because I had almost always seen her as a rival. Throughout our childhood and adolescence, she always outshone me, taking home awards and straight A's for her giftedness in math, science, English, French, and history, while I sort of stumbled through school with a 3.

With her 6'2" frame, Amber starred on the volleyball and basketball teams, winning even more accolades. I tried out for both and didn't make the cut. She also taunted the shit out of me, calling me "King Tut" because my naturally curly hair, which frizzed out right at my chin in the shape of Tut's headdress.

She called my thighs chunky, she called my drawings stupid, and when I lashed out in response to this incessant teasing, she'd say, "Temper, temper," throwing me into an even blinder rage. My parents agreed that she always "started it," and they constantly chastised her for aggravating me when I just wanted to be left alone. I also had my own problems when the cops crept up my stairs—I was 16, boyfriend-less, and weathering the nascent stages of binge eating disorder. At that point, I was gaining five pounds every week, and, as a result, sinking into depression and struggling with constant irritability and a perpetual bad attitude.

Unfortunately, by the time the cops saw me, they'd already cuffed my mother, who stood barefoot on our brick porch in her baby pink flannel nightgown, which was cut right below her knees. The soles of her feet must have been freezing, given that it was the middle of January, and back in the 90s, the San Fernando Valley dropped down to around 45 degrees after the sun went down. Mom didn't get pissed or belligerent in those cuffs. Instead, she stood limp and lifeless, unsuccessfully trying to spit out what really happened between sobs.

Her words were unintelligible because of the crying. It both broke my heart and filled me with disdain—she seemed so helpless, so unable to fight. And I knew it was up to me, despite my bad attitude, to straighten things out. With two clunky retainers in my mouth that gave me a veritable speech impediment, I explained my sister's condition to the cops.

Amber stood behind me, on high alert, still terrified. I later learned that this particular delusion had hit when my mom was already asleep: Out of nowhere, without even interacting with my mother, Amber had become convinced my mom was in her room, loading up a shotgun to kill her, which lead her to call the cops.

Schizophrenia: A Handbook For Families

She'd said nothing to my mom or me prior to making the call. And when my sister countered with, "No, she does have a gun! I saw it! Whatever was going on with Amber, I thought, it would certainly pass. She was the superstar, the salutatorian of her high school class who scored entrance to UC Berkeley. She was the pretty one, tall and slender yet still with nice curves. Her hair, thick and straight and chestnut-colored, fell down to her shoulder blades, far nicer than my King Tut 'do.


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My mother doesn't have a shotgun. So can you please take off the cuffs? She was my nemesis, constantly making fun of me, constantly upstaging me, and, if she wasn't doing that, ignoring me altogether. Later, we learned that her incessant taunting, an immature habit, fell right in line with a predisposition for schizophrenia.

Though Amber was gifted, she didn't have the emotional self-awareness that I had as a kid. When she wasn't studying or playing sports, she had two distinct personalities: rude and mean or completely zoned out. Pictures of us as kids reveal this. I'd be making smartass faces and big smiles into the camera, while Amber appeared distant, foggy, emotionless, and aloof. Her mental illness kicked in right as she failed out of her first term at UC Berkeley, most likely due to her round-the-clock weed use.

There's little doubt—at least according to every psychiatrist she's ever visited—that the pot catalyzed the latent schizophrenia that had been dormant in her brain since birth.

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It's a solid enough hypothesis, given my paternal grandfather was also schizophrenic. Like male pattern baldness, mental illness often skips generations.


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  6. At home, she'd curl up around her stereo, blasting the Beatles and the Who and seeking respite from the noises in her head. But I so detached from Amber due to our strained relationship that I couldn't even answer the question. I remember shoving those rubbery eggs around with my fork, unwilling to eat them since I'd binged on a dozen or so doughnuts the night before, and gazing out the window. Rays from the blinding Southern California sun ricocheted off the blades of the stubby palm trees planted outside the restaurant.

    The entire landscape glittered, making me feel even more depressed. Why are you guys worrying so much? But she didn't get better. Instead, she started climbing the brushy hills behind our house during degree summers—with bare feet—and standing on top the hills,waiting for God to suck her up into heaven because angels had informed her that the apocalypse was coming. She'd return home with welts beneath her toes and heels from the blazing-hot sidewalk, along with a severely sunburnt face. The next day, her cheeks and chin and forehead would break out in unsightly blisters the size of quarters.

    After a few day stints in psych units that resulted in Amber taking meds—meds that actually began to work on the paranoia—my mind began to adjust to the reality that my sister had developed a severe mental illness. Schizophrenia, the doctors told us, brought on severe and delusional paranoia—hence Amber thinking that my mother had a shotgun or that the FBI spied on her or that angels had prophesied an apocalypse.

    While the doctors said she wouldn't become violent or aggressive, they warned us there was a chance that she would put herself or others in danger in an effort to protect herself. She soon confirmed this when my mother was driving her down Sepulveda Boulevard, en route to a doctor's appointment during afternoon rush hour. Amber opened the passenger door while the car was slowing down toward a red light and jumped out, running from the vehicle.

    Once again, she feared my mother would physically harm her. But, according to the doctors, a good medication regime could alleviate this kind of paranoid psychosis. First, they gave Amber old-school Haldol, one of the first medications used to treat schizophrenia in the s.

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    Of course Dr's and nurses advised against it. She passed away after my mom flew into town, my mom was able to see her as were her other sisters. That night long after my mom came back to my house we received word that she had passed away during the night. It's been 34 years since passed away, she's still missed by all of us.

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    When she was at her worst she was sometimes violent. One of her daughters now has the same thing it's so sad!! On a side note: For 16 years I worked as a correctional officer at a federal prison. What's sad now days are that many mentally I'll people are ending going to prison. Our system has made it difficult at best to get mentally ill people the help that they need, so what's happening to them is horrible. Most become homeless and end up either going to prison, death by cop or they commit suicide.

    We have a neighbor who is bipolar, she's hearing voices. Often she is on a rampage, where she is screaming and yelling, threatening to burn down her ex husbands house. He moved her in with him. Not long ago she drove her huge van all the way up on to the side walk, so it was length wise on the side walk.

    Thank God no one was walking in that area or they would gave been killed. She then went out and was laying down in the middle of our really busy street. People were having to drive around her and were beeping their hornsat her. She laid down in the middle of our street like different times. Seven of us called the police showed up and they took her away.