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A Families Shame in Mental Illness: Part1

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It’s been a very long year since a violent tragedy took my twin sister and her daughter from our family. When I tell people I lost my identical twin sister and niece, they immediately assume death. Curiously, I allow them to think this because it’s easier to consider them dead than to realize the real tragedy is the mental illness that has been kept secret for most of our fifty years. Unfortunately in that December dawn of 2010, reality was no longer a luxury to keep at a distance. The “come to Jesus” moment had arrived and the events that transpired over the next twenty-four will forever remain as a mix of disbelief, fear and ultimately sorrow.

One year later and as the pain and grief subsides I’m left with questions I’ll never get the answers too and so much doubt. What remains now is a shell of memories that I wrestle with from time to time, wondering if they are real or a mere fabrication of my own desire to believe that the relationship I truly had with my twin sister of fifty years was based on love, instead of just a great actress playing a role. 

Two paragraphs into this and I still can’t bring myself to type the words you all want to see right now … what happened, where did she go and what does she suffer from? Ahhh the stigma of mental illness, no matter how evolved, how grounded we think we are, it’s still hard to grapple with, particularly when it hits so close to home.  A year of therapy and I’m still haunted by the diagnosis. So what is it you ask? My twin sister is what the psychiatric world declares a “sociopath” with tendencies towards a narcissistic rage. Wow if I was playing “Words with Friends” right now I could score big time. Weird how I still find my humor in all of this. Of course my twin sister has never received medical attention for what my therapist by all accounting of the facts and events diagnosed as sociopathy. I’ve learned over the past year through support groups and others who have come face to face with loved ones suffering; sociopaths, particularly narcissists rarely if ever seek help. Everything I’ve read about narcissists and sociopaths seems to validate my fears and there was never love; she is just a good actress playing a role.

What set her off that day a year ago is really just the climax to a decade or two of downward spiral. As close as my sisters and I seemed, it was always odd that my twin had such a different memory of growing up in our home. While my two older sisters and I reminiscent with mostly affection about our years growing up, she always seemed to have some odd remembrance. We used to joke that she didn’t grow up in our house.  All joking aside, that was our first clue to the depth of her mental illness. She didn’t operate in the same reality as we did. Her world was as she dictated and fabricated. We didn’t have a perfect childhood but we had two loving parents who worked hard to provide for us. We had our share of drama but what household full of girls doesn’t? That night in December was supposed to be a night of reconnecting with a niece we had been denied access to because my twin and I had an argument and instead of working through it like adults, she declared me “dead” to her. This was typical of her behavior. Our middle sister was relegated to the depths of hell a decade earlier, a letter out of the blue declared her dead to my twin and we never knew why. My niece was seven when we last shared time together. Five years later and she was now a beautiful twelve year old with an edge and also suspicion.

The events of that fateful twenty-four hours are as vivid today as they were that day. On one hand here I was, the aunt that was so much a part of her life for her first seven years of life, and then poof—gone.  It was hard to find a beginning point but we tried. Of course my youngest daughter tried desperately to find common ground. I told them both to take it slow but to enjoy each other. Looking back I wonder if there was something I could’ve done to prevent what happened next but I realize that’s fruitless. Hours later, the niece I was just beginning to know again, became an angry adolescent who was capable of significant rage and words my youngest (seventeen years old) had never uttered. When I noticed my niece spend a lot of time texting, I inquired to whom she was texting. She replied “Paul.” My husband and I asked her if that was a friend from school and she said no it was her neighbor. I realized she was talking about the 34 year old man across the street and  asked her why he texted her. She immediately told me he was like an uncle to her, to which my husband—her uncle—replied, “but he’s not your uncle.” Shortly after we dropped her off at the end of the day, we received a phone call asking if she had left her cell phone in the backseat. When we realized she had indeed left it in the backseat of our rental car, we made arrangements to get it to her the next day. Because I still had a sick feeling about the earlier conversation involving her thirty-four year old neighbor, I checked her text messages. Immediately I asked my husband to pull over and he took the phone from me so he could confirm what I was seeing. There were twenty-eight text messages and sexual pictures on her phone, all transpiring within thirty minutes. Twenty- four hours into what should’ve been the beginning of a new chapter we were thrown into the world of pedophilia, fear and a harsh reality of what “next?” I immediately called my sisters to ask how to inform my twin of this despicable situation. I was literally sick to my stomach and ached for the loss and pain of my niece’s innocence. What was more terrifying is how did we break this horrible discovery to my twin without causing her the inevitable pain sure to come? I knew she would be upset but I didn’t expect the outcome my suspicion and evidence would receive. I didn’t have a way to get to her home so I had to tell her over the phone about what I found. When I told her about it she laughed, denied it and told me I was once again creating drama. Her exact words were “how dare I come back into her life after five years and insinuate that she wasn’t able to take care of her child; that the man in question is like a son to them and a brother to her daughter, he was more family than I ever was.” What? Wait I just told you what I found on your daughters phone and I’m lying? She hung up on me never asking to retrieve the phone; in fact she said her daughter would call me to discuss how to bring her the phone.  I sent the picture via text to my niece’s father who was traveling, asking him to call me. He never called and three hours later I went to the police with the phone.  I was informed by the police that while the twenty-eight messages and the graphic picture were definitely concerning, that the genitalia on the picture weren’t moving so it wasn’t considered porn. WOW, a thirty-four year old can send sexual pictures to a twelve year old and as long as it’s not moving, it’s okay? The police officer went on to describe what he “believed” to be happening by the content of the text messages and assured me that my complaint, although not prosecutable as was; would benefit them at time of sentencing. “Sentencing,” I said. So you’re telling me you believe a crime has already occurred and you just need to catch him in the act now to charge him? What about sexual pictures and twenty-eight text messages from a thirty-four year old to a twelve year old isn’t a felony? I left the police station an hour later with a business card and a guarantee they would immediately follow up with my sister and my niece to express their concerns and speak to the thirty-four year old monster who was texting my niece. Not exactly the way I thought this would all go down, but I felt better knowing that the horror would end. 


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