Stories about Jane

Jane was my eldest sister. She changed her name to Jane, in the middle of her illness, because she didn’t like the original American name our parents had given her. In the throes of paranoid schizophrenia, she tried many things to relieve her pain or to obey the voices.

During one summer when I was in college, I drove Jane and my mother to a nearby state where Jane received cosmetic eye surgery. My mother thought that creating a western crease in Jane’s eyelids would lift her spirits. Another time my mother persuaded my father to adopt a puppy for Jane; my mother had heard that pets could be therapeutic.

The only thing that seemed to help Jane was pharmacotherapy. When I was a senior in college near Philadelphia, I regularly visited Jane at an excellent psychiatric hospital. My parents lived in a remote corner of the state then, too far for regular visitation, so I was the sole family member who met with Jane’s psychiatrist. He was young and had shoulder-length wavy brown hair. In addition to drugs, he was also using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with Jane.

I didn’t know Jane very well before her illness, and I would never be close to her. She had a severe and chronic mental illness, and she never really got better. Except for that brief period with the long-haired doctor when she had some lucid moments, she succumbed to this terrible disease.

This kind of disease breaks up families and marriages. My parents fought about how to care for Jane. My mother was Jane’s stalwart advocate. My father was exasperated and impatient. When my mother passed away, Jane lost her primary guardian. My father couldn’t live with Jane in the house. Within a year he remarried and Jane was sent to an institution, where she would languish for twenty years.


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