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My Story

Excerpt from the book, The Third Little Pig


The field of mental health with children became my calling at an early age simply because there was no one there to help our family when I was growing up.  My older brother was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic at age eleven!  This is generally an unheard of diagnosis at such as young age . . . unless there are severe, consistent symptoms which persist over time and across situations.  And there were.


My childhood is filled with memories of horrors he inflicted on my younger sister, my parents and me.  The stories are hideous and painful to recount.  Yet I want you to know about the terror of living with a severely mentally ill person.  Realize, too, that many adults have suffered through their childhoods with similar or even worse personal traumas.  Some children are still suffering .


A Child’s Viewpoint


As a child, I did not at first realize that anything was really “wrong” with my family because I had nothing to compare it to.  An analogy would be a child who assumed everyone in the class sees a blurry chalkboard because he does.  It is only after he has his eyes checked and vision corrected with glasses that he can understand what is “normal” and what he has been missing.


The night of revelation came in second grade when I spent the night at a friend’s house.  All through dinner and into the evening, I was waiting and waiting for the explosion.  I was stunned by the calmness and sane conversation.  When would her brother start yelling and throwing food because a new brand of mayonnaise had been purchased?  When would the screaming profanity start and her parents rush to close the windows so the neighbors wouldn’t hear?


Or would my friend discover some evil trick he’d done that day?  Perhaps he had picked his nose and wiped his boogers on her pillow case . . . or snuck into her room and put a deep scratch through each of her favorite record albums?  Would he creep up and pound us unsuspectingly . . . or would he jump out and punch us then run off laughing hysterically while we cried?  Perhaps he would try to hurt the family pet by putting a bag over its head or some other “experiment”?  The worst was probably his wicked grinning and giggling to himself.  It was clear something awful had happened – or at least was planned – and all that could be done was wait.  Wait for the cruelty to reveal itself . . .


My friend, of course, had no idea what I was talking about.  Those things NEVER happened in her house.  They sometimes had arguments or got spankings or grounded.  That was the worst.  It slowly dawned on me that there was another reality out there I knew nothing about.


My reality I had simply accepted.  Over the years I developed coping strategies.  I learned how to mover my dresser in front of my bedroom door to barricade myself when my parents weren’t home.  I learned to express my rage with my portable chalkboard and colored chalk.  I used to draw the ugliest pictures and write the nastiest curses about my brother.  Later, when my frenzy had subsided, I’d erase the board feeling more balanced, often even laughing at my angry expressions.  I learned to stay outside, away from him.  I learned to take care of and enjoy my younger sister.  I learned intuitively how to protect myself.  That is what researchers are just now identifying as coping mechanisms for resilient children: PROTECTIVE FACTORS.


No Place to Turn


In the midst of all the family chaos, my parents did try to intervene.  Their attempts were often futile and usually provoked even worse behaviors.  My brother could be triggered easily from a relatively small issue into full-blown psychotic rages.  Worst of all, there was no place to turn for help.  I recall my parents hauling the family to various psychiatrists’ offices and mental health centers.  We would arrive with high expectations, only to leave bitter and disappointed yet again.


There was one child specialist in particular who had a very eminent reputation but a very difficult time with my brother in his office.  My brother flung things off his desk, threw books off his shelves and clogged his commode with toilet paper.  This man could not wait to get us out of there.  His parting advice to my parents?  “He’ll grow out of it.”


My brother, of course, never did grow out of it.  He deteriorated.  But somewhere along the way, I grew strong.  I was resilient.  As Rubin (1996) says, I fell down seven times but got up eight.  I was later determined to be there for other families in need.  My goals were, and still remain, to help heal maladjusted children, to give stressed (but not disturbed) children coping skills, and to share effective strategies for caregivers to help children to become more capable in life.


“All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail.”– Dorothea Brande


Third Pig Book