My sister thinks the world is conspiring against her

  • By Pavneet Singh Chadha
  • Updated: Aug 17, 2016 18:19 IST

A brother writes about slowly losing his sister to paranoid schizophrenia.

We grew up together in a nuclear family. We studied in the same school. I had an afternoon shift during elementary years, but the evenings were spent together in the colony park. I taught her how to ride the bicycle, the same afternoon I had learnt it. She rode while I held on from the rear and then when she was not looking, let go. She seemed to wobble a bit but pulled through, riding joyfully into the evening. It is perhaps the only memory I have of feeling close to her.

Over the years, we got busy with our respective lives. She was into classical music. I was occupied with sports and studies. Now that I look back I realize that we never really talked even in college. Not about her first crush or my repeated attempts to woo women. I don’t think she knows my preference in donuts. Siblings are supposed to be close that way.

How could we grow so apart?

In 2011, my sister was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She can see people who do not exist. She has elaborate conversations with them. She hallucinates that the world is conspiring against her, especially the neighbours. Sometimes the voices in her head ask her to run away. She throws crockery and abuses relatives and cousins. She even breaks into a jig now and then. She barged into my room one evening threatening to hit me. Episodes of mania these are called.

The doctor says that the mind loses the ability to differentiate between reality and illusions. In certain psychological literature it is called a borderline personality disorder. The good part is that she sticks to a routine. She knows she needs to take a shower and eat. Sleeping is mostly dependent on medicines. They keep her sedated and calm her down. But there are side-effects. Her memory is not what it used to be. The handwriting is not legible at all and she has also developed a twitch. She mostly stares at strangers with a fixated gaze trying to match some face in her hypothetical universe I believe.

I wonder if she understands what schizophrenia is. She has to be past the denial stage. We all have had that one nightmare where we are stuck and desperately trying to escape. Eventually we wake up and find comfort in the fact that it was just a bad dream. Except for her, the reality is worse.

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “The fear of a bomb lies not in its explosion, but in the wait of it.” Sometimes I feel that she is a ticking time bomb that will explode once she gets tired of the medicines, therapy, lethargy, people and the false hope that things will be better.

At the end of Shawshank Redemption, the protagonist says “Hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies.” Is there hope for people like her? Mother tries to find refuge in religion. Father is more withdrawn and going through the motions. They both harbor dreams that she will be cured soon and married off.

I feel like the helpless viewer watching from the sideline. I disguise my sadness through jokes. I like to think I am funny but actually it’s a defense against a waking nightmare, hers. Every morning I wake up consumed by an overpowering guilt that I could not be a good brother. I should have seen that she was slipping away. I should have made more effort. I was too busy with trivial matters.

How could I be so indifferent and self indulgent? I read somewhere that the most hateful thing in the world is failing to protect the ones you love. Maybe I deserve to be sad.

The real suffering however is hers.

The writer is a student of journalism. He can be contacted at

From HT Brunch, August 17, 2016

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