How We Got Barb Back: The Story of My Sister’s Reawakening After 30 Years of Schizophrenia
“There is a truism in the mental health community that says that troubled families focus on the sickest member, even welcoming the sickness, to avoid dealing with other problems,” writes Margaret Hawkins on page 77. By this time, I had been fully introduced to her family and was struck by the truth of this statement.
Margy’s family story began as so many others did in the mid-twentieth century. Dad is a professional, Mom stays home with the children, three children live in a safe suburb, walk to school, argue with each other, and clamor for more freedom. From the outside, perhaps the most boundary-stretching part of their lives was the fact that the age gap between Margy and her older siblings was so large. Barb, the oldest, was eleven, and Tom was eight when she was born, so by the time Margaret was old enough to form any lasting impression of her sister, Barb was graduating from high school. It was during this time that Barb began slowly slipping into schizophrenia.
There were so many strikes against Barb at this point that it seems almost understandable that she fell through the cracks. She was leaving home to live on her own at college, her parents were suspicious of doctors, and mental illness was severely stigmatized in the 1950s and early 1960s. Somehow, Barb managed to graduate college, get married, and move to the Middle East with her husband for two years before her disability became unavoidable.
The story really gets going upon Barb’s return from Iraq when she moves back in with her parents and succumbs to the voices in her head. Her parents make very little attempt to get help for their eldest daughter, instead accommodating her need for isolation and ensuring that she never has to leave the house. This goes on until both parents are dead, nearly thirty years later.
Margy instantly springs into action, proving herself uncannily able to dig up resources to help Barb in the form of home visits from social workers and psychiatrists. She patiently but tenaciously continues to push her sister’s boundaries and is rewarded with an amazing realization that there is more of Barb inside than anyone ever realized.
This story is a testament to the power of love and persistence, patience, and compassion, and will leave you wondering if you just might be selling someone you know a little short because it makes life a little simpler.