My Brother Was More Than His Mental Illness

From his sister’s point of view

There were 13 1/2 years between my brother and I. Some may think this age difference would mean we weren’t very close, but that is so wrong. My brother and I were very close. When I was little he would play games with me, usually video games, board games, act like a dinosaur, and always play outside with me and with our animals. Him & dad taught me to walk and Bubby would later be the one to teach me to ride my bike. He was always pushing me to do my very best in school, often quizzing me over my multiplication tables in elementary school. Growing up, and still now, my brother was someone I looked up to and wanted to be like. I always called him “Bubby” and “Bubba.”

bubba and me when i was little

In 2004, my brother, Willie, joined the Army. I remember being so sad and afraid he wouldn’t come home. I was in 2nd grade. He wrote letters to us and I would always write back, often sending hand drawn pictures of him and me together. I would always end my letters with, “I love you and I know you love me too.” He would always confirm that he loved me so much. Bubby went to basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia and later went to Fort Hood in Texas. In October of 2004 we had a welcome home party for Bubby, and he would later go to Fort Hood before going to fight.

bubba and me fort benning

Thanksgiving of 2005 we received a message on our answering machine from a doctor at Fort Hood. All he said was, “…got your son in the psych ward. Give me a call back.” My dad took off driving to Texas that night. He drove straight through.

We would soon find out that my brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Being 8 years old, I had never heard those words before. I had no idea what this disease was but would later find out.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that causes individuals to have hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior. It is a cruel disorder and one that is extremely misunderstood and needs more research. There are really no words to describe the disorder until you or a loved one has experienced it and what it causes.

Being 8 years old, here is what I gathered about my brother being diagnosed with schizophrenia: he would see and hear things that weren’t real, and he would act in ways that were not him. Sometimes I would be afraid, but never afraid for myself. I knew my brother loved me and would never hurt me. Even shortly after he was diagnosed, he still played games with me and my friends. He still went outside with me to play on my swing set and with our animals. He was still my big brother. He always pushed me to do my best. 

My parents read book after book learning more about this disorder. Our family prayed and prayed for bubba and how to help him. It is very difficult for individuals with this disorder to take their medications. Think about it: it’s a disorder of the brain function. It’s hard to understand medication is needed if your brain seems perfectly find to you. But just like a heart condition, medication is needed. Just like diabetes, sometimes medication is needed. Just like a mental disorder, medication is needed. It’s just harder for the patient to understand why.

This diagnosis of schizophrenia meant my brother would no longer act like his usual self. There would be violence, harsh words, hallucinations, refusal to take medications, false accusations, social withdraw…a change in character. Mental illnesses make the individual into someone they are not. It takes away a lot. It strips them of being able to interact with other people, including family. It strips them of getting a job. It strips them of finding a spouse someday.  It strips them of going to church. It strips them of being able to get their own groceries, going into stores, being around large crowds. It strips them of a lot we normally take for granted.

bubba and me 1

I always thought, and still do, that my brother was the strongest person I know. He overcame a lot. He overcame the refusal to take his medicine. He accepted that they helped him and he needed them, he took them diligently for many years. He once came to my musical rehearsal in high school just to see me perform. He came to visit me at college. He came to Trenton and I’s wedding..and walked mom down the aisle. You see, schizophrenia may take away a lot, but it won’t take away love. It won’t take away the love you have for your sister. It won’t take away the love you have for your mom, dad, and family. It will wrestle with your faith, but it won’t take it away if you cling tight. So very tight.


You will question why. You will question why a lot. But something I’ve learned is there is always a reason. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen- that’s where the devil steps in. It’s up to you, and your faith in God, to decide how you’re going to use that bad situation. Use it to help other people. I’ve always known my brother’s story was powerful, but now I know even more that it needs told to help others. It needs told to break the stigma of mental illnesses and schizophrenia. 


You are more than a diagnosis! 

I will be sharing more posts regarding mental illness and how to support loved ones.

In Loving Memory of Wilson “Willie” Dean Fisher. May 25, 1983-August 1, 2019