By PEGGY TAN

I am right, aunty. I refuse to work in the office anymore. I hate my boss. I want to rest for a few months. Please listen to me. Why don’t you and mum listen to me!” shouted David in anger.

David is my nephew and he hears voices. He is 37 years old and hates work. On good days, he will go out to the supermarket once or twice a week to sell magazines and knick-knacks.

David has a 46-year-old brother, Alan, who is staying in a home for mentally challenged adults. Alan hates to go out and work, too, and is happy to stay in the centre and watch television.

David and Alan suffer from schizophrenia, and my sister has come to terms with their medical condition.

As a kid, Alan never liked school and threw tantrums. No reward could tempt him to study hard. He refused to do homework and teachers complained that he was lazy. He was very active and loved running around the field. When he played football with the boys, he could not focus on the game and quarrelled with the boys. He got into fights often and would return home with cuts and bruises on his legs.

“Don’t scold Alan too much, sis,” I used to tell my sister. As a teacher, I felt that children needed lots of care and attention.

I noticed that Alan’s behaviour was not quite normal for a 10-year-old. He loved to go out and play in a park nearby.

He used to say, “My friend Botak asked me to play with him in the park. He is nice and he gives me stamps.”

When I visited the family, Alan would tell me stories of his best friend, Botak. Alan often cycled out to town. Sometimes he would return home with a bruised face.

“Who beat you?” I asked, puzzled.

“It’s okay. We played football and I fell down. Nobody beat me,” Alan replied.

Alan talked about Botak all the time though we have never met him.

Alan did badly in school. His disinterest in his studies drove his mother to distraction.

When he was 16, my sister forced Alan to go for tuition classes but he flatly refused. He quit school and went out to work as a waiter.

He said Botak had asked him to work as a waiter in a restaurant. My sister was furious and demanded to meet Botak but Alan refused to let his family meet Botak.

I asked my sister to take Alan to see a psychiatrist. To me, Alan was not very normal. He had been talking about this mysterious Botak for years.

Alan never brought any friends home and we have never met any of his friends. Sister was upset and blamed herself for not paying more attention to Alan.

The doctor diagnosed Alan as schizophrenic. It was shattering news for the family. My sister never realised that Alan had this illness. She could not really understand his condition. All the while, she thought he was lazy. Teachers had told her that Alan was disobedient in class and refused to do his homework.

He was smoking, too, and he claimed it was Botak who asked him to smoke.

“Botak is his imaginary friend. Alan hears voices and he thinks Botak is telling him to do things,” explained the doctor.

It is sad that many people do not realise that youths can sometimes be psychologically dysfunctional. Many parents are unaware of childhood schizophrenia until the child grows into a teenager.

My sister and her parents-in-law kept scolding Alan when he was young and they never realised that he had learning difficulties. Perhaps if my sister had consulted a psychiatrist earlier, Alan would have received appropriate treatment and might have done better in life. These thoughts had plagued my sister for years.

At 16, Alan hated himself for refusing to study. He believed that his friend Botak had wanted him to stop studying and work instead.

As a waiter, Alan was often angry and unhappy, and accused the restaurant staff of disliking him. Alan had to take medication to calm himself down. He did not have friends in the workplace and eventually resigned.

Angry with himself for not being able to work, Alan isolated himself in his room.

For years Alan stayed in his room and refused to work. Sometimes he became violent and shouted at family members. He threw bottles on the floor when they forbade him to smoke. My sister eventually placed him in a home for mentally dysfunctional adults.

As a kid, David was so different from his brother who hated school. David did well in school and we were so proud of him. He scored in subjects like English and Science, and was active in sports.

David graduated with a degree in Business Studies. He worked for four years before he suffered episodes of depression.

He quarrelled with his colleagues, and was often angry and depressed. Eventually he resigned from his job.

He threw tantrums and broke the car windscreen when my sister asked him to go out and work.

We took David to see a psychiatrist but it was difficult to make him take his medicine. My sister used to put his medication in his Milo drink and after consuming medicine, David would feel better.

On days when he feels happy, he would sell magazines in the supermarket or work as a salesman. On good days, he will go to the gym for a workout or drive his mother to town for errands.

For each of us, our lot in life is different. David and Alan’s condition are now under control. David is happy with himself. There are days when they can sit down to enjoy a home-cooked meal. David and Alan do not hold down a full-time job, but it really does not matter to my sister anymore. At least they belong to a family, and they have each other.