A few weeks ago we sold a bed on Craigslist and the gentlemen that came to pick it up was close to my age and we were talking about kids. The bed had many pieces to it so my husband, this gentlemen and myself spent over an hour disassembling and loading the bed onto his truck. Being the curious person that I am, I asked if he belonged to a music group because of a bumper sticker that he had on his window. He replied that it is his son’s band and he alluded to how brilliant his son is but he’s had his share of problems. I was able to identify with having a son in a band and we built a repoire. As we continued working, he began to share how his son, at the top of his singing and musical career, began to have hallucinations and was hospitalized for a while. His son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. As the dad was speaking I could hear the raw emotions in his words. He was past the denial stage but still trying to figure out how to best deal with the illness and how it has affected his family. There can be such a shame and secrecy that shrouds family members dealing with mental health issues. The questions you ask yourself are endless. Fear sets in and you wonder, “Am I responsible for passing this gene on to my children? Will I become schizophrenic? Why did this have to happen to such a promising and talented kid? Is this my fault?” The mental torture can be endless if you allow it. I know his heartache well because his story is a version of my own story but it involves my brother. I will take this a step further and share with you that after having my son at the age of 18, I made a pact not to have more children because I did not want to pass on any more of the genes that my family had seemed to be “cursed” with. I stuck to my decision and eventually had my tubes tied in my early 20’s. It was a very personal choice for me and I have never regretted my decision.
On dealing with my brother – have you ever been hit so hard with a ball that it knocks the wind out of you and brings tears to your eyes? That is the feeling that I sometimes get when I am dealing with my brother. In my world, life is really good. I find the beauty in the small details of life. The birds sing, the sun shines and I am able to face each day with a smile, a cup of coffee and my color coded calendar. Conversely, my brother wakes up each morning wondering how the hell he is going to make it through another day. The culmination of his choices, his lifestyle and consequences of his previous actions are enough to make him question whether life is worth living. The things that he sees could be a result of his illness or the drugs that he takes to self medicate. Whatever his vision is, whether imagined or real, that IS his reality. For me, it is not always clear what we can hold him responsible for and what is beyond his control. There is so much gray. The gray is the thorn that reaches out and pricks my heart when least expected. My brother in particular knows how to work a sob story. As a MM (Master Manipulator), he can create guilt and in a weak moment I will fall for it. Here I am in my comfortable home with food in my pantry and running water. I have a family that loves and supports me and friends that pick me up when I fall. What does he have? Then my mind goes off on a guilty tangent and before I know it I’m caught in this web of grief. Why do I continue to fall for this time after time? I rationalize that I feel guilty that I have been blessed to not have his issues. My first thought is to just send him some money to alleviate my guilty feelings…he’s brilliant isn’t he? That is the working of co-dependency in its most basic form! Sending money will not make it all better. Feeling guilty will certainly not help him or myself. Allowing myself to be manipulated is not the answer.
I have spent many a night and day trying to figure the answers on how to deal with my own brother. The best answer I can come up with is that I don’t always have an answer. Like my brother who lives each and every moment differently, I have to be able to be flexible in how I think and deal with his issues. Sometimes the best action is no action. Sometimes there are no words that I can offer that would make a difference. I know that this is a situation that has to be handled with divine love and trust. My ego must take a back seat and allow the powers that be to handle him with loving care.
Here is the gift in my brother’s afflictions: he has given me the opportunity to allow something bigger than myself to handle a situation that I clearly cannot handle on my own. I’m not done learning that lesson yet but I know the truth in the lesson. Sometimes I simply have to be reminded (Thanks Mom). What’s in it for my brother? I truly do not know the answer to that question. Again, I must let go and simply love and accept him for who he is.