My brother and I growing up had a different bond than most other siblings in our neighborhood. I always knew when something wasn’t right with my brother and always knew how to handle it in the most comforting way for him. My brother’s heart was always in the right place regardless of what age, mental state, or friends he was surrounded by. However, there were always slip-ups, ‘under the influence’ nights, and mental breakdowns. Like the professionals say “it’s part of the mental illness,” but never did I ever feel that his actions were malicious or that he even had a centimeter of hate in his heart. That is a very bias statement coming from his younger sister, but I am positive that his close friends and family could vouch for me.
Bipolar Disorder I is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a manic-depressive illness “that lasts at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.”
My brother was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I when he was 18-years-old. My over-worrisome mother was immediately in denial. “There is no way he has bipolar disorder,” she would whisper in my 15-year-old ears, “He is just depressed and upset about what is going on with Dad.” He was “just” depressed in my mother’s eyes for a long period of time. She couldn’t bear thinking that he had an illness that she couldn’t help with. That is just one thing that parents with children with mental illness feel, along with a thousand other helpless feelings.
My father was positively the strongest one, both mentally and physically, in our family. My father would do overtime at work and still show up to my brother’s baseball games with gleaming eyes, a 5 o’clock shadow, and a smile from ear to ear. It was in my father’s genetic makeup to be the strong one for my brother and my family. My brother’s hero from the day he was born, was my father. When my father’s hands were callused and limp, my brother had faith that he could still put a mitt on his right hand to have a quick catch with him on our dead-end block. Sickness after sickness, my father’s mental and physical state weakened right in front of my family’s eyes. My father lost his battle, this past March, with each of our hands in his.
My brother had many mental breakdowns throughout his life, but I would have to say the ones after my father’s death were the worst. There were no words that could make it better and there was nothing that could be done to bring clarity to his very clouded mind. My brother was on medication (on and off since the age of 18) but has been steadily on medication for several years. Therapy sessions increased almost immediately after my father’s death and the manic episodes seemed to be more frequent. He would recount to me “I just keep having flashbacks when I would get frustrated with Dad when he wouldn’t understand me and I just don’t know how to deal with it.” I would reply with “Me too,” not confessing that I just try to block it out because I knowingly realize that my brother is unable to block things in his mind.
After years and years of my brother seeking mental help, continuously reaching in the medicine cabinet for his Respiradol and mood stabilizers, and pouring out his emotions and thoughts that trouble his mind to me and others; I finally have come to an epiphany on what to say that may (or may not) clear at least some of the clouds that suffocate his mind.
Every day I could find something in my mind to run to the closest bathroom and cry my eye sockets out to. I’ve done it frequently and there are some days that I just can’t get it together and sit back down at my desk again. There are some days that I feel that I am going around in circles over and over again and there is no purpose to my existence. But I have realized, that is the characteristics of what makes me human and alive. Even though I have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder, doesn’t mean that there are days that I have very very poor mental health. Everyone has an Achilles heel, everyone has something that makes them breakdown in ways outside of the norm. Society has implemented an idea into our brain, at a very young age nonetheless, that there’s something called standard deviations and norms. And if you don’t lie within those ranges, you are an outlier. From BMIs, to mental states, to intelligence, there is an emphasis on trying to make humans as close to the social norm as possible. God forbid you are the outlier, you get labeled with a diagnosis and stereotypes and gruesome judgments tag along with that label. It is just the way that this absurd world works.
You are not defined by your mental illness, brother. You do not owe anyone an explanation or what your reasoning was when you impulsively said something or did something. You are not Bipolar Disorder I, you are human. You are so very human that you wouldn’t even believe. The best you can do in any situation that you may have harmed someone else’s mental state, purely in result of your mental state, is to apologize for the actions or the words that you said that may have hurt them.
However, you never apologize for your disorder or the feelings that you feel. There are days that you will feel more down in the dumps than others and that is okay! It is 100%, no doubt in my mind, okay to NOT be okay sometimes. Sometimes you will get so deep in your own head that you will feel that it is all too much for you. You will try smoking and drinking and realize that some days it helps with the demons and some days it makes them scream louder in your head. Then, you will try exercising at the gym, yoga, or meditation and you will find how beneficial it is to your mental health. But, there will be some days that not even running 15 miles will lift that weight off your shoulders. But, guess what, that is okay.
It’s okay because life is hard. It is okay because even though there is always something that triggers you, there is always daybreak when you wake up in the morning. When people just don’t get it and when you feel like you are a burden to people that is when you rise above. That is when you work on finding self worth for yourself in other places and pity those that aren’t as human as you are. You always work in a forward direction, never backwards and that is something that you should be proud of.
You have to realize that you came into this world to be different. You came into this world to help those that are different too and to try to advocate and make a safe place for them. It is important to identify why you are feeling a certain way and it is also essential to express what you are feeling, but what is most important is that you always find a solution. It is imperative that you always seek to clear out some of the black clouds that sometimes fogs your day up. Because you are much more than you could even imagine.