I saw his car turn around at the end of our parent’s long driveway. I have to admit I was annoyed. I’m not proud of that. I loved my big brother. I still do. But at that time in my life, at 16, just trying to be a teenager, he annoyed me. No, his disease annoyed me. I didn’t know how to handle his depression, his odd behavior, his lingering. He would just sit and stare for hours. Hours. Do you know how awkward that is? How much tension silent stillness can create in a house?
He turned around. Came back. He was coming to say goodbye, in his own way. A few weeks later, he would be dead. He lingered, petting the dog. I thought it was weird. My dad could tell I was frustrated, distant from my brother. “Go give him a hug,” he told me. Our family is very affectionate, but I didn’t want to go to my brother. Didn’t he know what he was doing to our family? But I crossed the sidewalk, and hugged him anyways. I can’t remember how long it lasted, but I remember my arms nearly wrapping around him twice. He was six foot eight, and anorexic. A product of the demons in his mind.
I will always be grateful to my dad for forcing that encounter. It was the last time I saw my brother alive. He killed himself a short while later. Nobody has ever asked me what it was like to live with someone who’s mentally ill, only what it was like in the aftermath of his suicide. At 16, I was selfish and scared. My brother’s condition was annoying, and I’m ashamed to admit that I felt that way. And when the awkward tension was more than I could take, I ran. Fight or flight? I chose flight. Although I slept in my home every night, I escaped in other ways.
I drank things I shouldn’t have, smoked things I shouldn’t have, and dated boys I shouldn’t have. I just wanted to feel happiness…and…I wanted to feel nothing. I checked out.
So, now you know a little about what it was like to live with someone suffering from severe mental illness, and not just what it was like to lose him. I was annoyed. It sucked. I handled it poorly, and I regret it. If I knew then what I know now, I never would have let him go.