My brother

24 07 2012

So, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything. A very long time. But I read something tonight that inspired me to write again. This won’t be a post like my prior posts. I’m not writing it to entertain anyone. It’s for my brother. And for me.

My brother is mentally ill. He suffers from paranoid schizophrenia – which, in his case, primarily results in delusions and hallucinations. He hears voices that aren’t there. Not to anyone else anyway. He had his first psychotic episode, to my knowledge anyway, when he was about 29. But really, he was probably sliding into his own personal hell well before that. Growing up – he’s two years older than I – he was always very quiet and introverted. He had friends, but only a few. He generally stayed close to home. Even in high school he rarely went out at night with friends. At times I could hear him talking in his room with the door closed. For the longest time, I always thought he was just talking to himself and I didn’t consider it unusual. Who hasn’t talked to himself or herself at one time or another? Clearly, in my brother’s case however, it was a sign of trouble yet to come.

Notwithstanding his quiet nature, my brother was an otherwise normal kid. He liked to play sports and games and do other typical fun things kids do. We did so many things together growing up, particularly when we were really young and during our early teens. We played baseball, football, tennis, video games. We made up our own games in the pool and in the back yard. It’s funny, but as I write about it now, I realize that he was probably my best friend growing up. I don’t think I ever looked at him that way until just now. I’m not sure why. But it’s true. He was. We grew apart in high school. What brothers don’t? But, I always looked up to him. I still do.

My brother is a devout Christian, even though there was little if any religion in our house growing up. His religious fervor coincided with the worsening of his condition after his first psychotic break, something common amongst the mentally ill. Whatever the cause for his beliefs, he follows the Bible’s teachings very passionately, and in particular with respect to the Bible’s lessons about showing compassion for others. He is a very kind and generous man. He donates a portion of his paycheck to his church every month, even though he makes next to nothing. He volunteers to feed the homeless. He prays for me, my family, and those in need every day. And he does all these things even though he suffers on a daily basis. I am singularly proud of my brother and yet embarrassed by him at the same time. Embarrassed by all that he does and is despite his illness. Embarrassed when I complain that my life is difficult. Embarrassed that I am not half the person he is.

As I said, my brother hears voices. Not all the time, but often. Sometimes these voices speak intermittent gibberish. But, at their worst, the voices spew constant hateful garbage, screaming in his head. And he can’t do anything to turn them off. It is at those times that my brother is in the most pain. Although he takes medication for his condition, it is frequently ineffective at silencing the voices. Can you imagine what that must be like? To hear voices in your head? Screaming foulness? It makes me physically ill if I dwell on it for too long. To imagine the fear, sadness and pain. The feeling of being alone. It is unfathomable.

My brother has tried to take his own life once. I do not think any less of him. I admit that were I in his position, I would have done the same thing and, almost assuredly, long before he did. I have told him that I want him around and that I love him. But not often enough. Not even close to enough.

At times I feel like I’ve already lost my brother. On his bad days, which seem to come more frequently now, he’s nothing like the person I grew up with. He retreats inward to fight a battle with faceless voices in his head. But, eventually, he comes back again. The same brother I spent so much time with growing up. My best friend. I wish there were a way for him to stay around forever and keep the stranger away. I miss having my brother around.

I wish there was a cure for his condition. But, after 14 years of watching my brother suffer, I’m passed looking for miracles. I’m not overly religious, but I’m trying to find my faith. If it can help my brother through the enormity of his struggle, certainly it can help me with my own personal issues which pale by comparison. Still, I question how someone so devoted to God as my brother is can be made to suffer so greatly. I pray that God gives my brother a break. Some peace. I pray nightly for that.

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