Thursday evening, my brother returned home. After seven weeks in hospitals and institutions. If you have followed our story, you understand the last few months have been extremely difficult. There were several gut-wrenching visits. Painful conversations with my children. Nights without sleep. Sobbing phone calls from my understandably heart-broken mother.
I have endured awkward silences from those I had once depended on for friendship and compassion. I have also been gratefully surprised by kind words and moments of genuine concern from others.
I received an email, including the following:
"....your blogs have generated numerous conversations between XXXX and I about mental health - about the state's lack of resources, tidbits that surprised or inspired us about your family's situation - it's really opened our eyes.
I didn't know your brother had a mental illness. At most, I thought he was a little different. So when your mother was telling me about his situation, even then I couldn't really understand it. She mentioned, he had been manic and that he would likely need to go back into the hospital and they'd use lots of drugs to mellow him out. I remember thinking 'oh, that will be a nice little quick-fix'. Just take a bunch of pills and back to normal... Of course it isn't as simple as that. Even though it hurt my heart to read, I'm glad you described the effects of the medicines. I've seen many people with mental illness and just offhandedly been like 'that guy was crazy.' And I've never once thought about how his mental health affects his family, his loved ones - his mother who gave him life and had so many hopes and dreams for him. Thanks for sharing for giving us something to think about."
The decision to post about my brother's disability, was an inner debate of great magnitude. I have inherited a personality combination from my parents, which includes my father's instinct to keep emotions private and guarded... mixed with my mother's coping mechanism to joke during a time of stress.
I write a blog, which many would eye-rollingly describe as 'putting my life out there...' My posts are typically a sarcastic and amusing fuzzy snapshot of our world. With the exception of the birthday posts, I rarely blog true emotion or the ugly reality of life.
By posting about my brother's schizophrenia, I have certainly blogged 'the ugly'. My fingers shook with each post and His Video dedication, ripped at my heart. After reading the above email, specific texts from my brother-in-law and numerous kind comments or notes sent to Facebook... I have probably never been more proud, of anything posted.
To hide my brother's struggle, would have been a grave disservice to him and every person who has suffered or will suffer from this illness. Quietly enduring the last months, would have shamed my family, specifically my little brother.
And so... What have we accomplished?
What has Joel gained?
What lesson, have we learned?
If I have helped, to make Joel's continuing battle, just a little more comfortable: then I have helped my parents, to give him a life. To give him a voice, when he is too scared and nervous, to use his own.
I hope my posts, have given the mentally ill, one tiny step forward. If I have changed the views of only my 44 Followers: Well then, 44 people will raise more tolerant and understanding children. 44 people, who will smile softly at 'someone different' rather than avoiding eye-contact. Maybe, there are 44 people, who will second guess themselves next time a group is making jokes about 'the guy who lives by the ballfield' or 'the lottery ticket lady'. Even better, 44 people who will feel enlightened to vote, campaign or fight for the rights of our nation's mentally ill... with the passion, many rally for the impoverished in other countries.
Last night, we shared a boring ol' Friday pizza dinner, at my parents. Joel appeared happy. He smiled. He hugged The Kid and joked with his nieces. My brother is still schizophrenic. His Tru Story, is still painfully unfair. We are still sad for him and worry about his future. But last night, he was home. He is safe.
And I am glad. I am proud of Joel. He continues to bravely fight a battle, we can not imagine. Joel's determination to 'put one foot forward' will serve as an inspiration, to my children. Even his sister, has learned to see him, through new eyes.