One of my favorite movies is the quirky flick Love Actually. Above is one of my favorite scenes.
And it’s also, in my head, renamed Cautionary Tale.
I’m talking about that Laura Linney character, you know the one who revolves her life around her mentally ill brother? Yeah, that one.
The character who foregoes love because her brother’s illness is constantly interrupting her life? Yeah, that one.
Being in charge of a mentally ill sibling isn’t for the faint of heart. And it’s also not something you can anticipate how to balance, how to juggle, how to maintain.
I can’t say I’m very good at it, at all. I forget at times just how ill my brother is. I’m reminded of that this week. Sometimes it feels like my life revolves around trying to keep him out of the hospital. Yet other times, our connection is absolutely breathtaking. Stability is a word not often associated with mental illness. Unless in the context of something to hope for, to strive for.
He finally just answered his phone after many attempts to contact him all morning. He has a Psychiatrist appointment today that he really needs to go to. They are not easy to get in the system he’s plugged in to. The voices have escalated in the last week, the day program he’s in has called me twice in the last few days, concerned about him.
He’s refusing to go to the appointment today yelling at me “I’m too ill Kathy, I can’t leave the house!”.
My father leaves to be out of the country tomorrow for a three week trip. I don’t want to worry him about John before he leaves. Maybe that’s why John is escalating, who knows?
Luckily we’ve worked it out where John lives about 3 minutes from my house. I won’t share how many times I’ve run over there to just check on him, sometimes in my pajamas. It’s good that he’s so close and not good in some ways.
I decided this morning to go against my hypervigilance and not run over there. Yet here I am, writing about him, worried.
I keep going back to that Laura Linney character.
My life generally revolves around supporting others and being their backup person. My job is defined by that. Being single I get ground down to nothing sometimes in this role. I know I’m not alone in this position on the planet.
Speaking of my job, I have a client who is also a cautionary tale for me in some ways. She came in yesterday. Her autistic son has been seriously decompensating over the last couple of years. He’s a teenager and they can barely find a school that will take him. There have been threats, assaults on teachers, restraining orders, arrests, scary stuff. She’s now trying to figure out if some kind of residential program will be the thing to keep him out of jail. We all hear stories of kids who go in and shoot up a school. I feel like I’m seeing the genesis of this kind of horror unfold before my eyes through her own words. It’s actually pretty terrifying what’s been going on. I find myself, in my head, thinking “well I would never do that” but then I wonder. I remember my role is to support her and her well being, so that’s always my default position. Luckily she almost never asks my advice.
Her life revolves around care taking him and she sees no alternative for the rest of her life. He has assaulted her many times. She tries to craft ways to remodel her home where she can create a safe house inside it to sequester herself in to if needed. From her own son.
These are realities people deal with with mental illness in the family.
It can swallow an entire family, whole.
John just hung up on me again after yelling “nobody cares about me Kathy” as he’s completely paranoid. While at the same time promising me he’s going to take the half of his medication he didn’t take last night.
I guess I’m signing off now to stop off over there on my way to work. It’s just the way it is.
Revolving your life trying to keep someone out of the hospital is not a life I want any of us to be living.
Sometimes things need to escalate to find a new solution.
So today, especially today, I’ll be paying attention. And hopefully being guided to the right combination of words to convince him to let me take him to that Dr. appointment. And hopefully not landing in the Emergency Room again by day’s end.
Update: deep breath. John just answered the phone, I found the right words to say to him that he has to let me take him to the Dr. today and he agreed. I’m very fortunate in that he is usually completely compliant with me. His illness isn’t all the time but my dear brother deep down in there, trusts me. Unlike my client, I’ve never felt unsafe with John. The good fortune I have with that basic yet tremendous thing is not lost on me.