The Phone Call

kids

I press number three to play the message. His voice jumps through the phone and squeezes my heart so hard I have to sit down. He’s singing to me.

Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Bethie. Happy birthday to you.

I close my eyes and press play again. His voice sounds so pure. So…absolutely him it takes my breath away. I can reach out and touch the memories it’s conjuring. Us climbing trees. Exploring creeks. Getting in trouble for eating all the Debbie Snack Cakes Mom just bought for our school lunches. Dissolving in laughter at his dark wit and ridiculously awful impressions. The time he needed stitches after using the weed eater for the first time. And of course the fights. There’s nothing quite as vicious as a sibling fight.

Play.

Happy birthday to you….

Heart Squeeze.

The voice I’m hearing is just him. True him. At the core. Not the him I will get if I call him back. Oh, at first I’ll get true him. But soon the sickness will take over, and the lies will tumble out of his mouth. The pathological lies. They bore a hole in my stomach and make my head spin. I have to remind myself:

He can’t help it. It’s the disease.

Or he’ll bait me with a seemingly innocuous question, which I’ll answer because I’m hoping we’re having a real conversation. Like normal people. But the agenda soon rears its ugly head, and I’m suddenly being evangelized on his latest conspiracy theory. So much anger. So much paranoia.

He can’t help it. It’s the disease.

Play.

….Happy birthday, dear Bethie…..

Heart Squeeze.

The guilt is an anchor in my gut. I carry it always, dragging its toxic weight. It turns me inside out when I see his name on my caller ID…and I don’t pick up. You’re an asshole, I say to myself. What kind of sister doesn’t answer when her brother calls?

It’s not your fault. It’s the disease.

I used to pick up. For twenty years I picked up. The cyclical, inane conversations that went on for hours were torture. Especially the ones that came in the middle of the night. When the distress calls happened, I invested, physically and emotionally. “I’m here for you,” I would say. “Let’s get you help,” I would plea. Others have tried to help, too. But that’s the thing. Once he’s got your attention. Your time. Once you’re on the hook…

He swims away.

And we’re left dangling, feeling like asses for trying. Lost. Scared for him. Awaiting the next call.

Until it becomes too much to take on anymore. If someone won’t help themselves, isn’t it time to stop enabling? Doesn’t there come a time when I have to show him I’m not that person anymore? That person his disease can toy with? Doesn’t there come a time when I have to draw boundaries?

It’s not his fault. It’s the disease.

I see him once every year to two, when he decides to resurface at a family event. He acts as if no time has passed. As if he’s been at every get-together. We hang out. We talk. He inevitably makes me laugh. But his eyes…my god his eyes. They kill me. The sadness behind them scours my soul.

Even after years of me holding him at arms length, he still calls for my birthday.  Why isn’t he angry with me? Why doesn’t he hate me?

Play.

Happy birthday to you….

Heart squeeze. Hot tears of sadness. Anger at him for not getting help. Guilt for the anger. His voice is flooding me with memories but I can’t stop listening. Like the lure of the deeper waters even though you know there’s an undertow.

I miss my brother. I fucking hate mental illness.

Play.

Play.

Play.

Play.

Play.

mental illness photo: Mental Illness Poster MentalIllnessPoster.jpg

Do you have someone in your life who won’t get help for mental illness, or won’t stay on their medication? How do you cope with them? How do you cope, period? Did/do you keep them at arms length?

392 comments

  1. Beth, this is so heartfelt, it breaks my heart in a million pieces… I’ve suffered from a *mild* case of Paranoic disorder, but I myself sought treatment when everybody else thought I was just being oversensitive or couldn’t understand what I’m going through. It was HELL at its worst!!!
    I still have ‘leftovers’ from the paranoia and I get really scared at times thinking that the closest people I have are trying to hurt me or make conspiracies against me or have the worst intentions, but I have a really strong background for the cause of my disorder…
    On the other hand, I’m a writer – that’s what I do best – and being a writer and one with a disorder is probably the hardest thing in the world for me. You wrote an amazing, profound piece. Thank you.
    Lily

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    1. Lily, thank you so much for sharing your story, it means a lot to me. I’m so happy you reached out for help. I can only assume you are living a better life for it. I genuinely commend you for that because reaching out is SO hard to do! And you’re a writer – wow! Awesome. I’m sure that has it’s pros and cons when also challenged with paranoic disorder. you’re amazing and so strong. Thank you for visiting me here today. 🙂

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  2. I suffer from several severe mental illnesses, and used to have difficulty remembering to take my meds until I finally hit bottom and realized I need the meds just like I need glasses to see. The problem is that sometimes they stop working, or my psychiatrist moves, or I lose insurance, or my doctor stops taking Medicare, and then I’m screwed for several months – one med out of whack makes them all stop working until we get the cocktail readjusted for that short time of my life until they get messed up again… Anyway not trying to bitch just saying meds, even when taken as prescribed, often don’t work well, or at all. That being said, it takes a lot to get over the difficulty of getting meds to work right for a time, and the frustration while doing that, and redoing that over and over, can really wear on someone. It’s hard to come to the realization that the struggle is worth it, considering the alternative. I hope your brother finds the motivation he needs for that someday soon. And thanks for not giving up hope, as painful as that hope can be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I swear I thought I replied to your comment a long time ago (?). I hate when that happens! Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experience with me. I have a friend whose husband is in a perpetual state of figuring out his “cocktail” of meds. I can’t even imagine how defeating, frustrating, and difficult that whole process must be. It’s exhausting just hearing about it! And I do think that’s al least partially my brother’s hesitation. He’s afraid meds will leave him drooling in a corner, or make him not quite “him”. I can certainly empathize with that!! I just wish he’d also consider the possibility that meds could make his life soooo much more rewarding and pleasant, you know? I know you know. I hope he finds the courage to try one day too. Thanks again. *hugs*

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had a 23 year old daughter just starting her 3rd year of medical school who had severe depression that she kept hidden extremely well. She never bothered anyone with her mental illness that no one knew about. I wish she had. She took her own life 4-11-13. No warning. No calls in the night. No ESP connection with her in her time of need that I always thought I had with her.

    But I totally understand what you are talking about. Mental illness comes in so many forms and is expressed in so many ways and it can hurt those that they live with or who love them, or those they leave behind that are so devastated they wish they would have taken them with them sometimes.

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    1. First, thank you so much for knowing this was a safe place to share your painful story. *HUGS*
      This comment was so shocking and sad I had to sit down and read it twice. Then it took me several hours to respond. Your words are still echoing in my heart. I’m am so so sorry for your loss. I realize it’s just been over a year….I just can’t even imagine your pain. I wish there were words….but I know there aren’t. Just know that I wish peace and love for you. Mental Illness horrific, for everyone touched by it.

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      1. Thank you and I worried so much that you would take my comments the wrong way. I know very well the toll that mental illness of a loved one can take on those that love them. It’s awful to suffer with them, it’s awful to lose them…..everything about it is awful no matter what. I’m glad you didn’t take my post the wrong way. I totally understand what you are going through from other experiences. It’s just that I wished my daughter had told me what she was going through. I would give my life a million times over to have saved her.

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  4. So familiar it hurts. I cut mine out and he still calls. And it’s the disease. Prayers for you. It’s hard to know what’s wrong when the other person is lost in an illusion and cannot find center. And yes, the guilt is MASSIVE. Great post. Thank you – I needed some community in this feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So, I read this last week and couldn’t comment at the time. I just couldn’t respond to this from my phone. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it. My heart aches for you when I read this. You’ve suffered a great loss and it has got to be so incredibly hard to deal with. There’s no protocol for grieving this kind of loss. There’s no public mourning and support. I am so, so sorry for you. And for your brother.

    One of my best, dearest friends, was diagnosed with Bipolar four years ago. I can tell when I talk to her on the phone if she’s on her meds or not. Or if she’s building up to a manic episode. Recently I heard my “old friend.” She sounded like the person she was before all of this. I just can’t imagine how it must feel to go through this with your brother… This post, while expressing your pain, was also a beautiful tribute to him. You gave us a glimpse of who he really is, underneath the disease. *hugs*

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    1. Gretchen, you just gave me chills. Thank you for your gorgeous comment. It literally never dawned on me that it was sort of a tribute to the “real” him, but I love that you see that in here because I ache for that person I once knew. That warm, generous, sweet, amazing person.

      Heart. Squeeze.

      I’m sorry about your friend, that’s AWFUL. I hope she continues on her meds, for her sake and those around her. Everyone deserves to live their lives as their true selves, NOT the reflection of this f#cking disease.

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  6. Thank you for this post. It is truly beautiful, as many have commented already. It really hit home for me, as I’m just starting on a journey with our 20 year-old daughter who has recently been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. It’s almost a relief to finally put a name to the horror that has been going on for so long.

    I hope that things are going well for you right now – and I know that it’s a constantly changing scenario. I’m sorry that you and your brother have to deal with this.

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    1. Your comment touched my heart because I have to think the only thing worse than having siblings/parents with Mental Illness is if it’s your child. Oh my heart! I’m so sorry about your sweet daughter, but the best news in the world is that she has a diagnosis and she’s so young! I have so much hope and faith that under a doctor’s care, and with the support of her family, she’s going to find something to stabilize her and give her a chance at a normal life. *hugs* and all my best wishes to you and your daughter.

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  7. Beth, my heart hurts reading your story. It brings back memories of my brother’s struggle with anxiety and depression. The illness took him 8 months ago. I am thankful he’s at peace now, but would give anything to have one more conversation, one more “I love you.” I keep all who are battling mental illness, and their families, in my thoughts always. http://lovingdavidj.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This. This is the kind of comment I was so afraid to read. I’m so so sorry for your loss, and for your brother’s pain and suffering, and for everything your family went through because of this awful disease. Thank you for sharing such a painful part of your life with me. You gave me perspective today. *hugs*

      Like

  8. Beth, wow…Beth….this made me cry a billion tears. I knew when I finally got the time to sit down & shuffle through your posts you would reel me in. I was just getting ready to close up my laptop for the night & then I figured – ah…well, let’s scroll through Freshly Pressed. I saw this story tucked down a little & I’m upset I missed it when you first posted it. Still, I’m glad I found it now.

    This reminded me of my mother. She was a lot like that. I miss her & that was the reason for the tears. That & your beautiful writing. It just brought so many memories flooding back. I hope he gets the help he needs & deserves someday. Promise me you won’t blame yourself or take on guilt if he doesn’t though. My grandfather has this old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” What we basically have to face is they are their own person – as much as it hurts. I beat myself up for years after my mom died that she never sought help or let me find her the help she needed. Then one day I realized what you highlighted so beautifully here. It’s not my fault. It was her disease.

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    1. I had to read this 3 times before I could reply. I could literally *feel* your sadness through your words. I’m so SO sorry about the suffering your mother endured, not to mention the family around her. It’s such a horrible disease with so much stigma. Awareness is all we can do to help. That, and be there IF they want help. *hugs*

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      1. It does still hurt quite a bit. I felt how you were feeling reading this too. *hugs*

        I’ve been doing my best to spread awareness on here. I’ve certainly got my own demons. I sought treatment a long time ago, though. It has done me a world of good. You speak from the heart, Beth. That is admirable. I know this post has helped so many. Maybe it can change a few minds.

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        1. We all have our demons. I know. It can be so tough sometimes. I think it’s amazing that you work towards awareness too. The more we have working towards it, the better for those afflicted.

          Thank you for the lovely compliments. Speaking from my heart has been an evolution in the blogging sense. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but I’ve found safety here. The support and kindness has been infinite. xoxo

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  9. Mental health is such a minefield of emotions and mixed perceptions. So much still to be understood and accepted. Your words and those of others in the comments make for heartbreaking reading. As much as others may cry out it still has to be the person themselves who takes the road to treatment. Awareness raising is everything in this fight as diminishing the stigma so often attached may persuade people to seek help in those cases where feelings of shame might prevent help being sought.
    I don’t know what else to add except to say that I have personally known depression and seeking help comes from within although it did take others noticing my plight to make me question whether I was in need of help. For me, it only took tablets to address serotonin levels but it made all the difference. I now know what to look out for and can tell within myself when I might need to go back on them.
    There is such a range on the spectrum and anything which highlights its cause is to be applauded.
    *applause* Beth in taking this on.x

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    1. Thank you for so many things: for reading; for your lovely comment; for your sweet words.

      And you’re absolutely right, change has to come from within the person. Lord knows we’ve tried so many times to lead him to help….but he disappears, or makes up excuses, or plays down his behavior and makes it look like WE are the “crazy ones.

      There’s one answer: awareness.

      I’m so glad you got help with your depression. I’ve felt that abyss on more than one occasion in my lifetime, and I don’t ever, ever, ever want to go back there. Nothing is more bleak and empty than depression. *hugs*

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My brother is bipolar as well. He takes meds and we have a closer relationship but still . . . still I know not to make him mad. Still he can’t keep a job so he’s on social security. Still he’s not normal. Still I’m a little embarrassed to go out with him sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow. So you totally get it. What meds does he take, if you don’t mind me asking. Did he get help on his own? Sorry I have so many questions, but I’m sort of fascinated with other people that are receiving help for their illness. I know it’s so hard for you, him, and your family. *hugs* Thanks for reading and sharing your situation.

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      1. He takes lithium, but he has to take such a large dose that it can really knock him out. My mother got him help – we saw a psychiatrist who eventually put me on antidepressants as well.

        He can still be arrogant and sometimes a bit delusional, but he is usually okay. He and my parents, especially my father, fight a lot still. We get along much better now that we no longer live in the same house. Also he just adores his nieces and is really good with them.

        Sadly he also has Type 1 Diabetes (since 11 years old) and his mental illness is no help with that. He doesn’t take care of himself very well anymore and is already having troubles because of it. It’s sad, really, but he gets SSI and at least has his own little trailer. I think my kids give his life the most meaning.

        Sorry, wrote a novel there, but you are right, it is nice to see others who have dealt with what you have. Sometimes it seems like every other family is so normal.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Your writing is gripping, I have been through this myself, my mother has a Mental illness and it took a long long time and many trips to hospital and many fights and anger and questioning to get any help, it is ugly just like you wrote, it’s not that she didn’t want the help but the mental health system here is bursting full and it didn’t help that her psychologist wasn’t good for her, instead of helping her he kept dosing her with more medication, which resulted in many attempted overdoses. It took many years to receive the help she needed, eventually we found a lady who had just finished getting a new mental illness recognised in medicine, since then my mum had been better knowing she isn’t crazy she has a specific condition and even though she will always have it she can manage it. I got to a point where it was so painful to watch that I would just think that if one of the overdoses that she took would work then she would be in a happier place. Obviously we worked through that and eventually got the right help, but it is a terrible thing for any one or family to go through. Thanks for the great read.

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    1. Thank you for reading and for sharing so much in your comment, I truly appreciate it. That’s a horrific story about your mother, but I’m SO glad she eventually got the right help and is able to manage her condition now. That’s amazing. Mental Illness goes untreated far too often. It’s misunderstood and has a terrible stigma. Compassion and awareness are key to the change that needs to happen. Thanks again for sharing. *hugs*

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  12. Wow. It’s no surprise how this resonates with so many people. I get the the phone calls, from my first best friend, my oldest friend, who–gods know what haunts him, specifically–whether it is depression, manic depression, the alcohol he uses to self-medicate…. Or is this chicken and egg stuff, does it all start with the bottle? In the end, it doesn’t matter to me–I love the guy and dread hearing from him. I despise the weight of fatigue that descends upon my shoulders when I do hear his voice on the phone, or even see his name on my In Box.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES. Omg, yes, exactly. ” In the end, it doesn’t matter to me–I love the guy and dread hearing from him.”
      That’s the guilt-cycle, right there. You love them, you feel sorry for them, you’re scared for them…..but the weight of their shit is so overwhelming you don’t want to hear from them. And then the guilt starts over. UGH.
      Sorry your friend is suffering from “fill in the blank of isms and/or illnesses”. That sucks. And you’re a great friend.

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