Everyone has memories so vivid, it’s like they happened yesterday. My brain clings to moments of travel, romance, family, friends; so rich I close my eyes and I am there. However, not all of these engraved moments are good. With good times, there are bad times.
In this memory, it was Summer 2012. I loved my life. I had an amazing job, a great apartment in a city I loved, and had just finished the first year of university. I was feeling perfectly content as I made my way towards King Street West.
Then I got a phone call from my mother.
“Hey mom! You’ll never guess who I’m about to meet right now-“
“Honey, your brother has been admitted to the hospital.”
My family has always been an interesting bunch, and my younger brother was the old soul throughout our lives. He was very wise, taking the time to think and analyze things even when were were very young. When we were in high school, he built computers and repaired bicycles. We would confide in each other often, seeking advice or sharing how we feel. Like every set of siblings, we were a team, whether it was battling our parents, or the world.
I loved him dearly. We were best friends.
When I moved out it was hard to keep in contact. His grade 12 year reflected many of my own challenges. He was smoking weed all the time, skipping school. From my experience, it was a just part of growing up.
With that one call, it all changed. My brother was hard to diagnose because he battles with drug addiction, better labelled as self-medication, and that made his exact symptoms blurry. At the moment, he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental illness which causes delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, and disordered thinking & behaviour. At the time of the call, he had just experienced an episode of psychosis, meaning he lost touch with reality. The first time I experienced one of his episodes was absolutely heart breaking, seeing someone you love in utter fear and panic, with no way you can help them… there are no words.
Back on the streets of Toronto, tears were pouring down my face as my mother insisted I stay in the city, finish my work week, and come home on Friday. But I wanted to run home to my family. I wished I existed in one of the sci-fi shows I watch on TV, and heal his mind with a touch of my hand.
My brother was in the hospital for about two months that summer, and this Christmas was the most difficult Christmas we’ve ever had. After that phone call, I was in shock for about a year and a half. It wasn’t until this past Christmas I truly understood his condition, and its permanency. Blindly optimistic, I had been waiting to see him again, and joke, “Hey, how’ve you been!”
It felt like giving up to think my little brother was not the same, that he probably never would be. The boy who was once so silly, who would ask me what a good first date is, or wanted to start snowboarding as soon as I did (I wasn’t allowed to snowboard when I was 7!) was gone. After his multiple psychotic episodes, his brain has been damaged, it will never be able to restore to 100%.
I get sad sometimes because I miss the simple things, like buying him a beer on his 19th birthday, or travelling to Sweden together. I feel sad, and then selfish for feeling sad, when I hear my friends talking about spending time with their siblings. A friend of mine backpacked through Asia with her sister this past January, and I just dream I could do the same, and explore the world together. However, even day trips can overwhelm and exhaust him. Our conversations are limited and we just take life day by day.
The hardest thing is seeing my family suffer. I wish my brother wasn’t so alone, trapped in his own mind, and I hate seeing my parents struggle with what to do. There isn’t much help out there for young adults with mental illness, especially those who, like my brother, don’t have the ability to recognize they need it. We also face the challenge of mental illness combined with drug addiction, and that only makes things harder. I don’t know what the answers are, but I am searching. We all are.
But life goes on. After the phone call, I wiped my tears away and met the cast of Epic Meal Time. As much as my brother means the world to me, I am still a separate being, I cannot just stop my life to fix his (though I have contemplated moving home many times). This is his journey in life, and though it may be tougher than many, he is surrounded by love and support and there are many amazing people in this world who have won his battle, like Nobel Prize winner John Nash, or musician Peter Green (Black Magic Womaaann).
I make a point to call my brother at least every two days, he visits me in the city when he can, and I try to come home a few times a month. I have also made mental illness a priority in my studies from research papers to art projects aiming to educate or offer help, and I continue to fight, because I love him and will always be there for him.
I just hope he’s always here too.