Collective hours, days, weeks, and months of my family members’ lives have been spent trying to understand and unpack my brother’s inexplicable decisions and lack of reaction to consequence. Alex dropped out of high school, but the classroom doesn’t suit everyone. Alex was discharged from the Army, but they were just drug tested to make an example of his platoon. Alex lost his left leg in a car wreck, but everyone has a false sense of immortality and drives drunk when they’re 22. Alex shot himself in the head and lived, but “god has a plan” for someone who’s survived so much. Alex lives under a bridge, but that fabled rock bottom must be imminent.
Silence falls over the family analysts, downcast eyes resting on a coffee mug handle being pushed back and forth between someone’s thumbs. There isn’t much crying anymore. Those salty reserves were depleted long ago.
When I moved to NYC I packed my Diane von Furstenberg, Wellbutrin, and mounting guilt for leaving so much tumult back in Texas. The unidentified seeds of my depression and anxiety sprouted in childhood, their insidious, invisible tendrils choking me through high school and college. Because my mental illnesses were finally able to be identified and medicated, I became able to live some semblance of a normal life.
Alex has not been so fortunate. There has been so much anger bestowed upon my brother due to his inexplicable mental state, including from me. My failure to consider he could not help himself lasted for several years, and it’s only been just recently that I’ve let anger evaporate and acceptance rain down on us both. When I think of my brother, it is with sadness, but it’s mostly with love and mercy. Our genes come from the same pool, and it just so happens that the combination he got created a long-suffering mental state that is either not yet defined in the mental health community or is shrouded in obscurity, yet to be matched and applied to him. It is not his fault.
As an orderly person, it is a joy to classify and organize things, physically or mentally. Accepting the uncertainty of my brother’s co-occurrence of mental illness and addiction has been a paramount, unanticipated challenge. For so long family members have been hoping for the proverbial lightbulb to turn on in Alex’s mind, his final pivot toward a healed, “normal” life. Alex inspires me to reconsider normalcy, expectations, and success, because those things look different for every person. For my brother, it’s a sister who accepts and loves him from 1500 miles away. As if we were sitting next to each other, it is a virtual embrace, and for now it’s the best we can do.