I know the pain of stigma, judgment, jokes and isolation as a person and as a family. I have witnessed the parental struggle with shame, frustration and fear. I have sat in waiting rooms and offices of countless practitioners hoping and longing for compassion and understanding. The theories of cause are endless, the effects profound and the treatment a process of experimentation at best. What if an illness cannot be measured by traditional methods such as counting cells, glucose levels nor drawing blood? Are all organs created equal? Why do some illnesses receive more compassion?
I speak of mental illness, a disease of the brain, our central command center. The societal reality of the disease and its effects on people is seen with fear, ignorance and indifference. I have experienced this disease as depression in myself and through my brother who was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder long after the initial onset witnessed by my family. As a young adult with no knowledge of the illness I was embarrassed by him, shunned him and at times was fearful of him. My parents decided he would be our family secret, but much to their disliking I believed in telling the truth and reaching out for help and the compassion of others for him and myself.
Five years ago on an ordinary Sunday afternoon my brother at the age of 39 drove onto a deserted road and set himself and his car on fire, and died at Parkland Hospital 8 hours later. I thought the world should stop. My life had in an instant changed forever, and took years to mend the seeping wound stitch by agonizing stitch.
I sat with him for a precious hour alone prior to my family’s arrival and told him how much I loved him, while the nurses cared for him and spoke to him with tenderness. I expressed that I was sorry for my behavior toward his illness, which I had done years ago, but again at this moment felt overwhelmingly guilty and wanted to say again. I told him that I was sorry for his suffering and that I didn’t want him to die. I don’t know if he knew that he was going to die, though he told the paramedics he deserved too. I found a patch of skin on his forehead and leaned into him and kissed this spot. I understood the pain that lead him here and the longing for his suffering to be complete and through my grief I understood he needed someone to be their for him, to show him compassion as he left this life.
My brother and I did not ask for Mental Illness to complicate our lives just like anyone with a disease, you just learn to live the best life you can. I believe when faced with someone that is different compassion is always the right thing to do; we are all trying to survive.
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