What I Want To Say To My Brother Who's Struggling With Mental Illness
I miss you. I really do. I know you are not far and I can see you whenever I want, but it’s not the same. You’re not the same.
I’m not the same.
Mental illness has changed everything. It came in quiet, an undertow we didn’t even feel sweeping us out. We kept swimming, kept living life, unaware of the little signs that warned us along the way. And now we’re left looking at the shore in the distance wondering how to get back to the sand.
We’re caught in a riptide and we can’t get out.
And no one is coming to help.
So we tread water hoping to stay alive. Hoping it’s enough to keep our face above the waves. Medicines and doctors and therapists and police and ambulance rides come in to save us, but only leave us with more questions, more worry.
It’s strange that we could be alone with so many people in your head. Sometimes I wish they were real just so we’d have people there with us. People who were in it with us. But then I realize how “crazy” I sound, and “crazy” isn’t a good word to use when you’re the stable one.
Sometimes being stable sucks.
I look at your 14-year-old self and wish I had taught you how to swim better. Swim out of these currents that keep dragging you down. There are some currents for which we are no match, and mental illness is a beast.
Even the words are hard to say. And when I finally got used to saying them, they became harder to understand. Now there is a face with the label and the two don’t make sense together.
You should know, this is never what I wanted for you. I look at you and still see those big brown eyes from a thousand yesterdays ago. The ones that looked so scared coming to live in a new home. It was not always easy, but you found your place. When you finally smiled, it changed not only your face, but mine because I couldn’t help smiling in the light of that beauty.
I miss that smile.
It hides deep under a mask of the drug cocktail of the month and behind battles no one else can hear. For as much broken glass as we’ve picked up, the one I wish would break would be that mask. Right now, it’s the only thing we’ve got holding us up, so they say.
At least I know you’re safe today. Safe in a locked building behind locked doors for your locked brain. Everything locked tight in an effort to keep your physical self safe. None of this feels safe.
And tomorrow everything could change.
If mental illness taught me anything, it’s that you never know what to believe. Emotions can change so fast you get whiplash, and the bounce back from hospitals is almost as fast. I don’t know this version of you, and the truth is, I don’t like him very much.
Still, I’m here with you. It may not always seem that way in the middle of this riptide. I couldn’t hold you anymore because we were both going down in a mess of panic, but I’m still here. You are not alone.
You never were.
You never will be.
It may be harder to see me. I may not let you grab on as tight, but it’s only because I need to breathe, too. I back away so you won’t be alone. I only wish you could see that.
No matter where the current takes us, you are my brother, and you are loved.
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