About love for someone who fights inner demons
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Many of those struggling with the most serious mental health problems have a small tribe of loved ones who will walk this path with them (as much as anyone can). This week’s essay is for those of you who may know a little about this journey. This somewhat abbreviated newsletter is also a call for this year’s newsletter World Mental Health Day in the wake of a pandemic that had a catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable. Your Susanna
About love for someone who fights inner demons
Every family has its own secret language of nicknames and worn jokes. Ours was based on toddler words from when my youngest sister Rosemary was little. There was a clean bathroom Talawals in the closet at mom’s house and we put ours on Baby suits for the beach long after we grew up and long after we lost Rosemary.
My siblings and I are shaped by their absence, just as we are by their illness. She fought the most terrible depression. It was a bird of prey that rushed in at puberty and never left for long. And at 22 it finally took her.
When my children were little, they asked me about the girl with the bright eyes on our family photos. They had never met Rosemary, but there she stood, framed on the shelf, at ten months in a white knitted dress with embroidered roses, her hair combed into a spit. Her cheeks were flushed and Dad had given her a big red apple with it.
At the age of 13, her face rather chiseled, she stands with a calm smile in a blue plaid shirt and holds the reins of a caramel-colored horse. Even later, she hovered cautiously on the edges of vacation photos and obviously hated her elegant clothes. And then she wasn’t in the albums anymore.
I told my kids that Rosemary had been sick and the doctors were trying to fix what was going on in their brain, but the drugs weren’t working. I said it was a bit like she had a cancer that blocks the sun and hurts everything. It kind of helped me explain it to them.
And then I told them how she could make my other sister and me break down with laughter with a well-timed roll of our eyes or a single blank observation of our giant brother. She would have loved to be an aunt, a crooked little muse who knew everything about cars and horses.
I did not describe to them the sound of the door buzzer on a locked ward when we visited them during the terrible times. And I didn’t tell them how our mother leaned over the sink, smoking, and waiting for a call.
It always felt like the mental health care system was a gamble: this therapy could work after eight weeks or ten weeks. Or maybe not. Mental illnesses are volatile, dormant, and then reappear without warning. And then there are the burning decisions that are forced by financial constraints.
In these waiting rooms we saw the other members of the club. All the families who take care of this pilot light with love and perseverance. Sometimes it is only for a period of youth; sometimes it’s a lifetime gig. There are little brothers who become responsible when a big brother gets lost. And there are parents and spouses who are always on the alert, searching loved faces for signs of distress.
We are the families that can get through the rest periods close to our hearts that soak up normality. We don’t talk too much about the bad things and the guilt that sometimes arises for what we can’t or haven’t done. We don’t talk about it outside of our closest friends because it’s not our story to tell, even though we all struggle with it. Still, it can be lonely.
These diseases are the river that runs through your home. They are part of our architecture, interwoven with all the wonderful, happy elements. Decades later, Rosemary is here with my children and me: their laughter, their great wit and the concern I had for them have grown into my bones.
The members of this club recognize each other on this emotional radar. A small aside, a confession, a brief relief that we are not so alone. Bound by love and care, we do the only thing we can, carry on, arm in arm, until science and the people who control the households bring relief to these diseases.
With the grace of distance, I have some measure of peace. And I can tell newbies that it’s easy to see the most painful moments as the most important. But that’s changing. I remember a photo of me about ten years old trying to lift Rosemary’s sturdy toddler body with my skinny arms and lots of authority. I changed her diapers and made her laugh, sometimes just by showing up in front of her and widening my eyes in mock surprise.
I was her favorite person for a while. And now I know that those tender days were just as important to both of us as anything that came later.
If you are in a crisis, call the toll free National lifeline for suicide prevention (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. All calls are confidential.
- National lifeline for suicide prevention
- Veterans Crisis Line
- National alliance for suicide prevention
- National Library of Medicine – Suicide
- National strategy for suicide prevention
- NIMH Multimedia for suicide prevention
- NIMH suicide prevention
- Take 5 to Save Lives
A picture from the week that was.
THE SUMMARY 🌟
👍🏽 How Fixing Facebook Could Help Teenagers – and Democracy from TIME and the BBC, The science of social media addiction
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