He called the other day. He doesn’t have a phone or at least not one from which he can make long distance calls. The Assisted Living Facility frowns upon that, and I guess it makes sense, but I can’t help but wonder then how all those people living away from family members reach out to someone in that moment. You know the moment don’t you?
I know it.
I’ll be going about my day, some times all is routine, nothing new, and some times as the day progresses and Murphy’s Law seems to be in full effect, I think of how nice it would be to pick up that phone and call a friend. How quickly my day can get turned around with a simple phone call. At times, it’s just about laughing out loud at something and as I listen to the sound of my laughter almost echo in the empty kitchen, I feel the need to share it with someone, hear their laughter too as they smile on the other end of the line. That need to connect with someone instantly must be one that people have experienced for years. Otherwise, why would Alexander Graham Bell have found it necessary to progress from letter writing and long roads travelled to connect with a loved one, to being able to dial them up in that moment when the sound of their voice is something we crave.
And then, there are those other moments.
Through the years, I’ve answered many phone calls from him. Some were filled with grandiose plans of how he would one day rule the world, and as he described his dreams in the utmost detail for me I couldn’t help but wonder if given his intelligence those dreams may have become a reality if not for the fact that the brain filled with such promise was the same one who betrayed him on a regular basis. Maybe his big plans weren’t so much about taking over the world, but more about taking over his mind, allowing him some sense of control of his brain, his thoughts, his life.
I don’t know.
I’m not Bipolar or Depressed or whatever label the mental illness experts have come up with for him. I’ve never stayed awake for nights on end too afraid to close my eyes for even an instant, needing to keep watch lest my own mind betray me in the dead of night, giving life to my darkest of thoughts. I’ve never had to pick up the phone and dial someone’s number because I knew my survival depended on it.
Those particular calls are ingrained in me forever. The times he called because he had lost all sense of control and needed the sound of my voice to drown out the voices in his own mind. At times simply hearing me breathe on the other end of the line gave him a sense of calm. Seconds would turn into minutes as I was equally soothed by the sound of his breathing as he was by mine.
Then, there were the calls when he knew he needed more than my voice to soothe him and the call was simply a prompt for me to jump out of bed, throw on some clothes and go find him…get him somewhere that would provide the help I so desperately wished I could give him, but knew in my heart I couldn’t. Those were the times when I experienced my own sense of betrayal. How could I not help the person before me, the little brother only eleven months younger than myself, the baby who shared a crib with me? What did my own brain have that his needed? And, why couldn’t I find a way to share it with him much the same way I shared my bottle of milk? What was I missing?
Many a calendar page has been turned since I’ve received one of those phone calls and I’m thankful for it. I am on my knees with gratitude kind of thankful. My brother is doing well, on the right meds, in therapy, living a normal life with assistance. He hasn’t had a “crisis” in years and his phone call recently (from my mom’s phone) wasn’t out of fear or desperation.
Instead, he had an idea his therapist had suggested during their last session and he wanted to tell me all about it. It was the first time in a long time I heard true excitement in his voice. I had almost forgotten what he sounded like when he was so pumped about something that he couldn’t wait to share it with me. His therapist suggested he work with me on a book about his life journey with mental illness. I can see why the therapist thought it might be a good idea.
My first book, Red Circle Days, is about those moments in our lives that are imprinted into our very soul. Moments that don’t require a photo album or memory book for us to revisit them time and time again. Some may bring to life the very feelings of sheer happiness they brought the day we experienced them. Others bring the heart wrenching sorrow we spend years trying to erase. These are moments that don’t need a reminder or a red circle on a calendar date, our hearts wrapping around them much like the tiny box on a calendar, keeping them contained only to bring them to the surface each year.
He even threw out a title, Blue Circle Days, and immediately many a calendar day flashed before me… hospital stays, doctor’s offices, the nights the phone woke me in the middle of the night, and the nights it didn’t ring.
As my brother’s excitement travelled across an ocean to me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I am up for that challenge? Is he up for that challenge?
He says he believes his stories will help others out there, and I believe sharing them alongside the perspective of someone who loves him and shared in the journey would likely help many families who have stood where we’ve stood, afraid to take another step for fear of what comes next, knowing at times the only comfort comes from listening to each other breathe.
And yet, as I wrap up this post if not my thoughts, I can’t seem to catch my breath.
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