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Conservatism is Stagnation and Regression

Jane Brogan

Jane Brogan
Location
suburban Philly, Pennsylvania,
Birthday
December 31
Bio
I am a wife, mother of 3, RN, and all for truth, not sound bites. I have Lupus, and several other autoimmune diseases and a stroke survivor. I am a very cheerful, optimistic and happy person, and always try to look for the best in the world! Also, I am an unapologetic liberal. Progressive ideas are what made this country and what continue to move it forward, without progress, we wither on the vine!

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Salon.com
OCTOBER 22, 2010 9:05AM

NO SKELETONS (IN OUR FAMILY'S CLOSET)

Rate: 22 Flag

Kind of funny, using this title so close to Halloween. I have repeated this many times to family and friends. My daughter had to do a genogram for health class. A genogram gives a family health history in a family tree form. Ours is filled with some doozies. Aside from my own health issues, including a stroke, Lupus, chronic anemia, etc. my family’s genogram is fraught with many low-lying issues such as hypertension, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. The mental illness is the most difficult. I always say there are no skeletons in our closet, they are all out walking around in plain view!

My brother David is a 58 year old man who has lived a very complex life. My mother said she thought he was hyperactive as a kid, but back in the 60s there was no diagnosis for those ‘boisterous’ kids. He was asked to leave (expelled) from Catholic School in 7th grade and went on to the local public school. When our oldest brother was killed in a car accident, David had many issues dealing with the loss. At the tender age of 15 he discovered drugs. He was able to graduate from high school and enlisted in the Navy. He was only there for a short time. He made it through boot camp, but was unable to function after that. He was dishonorably discharged. He came home to work at my dad’s gas station. He was a great worker on his good days, which was maybe once a week. On his bad days, one task could take many hours. He was also spiraling into a realm of drinking and drugs. Self-medicating, I gather. I have one particularly vivid memory of David, in a drug-fueled rage, jumping on my mother’s station wagon with a sledge hammer and shattering the windshield. After the police came an involuntary commitment followed(in PA it is called a 302). I was seven at the time. I had noticed a pattern with David. None of my family slept well when he was home because we never knew what to expect. We all slept soundly, however, the many times he was in the state hospital or the drug rehab facility. From ages 7 to 10, I was dragged to the hospital several times to visit him. I questioned my mother why the other patients were walking so funny or looked glassy-eyed. She replied that they were probably on Thorazine. When my brother David came out to visit with us, he had the same shuffling gate, muted gestures and glassy eyes. Several years later, I named it the ‘Thorazine Shuffle”. My brother was first diagnosed a schizophrenic, then depressed, then a depressed schizophrenic. When he would return home from his rehab visit I always had this expectation that he would be okay and life would finally settle down. It was always a very short-lived respite from the craziness, though. Combined with my mother’s own obsessive-compulsive hoarding we sure were the talk of the neighborhood. Forget worrying about what the neighbors thought, we were just trying to get through each day without a violent escapade.

David did meet and marry a woman. He lived with her and her parents after they were married. Her father was good to David, but he ruled with an iron fist. David seemed to manage quite well. David and his wife bought a house and shortly after were expecting. After his son was born, David spiraled downward again. His wife left, taking his child. David had a job as a auto body mechanic but was being picked on by his coworkers because of his many issues. He was always very sensitive and did not respond well to bullying, probably why the Navy did not work out for him. He was erratic at work and had many difficulties-showing up late, unable to finish jobs, sometimes being overly fixated on what he was doing so that nothing else got done. He was an extremely gifted mechanic and excelled at auto body work-but only on his own schedule, which had no rhyme or reason to the rest of us. After losing several (10) jobs, he ended up moving back into my family’s home. I was 16 at the time. My mother tried to get him SSI-Social Security Disability so that his son would have some means of support. It took 8 years. I realize many people resent those on disability, but try living with someone with these mental health issues. You would realize the hell that their lives are and the hell that their family members have to endure.

Many times we pressured our mother to kick David out of the house. Her answer was that she had already lost one child, she was not gong to lose another. He would have periods of time where he was relatively stable, but they only would last a week or two. Then our whole lives would be thrown into an uproar because David decided to have a couple of beers or smoke a joint, or God knows what other chemical means of transformation. Did I mention that David was and is an incredibly handsome man? When younger he looked like the actor Matt Dillon. He has aged, but he is still handsome even after living a hard life. His chronic drug and alcohol abuse has left David with chronic hepatitis. My children were always told of what happened to Uncle David because of his drug and alcohol abuse-a cautionary truth that this could easily be one of them because of a strong family history of substance abuse and mental illness.

Time is a great healer. Time has mellowed David. Time has also allowed me to understand that he never asked for his mental illness, that it was just the unlucky cards he was dealt. Zyprexa-an antipsychotic med-has also helped. David at 58 is a nice guy, eager to please, with a great sense of humor, always helpful and looking for approval. There has been at least 20 years since a violent episode, but I think we are always vigilant to make sure that David takes his meds and keeps his stress to a minimum. David and the rest of our family still have a relationship with his ex-wife and son, very luckily. No one could fault her for wanting a drama-less life! David does gets lonely at times and when he does my sisters, brothers and I get phone calls or visits from him, as well as his son and ex-wife. I now look forward to his calls and visits, something I never dreamed would be a possibility given his past. I try to listen to him because he is my brother and a human being who has endured such a hell on earth.

 The hell that David put us through was not of his making. He was just trying to deal with the demons in his head the only way he knew how. I am glad that he made it through and that he is still with us. I am also glad that we all survived this journey. It was and is never easy, but seeing the remarkable change in David has been worth it. We will always remember what happened in the past, but love and forgiveness is always much easier for all involved than holding onto a grudge and anger. To those with mentally ill family members, please try to get them help. Mental illness cannot be cured through, diet, exercise, prayer, or vitamins, or by making someone feel guilty because they have a mental illness. A mental illness in most cases requires medications and therapy and the patience and support of all impacted by the mental illness. It does not require keeping it a secret-remember no skeletons in the closet- they are all out in the public view!

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Comments

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Great Post. The mind is something that can be so strong, yet is as fragile as an egg. One wire crossed can leave a person with conditions like your brother. I'm glad he's now well and welcome in your house. You're a very good person to help him now after all that happened.
This is so well said. the fact you did not understand as a child but grew to understand as you got older says it all.
patience, love and understanding.
rated with hugs
What a wonderful expression of love. I'm reminded of St Paul's "love is patient, love is kind ...". I'm afraid we're all guilty of expecting more from those we love than they our sometimes able to give.
This is so nice to read after hearing so many stories of families that will abandon a member because of practically any reason that comes along. I've never had to deal with a family member that has a mental illness, so I imagine it must be both difficult and overwhelming.
Scanner, I am so happy that time has mellowed my brother. He can have his not-so-great days, but he has come a long way-just like the rest of us! Thank you!

Linda, there wasn't a whole lot of understanding or even infromation about many mental illnesses until fairly recently. I think knowledge is power, and knowing what you are dealing with makes things so much less complicated! Thanks!

Tom, only as an adult have I learned to let go of the anger and frustration. But letting that go has allowed me to move forward, instead of always looking to the past. Thank you!

Dunae, I think my mom's mantra was always 'loving you, warts and all'. I think she had realized as a parent you have to love your child, unconditionally. I have learned much from her example in this matter! Thanks!

Thansk so much for your kind comments!
Duane, sorry for the typo of your name in my comments!
"love and forgiveness is always much easier for all involved than holding onto a grudge and anger". An absolute truth. It is difficult to live with someone mentally ill...everyone gets swept up in the fury and they are truly not responsible. I am so glad things got better. Excellent post.
I understand, having been there with family members. It is a very delicate tightrope to walk. Peace. Glad your bro is doing okay. RRR
Bonnie, it is so right how we treat the mentally ill, forgetting the 'ill' part of the equation! Thank you!

rjheart, thank you so much for your comments. I am convinced there is not enough love in this world!

Bernadine, it is a difficult thing to watch someone you love go through this. It is even harder how it tears a family apart. I am thankful for my mom never giving up hope! Thank you!
So full of love and understanding. Only those who have walked a few miles in those shoes would know how it is. Thank you for bringing it to us with graceful passion. Best to you and your family.
R
Well, written, insightful and filled with love. There are many people who would be wise to read your post and heed its message.
R
Fusan, thank you so much! As an adult it has been much easier to comprehend what was going on!
Your love and sensitivity to the human and not simply family condition shines here! r.
Fay, sorry my response did not post. Thank you for your comments!

Donna, thank you for your kind words!

Jonatahn, thank so much for your comments!
Jonathan, sorry for the typo on your name!
You write so well of the terrible suffering of the mentally ill...the suffering they live with and the suffering of the family. Your family has been through so much. I'm happy that things have mellowed out for David and your family. Everything you say about mental illness is right on. One need never judge, just extend a heart of compassion. Thank you for writing this.
Mary, thanks so much! I took me a long time to not blame my brother for his problems, get past all of the hurt. Being a parent certainly put things in perspective for me!
Bless you for this important message. R
xx
Mary Ann, thanks so much!
Moving post with good take-away information. I enjoyed reading this.
Best Wishes,
Blittie
A moving recollection. I also have some mental illness in my family...not so close as a brother and not quite so severe, but we've had to deal with mental hospitals and jailings and drug dependencies as well. I often wonder if there are any families untouched by this.
Blittie, thanks so much!

Bluestocking babe, I just think some people try to hide it so well! Thanks!
A deeply compassionate view into a problem many families face. Happy you are all on this side of things. Highly rated...so well doneLibmom! Thanks so much!
Muse, thanks so much for your comments!
...we have our own david who we never blog about.... his illness and problems exhaust us—and him—and it's the last thing we wish to mull over when we aren't forced to.... i loved your coming around to recognizing your handsome david never asked for any of it....

thanks for doing the writing for me....

i rated this EP-caliber post...

lois
Thank you for expressing truth, familial love and compassion. My family is also rife with destructive genes, which has led to a large size skeleton closet. At least it gives us material as writers.
Lois, thank you so much for your kind words. As a kid I always wanted a 'normal' family. It took me so many years to realize that there is no 'normal', just what we are given in life. I am thankful my mom never gave up on David, and we still have some troubling days. But he has been so much better as time and our understanding went on. I know that does not always happen, but I have always been a 'glass is half full' kind of person, so I am thankful!
LuminousMuse-I have never been short of crazy memories to tell people, that is for sure! Thanks so much for your comments!
Thanks for this compassionate look at mental illness. The way we treat family and friends when they're down says everything about who we are as people, I think! How fortunate that your brother landed in a family who loves him and doesn't hold his illness against him.
Thanks for this compassionate look at mental illness. The way we treat family and friends when they're down says everything about who we are as people, I think! How fortunate that your brother landed in a family who loves him and doesn't hold his illness against him.
mamakaze, it took a long time to reach this point, but I am glad we did. Many families never get past the blaming game for menta illness! Thanks for your comment!
The power of thought. Very interesting post.
Caroline, thanks for your comments!