At the end of 2013, my youngest brother R. stopped taking his antidepressants. My mom, who is a doctor, was giving him samples, and she told him that he needed to find a doctor to prescribe them. Because it’s the legal thing to do. Not wanting to have depression on his record, and coming off 5 years of steady employment, he decided to go off of them instead. I begged him not to, but he was afraid to be dependent on them in the advent of an apocalypse and wanted to prepare himself.
Three months later he was depressed. And, as I’ve mentioned based on my own folly, every time you have another depressive episode, it’s harder to recover. My psychiatrist described it as breaking your leg in the same place over and over. Still, he did not go to the doctor until his depression and anxiety were so bad that he could not make it to work. His job was very generous, allowing him to cut back his hours to as little as he needed and keep his job. But ultimately the shame and guilt of not being able to go overwhelmed him and he quit.
After a few months of unemployment, my brother moved back home with my parents. My dad, who had been depressed for 4 years, went straight to a manic episode and was blowing through his retirement money. And my mom’s retirement money. And she could do nothing to stop him. So he took on the impossible job of trying to figure out how we could stop them. But the situation was so bad that, instead of helping them, he had a heart attack. At the age of 40. And since they were in no mental state to care for him, he moved in with me. And still lives with me.
It has been a rough 3 and a half years, but in the past year R. has been feeling much better. He is able to go to make it in work, has friends, a church community, extracurricular activities. He’s the happiest he’s been in a long time. But it was a 6 year journey–a high price to pay for going off his meds.
Last winter my other brother M., who also struggles with depression, stopped taking his medication. Because he didn’t want to have to see his doctor for his yearly follow up. And he didn’t want to be dependent on the meds. In case there was an apocalypse. And he got depressed right a way.
A few days ago in our sibling Zoom meeting, M, confessed that he had stopped taking his meds and recently restarted them. He was feeling anxious, having chest pains, shortness of breath. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t think clearly. He was afraid of losing his job. He was a loser, a failure. He worried about homelessness.
It was déjà vu.
We did everything we could to talk him into going to his doctor to discuss getting back on meds. And to rule out the possibility of a heart attack. Like R. did when he was depressed and anxious, M. makes excuses because he doesn’t see how dire his situation is. Doesn’t seem to remember anything that happened to R. Doesn’t recognize that history is repeating itself.
I’ve been trying to convince him to come stay with me until he gets better. Yes, there is a travel ban, but I consider the possibility of him committing suicide or having a heart attack essential travel. I feel as anxious as I did when my younger brother was about to be released from the hospital and would be in may parents’ care for recovery. Which meant certain death.
It’s strange to be in this catch-22: trying to convince my brother of something that will save his life, knowing that it will once again probably cause me to become anxious and depressed. This is the first time in a very long that I feel mostly relaxed. I’d like to enjoy it for as long as I can. But I don’t think he can get better in isolation. And he is also at risk for a heart attack. And he’s bipolar and could become manic.
Is every family like this? One mental health crisis after another? Will there ever be a time when things can be “normal”? Just for a little while? Just so I can catch my breath?
R. thinks it could be a good thing for all of us if M. comes. He will have someone to talk to. They can exercise together. R. can take him to church, introduce him to his friends. Maybe one day he and M. can get a place of their own, which is their dream. M. would be closer to his kids. I could have my space again but have them close by.
I hope he’s right.