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UnsettlingLife


Member

Posted Wed Dec 9th, 2009 3:23pm Post subject: For my kid brother David, sorry I'm late.

Twenty two years ago this Christmas day I lost my younger brother, a manic depressive and later paranoid schizophrenic. As I write I wonder if that diagnosis is even possible? After my mother's death, I discovered that she was also being treated for MD. Forty years ago I was diagnosed with MD and although I've not seen him in decades nor ever spoken about it before then, I am certain that my elder brother was too. More recently my diagnosis has been changed to bi-polar disorder, I am not at all sure I understand the difference. The point is, we all suffered in silence. I’ve never spoken about my brother or myself, not to anyone that knows me, and certainly not to the psychiatrist I was referred to recently, who, with the greatest respect for his profession, did not possess a sufficient knowledge of English to understand what I was trying to say to him. I fully understand the NHS is under great pressure and lacks the time and resources. Nobody outside of the NHS wants to know, unless of course your pockets are well lined. Besides, what right do I have to expect anyone to want to know? Isn’t there enough misery floating around?

In February 1988, I was working in Florida when I got a call from my employers telling me that my brother had died. My response was, which one? They didn’t know. They were unaware I had two brothers, David, the younger one, who for some time I’d expected would be the reason for a call of this nature, and Peter, the older brother, who for many years I’d wanted to be the reason. I called my sister. Tell me it’s Peter. It wasn’t. David had been found in a flat in Liverpool. She need say no more. I knew it was that he had finally succumbed to the mental illness which had plagued him for most of his young life.

I caught the first available flight and at the family home I found my older brother waiting for me. We sat and listened as my sister told the full story. It was very short story and contained little more information than the telephone call, except to say that there had been a note. It was a scruffy envelope with a few words scrawled across it: “Goodbye to Peter, Tony, Karen and Angela. What did I do wrong?” The question said it all. I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve screamed that question a hundred times, quietly, to myself. The other striking thing about the note was the date. Originally it had read December 24th, but 24th had been crossed out and replaced with 26th. Why?

Peter and I went to the local police station across the street from where David was found. We were hoping for some sort of explanation. Why I don’t know, we both knew David was not a well man. Perhaps I’m being slightly unfair. I knew he wasn’t well. Peter hadn’t set eyes on him for many years, not since he’d smashed a beer glass on a pub table and threatened to cut David open with it. That sent David into hiding in Hackney, east London, which is where I’d seen him last, a year or so before.

The police report said that David had taken an overdose of his prescribed medication on Christmas Eve. Instead of easing his troubles it just made him violently ill, so much so that he had staggered into the street seeking help. The hospital records showed that once recovered, the doctor treating him gave him a prescription for very strong tranquilizers and discharged him from hospital. I seemed to be the only one that found this alarming. I knew that David’s condition often manifested itself in frightening bouts of mania and he may very well have been given one or two tranquilizers to calm him down. But to write out a prescription for a bottle of them, then discharge a patient who was only in the hospital because he’d demonstrated a desire to commit suicide left me cold and angry. We were told if we wanted to know more we should speak with David’s next door neighbour who was also the buildings janitor, and the one that found him.

Crossing the street to his flat I could not escape the feeling that I should have been there for him. A year or so before, he’d been missing for some time when my mother asked me to check an address she’d been given by the Salvation Army. I found him in a forbidding mental institution in Hackney. His life was in tatters. I tried to help him but after a couple of weeks of tripping across London to see him all I could think about was giving him some money, tidying his flat then going about my own business, hoping one day he’d sort himself out. I of all people should have known better. I completely ignored the fact that I too was on medication. I tell myself it was because I was then, and still am, too terrified of the stigma to tell anyone.

There were no personal items in David’s flat, nothing. This didn’t surprise me as I knew from my visits with him in Hackney that with the exception of the clothes on his back, he frequently gave away everything he owned. The dates on the envelope I also understood. Our mother had died six months before. She actually died of cancer but had twice attempted suicide the year before. Like me, David hated to be alone at Christmas and this was the first one he’d experienced where he had nowhere to go. No family home where he could turn up unannounced and know he’d be welcome. His behaviour had been erratic for some time and other family members had grown tired of him. He couldn’t turn to Peter because he was terrified of him. I was in America, as was Karen, our other half-sister. The rest of the family didn’t want to know, but he knew his mother would never turn him away, certainly not at Christmas, but now that door too was closed.

We believe David tried to fill the prescription on Christmas day but would have been unable to find a chemist shop that was open. This probably explains the crossing out of 24th and replacing it with 26th and not 25th. I can’t begin to imagine what that Christmas day was like for him. Had he made a decision that the next day he would take his life? If he had, what were his thought for those twenty four hours? Or was it done on the spur of the moment once he’d filled the prescription on Boxing Day? We’ll never know.

Had I been living in the UK that Christmas day, David would have turned up at my front door, all tousled hair and jangling nerves as always. I’d have been a bit annoyed at him, but only for a while. You couldn’t be angry with him. Then I’d have remembered he was my brother and he was alone. I would also have remembered how alike we are and maybe, just maybe, he’d still be alive today. Instead, by taking his life he made me sit up and take notice of my own illness, my own ‘bad’ behaviour and consequently to seek help. It’s help which simply means one prescription after another, something I see as dust beneath a carpet rather than real help. Nevertheless, I’m alive because David isn’t. It’s an ill wind.

Recently I have become much more aware that it is very likely that the lack of an understanding ear, forcing me to keep my feelings bottled up, has done more harm than good. I am also patently aware that not lending David an understanding ear myself is a large part of the reason why he’s no longer here. The doctors told me that he was so far gone it was inevitable. That’s no consolation. There was a chance, just a small one, but a chance nonetheless and my competitive make-up is such that I will never give up as long as there’s a chance, but I let it slip. I dislike the idea of sounding melodramatic and I’m certainly not fishing for consolation or forgiveness, but it is an absolute truth that I could have and should have done something more to help him, even if it was only to listen a bit longer than I did, but I didn’t. Perhaps if society was a little more accepting of this form of illness more would have been done. David’s death haunts me almost daily, more so at Christmas. He was a timid, gentle soul who didn’t deserve his lot. On that tattered and dog-eared envelope David asked what he’d done wrong, nothing at all my old mate, nothing at all.


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katysara


Moderator

Posted Wed Dec 9th, 2009 7:02pm Post subject: For my kid brother David, sorry I'm late.

BayTheMoon,

Thank you for sharing that heartfelt and difficult story with us. I get the feeling many will read it and just not know what to say. I myself almost don't know where to begin except to say there is a lot about your letter I understand - I wish I didn't, but I do.

Regarding diagnosis, manic depression means the same as bipolar disorder which usually takes priority over schizophrenia - but with more information a diagnosis can change --> did he have any normal times, were he bipolar he would. Then there is the possible diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder which means you have both.

Like you I am shocked that he was given a whole bottle of powerful tranquillizers - shocked but not surprised. I am considered a massive suicide risk and they still prescribe me amitriptyline which is very dangerous in OD. That you feel cold and angry I am not surprised.

I am familiar with the feelings of regret and guilt at not happening to be there at the time of his suicide. I have lost two loved ones that way, 7 and 4 years onwards it gets no easier. I shudder at the sound of a train because of how Declan jumped in front of one, and other things remind me of Lisa. Both I should have protected, especially Lisa who I spoke to for hours that terrible night, and who hung up the phone with me and ended her life.

One day I hope you feel like me - unafraid of stigma. I live with it and don't care of the consequences. I do not hang my head in shame. I refuse to - I am ill not evil.

My best wishes to you at this difficult time.

KSx

I am an administrator on this site.

"Having a great intellect is no path to being happy."
~ Stephen Fry

See my website: www.katysaraculling.com

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UnsettlingLife


Member

Posted Thu Dec 10th, 2009 10:38am Post subject: For my kid brother David, sorry I'm late.

Thank you for taking the time to read it Katy.
I was recently put on the same medication as you, that makes over a dozen different types of pills to date.
My problem is I can't stay in one place long enough to be treated properly, I can't help myself, I just have to keep moving. Is it moving or running away? I think I already know the answer to that. Perhaps if I stood still long enough to get myself sorted, I'd probably stop moving. Catch 22 I'm afraid.

BTM


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Nitro


Member

Posted Thu Dec 10th, 2009 6:38pm Post subject: For my kid brother David, sorry I'm late.

Bay, I don't usually enter this area of the forum but do occasionally browse something written if the title attracts me in some way.

Intentional or not, your recollection of your brother, yourself, and the events leading up to and after his death; is one of the most beautifully and heartfelt and honest I've ever read. Thank you for being willing to open up and taking the time to share this with anyone and everyone who can read.

I am not bipolar, but it is in my family and several of my friends have been affected by it. All of the angst, confusion, frustration, defeat, remorse and the whole spectrum of emtotions that the sufferer and those who care from them go through are things I'm well familiar with. It angers me too that mental illness still remains a stigmatization for the person who lives with it. It's totally unecessary and though gains are being made to ensure these folks don't walk around in a society ready to condemn them at every turn, we still have a ways to go.

And often, getting there means people like yourself speaking up about your experiences to those who don't understand. Staying silent and even preaching to the choir ( so to speak ), will never, ever help educate the people who need to be educated. And that's virtually anyone who does NOT suffer with BPD or some other mental illness.

As Katy says, you are not evil you are ill. We don't condemn nor shred the characters of people who suffer from heart disease. We should extend the same respect and compassion to those whose illness lies in the brain. Medica science has made great strides in understanding the biochemistry of mental illness and it's roots do not lie in a persons character, but their bodies.

I hope for people who live with any mental illness, they experience greater and greater understanding and compassion over Time, and that it doesn't take sixteen more generations of human beings before that happens.

Anyway, thank you for writing something that, in my mind, honors your brothers life as well as your own.

Really? Wow.

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katysara


Moderator

Posted Fri Dec 11th, 2009 12:10am Post subject: For my kid brother David, sorry I'm late.

Heartfelt response Nitro.
hugs,
ksx

I am an administrator on this site.

"Having a great intellect is no path to being happy."
~ Stephen Fry

See my website: www.katysaraculling.com

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UnsettlingLife


Member

Posted Fri Dec 11th, 2009 10:51am Post subject: For my kid brother David, sorry I'm late.

Thank you Nitro. I'd hoped it would do David some justice, albeit belated.


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