I lived with a manic depressive for 23 years. At twenty, he suffers through sporadic, unpredictable outbursts. He is destructive. At times, he is terrifying. And he is my brother.
Growing up with Conor was never easy. When he was in first grade, he was diagnosed with ADHD. From there, his laundry list of psychological maladies has grown each year.
As a young kid he was teased for his tourrettes-induced tics. Any outward conflict only added to Conor's inner turmoil. As he aged, his tantrums became more frequent, his outbursts less predictable, more violent. In his teens, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Understandably, he never took to academics (even now, he is years behind his contemporaries), and spent much of his adolescent life bouncing from school to school and program to program. Nothing seemed to be the right fit. This is perhaps one of the reasons he is unable to articulate his everyday experiences.
He has his demons, and his own way of trying to escape them, and we all suffered because of it. For years, I've been angry. I was unable to forgive the old wounds when new battles were still raging inside my parents' house every day.
I have slowly started to work on my relationship with my brother. We rarely fight anymore, mostly perhaps because I no longer live at home. He enjoys coming over to my apartment to hang out. He loves my dog. Beneath his course exterior and beyond his rocky history, he is a good person.
He's still angry, still destructive, still wildly irresponsible, but more and more I am coming to view his manic rage as a disease. Because that's what it is. My greatest challenge still is separating the manic from the man.
I inhale articles and stories about bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. The more that I learn, the more I am able to catch a glimpse into the mind of my brother.
That's one of (the many) reasons I love reading Philadelphia Weekly's Liz Spikol. Her blog and weekly column entitled The Trouble With Spikol, gives a humorous yet informative peek into the mind of a person with bipolar disorder. All the treatments, all the pills, all the therapy sessions.
In yesterday's New York Times, Gabrielle Glaser wrote about Spikol in her article about "Mad Pride," a growing movement of dialogue about and with people with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. People unwilling to hide their diseases. People tired of being misunderstood and judged. People like my brother.
By writing about her own battles with mental health, Spikol helps me understand my brother. Through her I have garnered a greater understanding and a greater appreciation.
By putting her own experiences into artfully crafted words, she helps me understand things that my brother is unable to verbalize. She has helped inspire me to try and get my brother back. And little by little, year by year, I think that I will.