A lifelong social activist, and serious mental/brain illness advocate & writer – maneuvering through tragedies that have led down many different paths. One of a set of identical twins who now work together to advocate and personally challenge our broken mental healthcare system. Also known as the ‘Twin Tag Team’ after 34 years of tending to the needs of our brother. He had a horrific accident in 1987, resulting in a TBI and loss of his eyes. Three years later he began showing symptoms of Schizophrenia w/Psychosis with chronic and persistent Anosognosia. He has been homeless for 14 years while we have sought LPS conservatorship, supervised housing, care and treatment. Author of personal blog, “Am I Not My Brother’s Keeper?” and Administrator of the private Facebook group, “Mark of Vacaville,” and Facebook page, “Twisted Sisters Advocacy & Activism for Serious Brain Disorders.”
My Little Brother, a guest post by Catherine J Rippee-Hanson
I have learned so much from you. Despite experiencing tremendous pain, it is still possible to find incredible joy. No, I am not saying your serious mental illness is a blessing. As a testament to your experience, that would be almost sacrilegious. However, certain realizations that I have come to because of your life circumstances have changed me for the better. I am less judgmental. I’m brave. Having learned certain characteristics from someone who has endured great struggle, I am able to step out of my comfort zone with confidence. I am aware of the importance of community. It is essential that everyone has a tribe to keep them going and to encourage them. And you do have support from our community. It is possible for me to be a warrior despite my own limitations. Due to my love for you, I can stand up and advocate for you with confidence and boldness.
We are dealing with mental illness as a family, even though it stole away all sense of normalcy for our family and has turned our lives upside down. There was no way we could have known what had hit us. Fear or lack of knowledge caused many friends to walk away. Throughout your long struggle, you have been abandoned by many family members who do not understand how severe or uncontrollable your illness and symptoms are. I cannot turn away from you. A sister does not let her brother suffer, does not sit back, and watch her brother in pain without doing something… anything…to make it better. I am still here to protect you, even if you cannot see me, despite the social constraints that prevent me from doing more.
Many of us, including myself, can embrace two complete opposites at the same time. There are moments of joy and moments of pain. Even though there are tears, there is still laughter. My current strength comes from the memories from the past and the hope for the future, even when there is distance. It is possible to remain grateful despite difficult circumstances. If you reach out and hold my hand, however rarely, I am reminded that you are still around and that you still love me, even if you are suffering from mental illness. I have gratitude for those moments when I glimpse you through the veil of your illness.
Sometimes it can be confusing, frightening, and exhausting. Often it seems that the anger you feel toward the world is personal, but I know it is just the nature of the illness. In a world where we often take what we have for granted, it is sometimes difficult to see or understand what you are going through or experiencing. Observing your distress can be difficult at times, and I am often consumed by agony myself. Constant worry, unpredictability, and the knowledge that I have no control to make it better for you breaks me in unimaginable ways, draining the very essence of my energy.
I understand that you are unable to comprehend the impact of your behavior due to the symptoms of your illness. Although you are ill, your value in my life is not diminished, but rather it makes me treasure the memories of who you once were. All the memories we shared are still fresh in my mind, and it hurts me to think you are so alone.
In our childhood you would sneak around and give me a fright. Playing practical jokes all the time. There is an unbreakable bond between us. Don’t think that I don’t care about you, brother. Neither the past nor the future will change. I am pained to see what you must deal with. It hurts even more because when there’s nothing I can do. I just wish I could make it all okay, but all I can do is pray. You used to smile at me when you looked at me for answers to your unending questions. I can still see you grinning from ear to ear. And now all I can say is, “life isn’t always fair.”
I remember the little boy who, at 3 years old, insisted on going to the store with me and clung to my hand. I remember the young boy, at the age of seven, with whom I fished in the river and caught tadpoles in creek beds while you exclaimed in the moment, proudly, “That is my sister!” I will never forget, after moving out on my own, the 12-year-old boy who tracked me down at a neighbor’s house where I was visiting a friend, and tearfully, unabashedly pleaded with me to move back home. You couldn’t understand why I moved away. The upbeat teenager who was always bragging about how many girlfriends you had and how someday you would marry and have a family of your own. A young man who sought my advice and turned to me for guidance when he was confused about his life. Your belief in me never wavered. I wish I had all the answers you were looking for.
While most would consider your situation insurmountable, I acknowledge in amazement, your strength and resilience. Understanding hopelessness is an experience I empathize with, as is knowing that the mentally ill experience it daily. With all that psychosis and mental illness can bring to your life, it’s a testament to your courage that you manage to get through each day and night.
It is most important to me that you know I love you. I will always love you. It doesn’t matter how trapped you are in psychosis and delusions of fear and anger, I love you. As the world turns its back on you and shuts its eyes… I still see you. I know in my heart who you are. Who you always have been. Who you will always be. My little brother.
~ Your loving sister, Catherine J Rippee-Hanson