I have an older brother who is just under a year older than me. My mother always reassuringly tells me how she felt suicidal when she found out she was pregnant with me when he was that little. That never mattered to him or I. He used to come and lay down underneath my cot, tap for my bottle, take a sip, and pass it back. When we got a little older, “we” levelled up, and he would go and exchange the milk for guava juice. When we went to pre-school, he boisterously protected me on the playground, sealed my juice bottle after lunch, and dutifully sat me down in my row when the bell had gone. But that was a very long time ago.
Since then, we’ve both been diagnosed, and tried to live with our mental illness, as best we could. Sometimes it wasn’t best. But I think what’s common is that we both didn’t know how. No-one in my opinion has written a definitive guide on how to deal with scary hallucinations, voices, moods, anxiety, and all that other glorious stuff the mental illness Pandora’s Box throws your way. Oh yes, and then there’s that practical thing of needing to eat chocolate, cigarettes and food (in that order) which you have to pay for, with a job, with mental illness. And neither him nor I are able to do that at the moment for very, very different reasons.
He is currently in prison for a crime, well, he so painfully regrets that he cannot sleep, eat or be himself anymore. I walked into the prison waiting room, and saw him there, saw my little brother with the badly knitted cable jersey my Mom had made, ready to close my juice bottle – and he shouldn’t be in prison. Not him, not anyone with mental illness. I asked him a little about the conditions and his eyes glazed over slightly. What he did tell me was a refined version. Was a version that I could not stomach, but that he had watered down for me. I think tried to water down for him.
He has access to a psychiatrist once every three months, a psychologist once a month, and a social worker who monitors his progress (but with a view to discussing whether he is eligible or not for parole). He has access to medication sometimes. And that medication makes him sleepy which means that he cannot protect himself at night. So they take turns to keep watch in the cell and hopefully so thwart some of the impending violence that looms every minute, of every hour, of every day in prison. They are allowed access to sunshine once a week if at all, and even then it’s for a few hours. Exercise is walking around the cells for a while, and even then you have to be on alert. Supper is six slices of dry bread, and if you can get money from outside, you can buy meat (from the Government supply) and hopefully go to the tuckshop. It’s not guarenteed though that you will actually eventually consume what you buy.
And all this screamed to me that it was not about rehabilitating him, It was not about promoting his mental health and goodness knows the human rights of any and everyone in that prison. If people really understood mental illness – I can almost naseously laugh – they would know that we need no other bars, no other punishments, no other deprivations. In closing, I saw an awesome picture. It said: “You don’t have to be a voice for the voiceless. You just have to pass the Mic”. And I thought Yeah!! After having seen my brother, understand what he and others go through I’ve changed my mind though. I’ve got news for you. Where they are – where I am – where people with mental illness are who are discriminated against and hurt – there is no voice, and there is no mic, there aren’t enough eyes, ears, and hearts that are dedicated to stopping what is happening. Please help me change that. Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t. I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.