When I was 12 I lost my sister, she was 15 years-old, there was no funeral, there were no condolence cards, or flowers, or casseroles stuffing the shelves of my families fridge. I say lost, but what I mean is that the person my family and I knew wasn’t gone in body, but was gone in mind.
Mental illness is a funny, cruel thing, unpredictable in some, inevitable in others, and sadly only preventable by simply not having children. My sister, Lizzie as I will always think of her, has been dubbed Manic Depressive, Bipolar, A.D.D, Schizoaffective, Borderline Personality Disorder, oh... and difficult. All of these diagnosis’ have held water at one time or another in her 31 years, right now however, we’re sticking with Borderline Personality Disorder.
I am 94 pages into a book one of my closest friends gave me last year for my birthday. 233 pages of non-fiction that I was reluctant to pick up, because it hit too close to home. The book is called Hurry Down Sunshine By Michael Greenberg; and like I said before, it’s non-fiction, non-fiction about a father going through the trials and tribulations of the onset of his then youngest child's severe mental illness. A couple of weeks ago I was propelled to read it, because my laptop was in the shop, and I’ve become a slave to reading digital copies of books in place of real life printed paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love books, the smell, the feel of them, I even like shopping for them, and I don’t like shopping. So, I picked up the book and started in on it. Immediately I was nodding my head with the authors words, mentally checking off a list, that basically went like this.
* Yep, seen that.
* Totally heard that before.
* Uh huh.
* Pshhh, totally!
And so on and so forth.
I know mental illness isn’t some newfangled thing, it’s been with the human race since there was a human race. I’ve just never sought out other peoples stories where it comes to the secondary experiences with mental illness, i.e. the families perspective. Face it, almost all the best stories we hear about people with severe mental illness don’t always include their families points of view, and if there is one, it’s fairly minute, however they’re hardly demonised, but they’re certainly not glorified. I’m thinking of famous cases such as Dostoevsky, Dali, Pollock, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Hemingway. I truly believe that the lack of the families experience being reported on, is because mental illness is all about the Me, and the Me is the person with the mental illness.
My sister is the most selfish person I have ever met in my life. I’m not being mean, I’m being honest when I say that, because my sister literally cannot see things from another persons perspective, she has no empathetic intuition and can only see things through her experiences, and through the cloud her illness lets her see through, or sometimes not see through. It’s cold, it’s flaccid, and it’s not pretty, but my sister cannot think of any body but her self and how things affect her. I don’t know if it’s always been that way, she wasn’t exactly a bossy person when we were growing up, but I can’t honestly say that I can remember her comforting me, consoling me, doing things solely for me or for someone in my families benefit. Scratch that, she made me breakfast once when we were kids, cold scrambled eggs on a plate, that she brought up to my room at 7 or so in the morning on a Saturday. It’s sad and funny to think, but the only time I can remember her doing something for me, it was a cold plate of eggs at a very inconvenient time in the morning.
Lizzie’s been in mental hospitals off an on since she was 15 years-old. That’s when she first went in; 15 years-old, just got kicked out of school, raging at the world, riddled with insecurities and an ever present rebellious nature, yet she somehow yearned to be part of the in-crowd, always vying for acceptance, but my sister was always weird, always. My mother told me that she was the only one of her children, who could occupy herself with one toy for hours However, despite her remarkable ability to play solitarily and quietly, she was just fucking weird. She came up with names for imaginary creatures, she had fanciful ideas and games she’d invent. Now, yes, on the surface that’s quaint or cute, or whatever, but at many times these fantasies become all consuming, and disruptive at home and at school.
I’m 94 pages into this book that made all of these thoughts spring to my mind. Do I recommend reading the book? Yes, I do, because it's compelling, heartfelt, well written and honest. The friend who gave me my copy told me that it was one of her favourites, I understand why she would want to share a favourite, but I wonder if she knows how much of my experiences were mirrored in Mr. Greenberg's. I guess I’ll have to ask her soon, otherwise I may go crazy.