So just as I was getting the idea to start this little blog, it was 2am and my brain wouldn’t shut off. I had Twenty Years in my head and had to get it out and on paper. Not because I thought I would lose some gold or anything, I was just obsessed with the idea of getting it out. Most of Twenty Years came the day I was “officially diagnosed” Bipolar II. That overwhelming terror that comes with the diagnosis and fears of worse case scenarios. Also though, for the first time in a very long time, I felt relief. My doctor and I had discussed that this diagnosis was a probability a few weeks before, and the more time I had to sit with the idea, to reflect on my life, to research everything I could find, talk to my psychologist, the more it fit. So in my car on the way back from the doctor’s, my emotions couldn’t make up their collective mind and I laughed, and I cried, and I smiled and I finally felt understood. Twenty years of unknown.
What does this have to do with family? Well not only did I become obsessed with getting the words on paper, I decided after 5 months of social media silence I would post on Facebook. No big explanation, no dedications. Just my poem, there simply accredited to myself, for those who bothered to read. Being 3am I was surprised to see a couple likes before I was able to finally shut down the hypomania and sleep, four hours post the sleeping pill. When I say obsessed I mean it. I couldn’t stand without feeling light headed, or walk without worrying I’d fall on my face, but sit on my bed and write? Absolutely.
When I woke up the next day I had pretty much forgotten that I had even posted, and being on a social media hiatus all notifications were turned off. After my usual shuffle and a check of my email I noticed actual comments, long-long lost friends reaching out with love. Coworkers who I adore reaching out in kindness. A ‘like’ from my older brother.
Did you feel that sucker punch to the kidney? No? Well you don’t know my family dynamic. See I have two families. My two older brothers from my mom’s first marriage, and a younger brother from my Dad’s second marriage. Typically when I talk about family, I mean my Dad, my Mom (step-mom) and my younger Brother. These are the people who have been there for the highs and lows for a lot of years. Not my whole life, as you can imagine. If I hid my own illness from myself most of the time, what chance did they have to know? But similarly I hid from my older siblings as well. They weren’t involved in the day to day of my life, we talked maybe three or four times a year typically. They live in the same city, they have growing families and busy lives, but I have always been the black sheep.
Present moment: When I think back I realize I haven’t talked to either of my older brothers since Christmas, same timeline as my absence from work, same dates as my Facebook posting hiatus. Surprisingly not surprised, my values direct me to reach out when I see something like that. Just a quick “hey, saw your post, you good?” or maybe “hey sis! It’s been a while, how are you?” Nope, I get a like.
In complete contrast my younger brother, who is the person I am closest to in the entire world, reached out after work. He loved my post, and promptly texted at the end of his shift to say “Hey! How’s it going?” That’s it. Four simple everyday words. Because I didn’t write the post at a low-point I wasn’t seeking attention, I just had to get thoughts out of my head. It took about 5 minutes of texting back and forth before I realized that he was reaching out because of love and concern, not to just simply say hi.
We continued to chat about life back and forth, a normal conversation. I mentioned my new meds and he patiently listened, checked in, asked questions. The support in those few short texts was incredibly profound from this young man in his early 20’s. His emotional intelligence and capacity for compassion still amaze me some days I tell ya.
So what is the meaning of this little rant? The life lesson written between the lines? Simply this … you get to choose the people in your life, even if blood chose them first. My older brother is a wonderful man, and I love him dearly but we are two very different people who lived different lives in different times. He is not a bad person, the fact that he liked a random post about mental health on his sister’s Facebook page is enough. My values are not my brother’s, and that doesn’t make him any less equal to me, it just makes him different.
My younger brother’s response was loved and cherished, and appreciated. But his values are much more aligned with mine, and is the appropriate response for him. He didn’t do a better job, he did what was important to him for someone he cared about.
My brothers, my family, will always be the most important thing in my life. It is a core value of mine that will stick until I die. Hell or high water I will be there for my family if they need me. But with that I recognize sometimes I will know if they do, and sometimes I won’t. If you don’t communicate with someone for six months, you have no idea what is going on in their life, you don’t know if they need support. Reach out if you want to, build relationships as mutual adults moving forward in life. Or don’t.
Do what is best for you, cherish those who support you and lift you up. But don’t punish someone for what you think are their failures. Just accept that you can try to communicate what you need so they can act accordingly, or accept that even if they love you, they just might not be what you need.
Create your own family. I have no clue when this concept came about that you must be loyal to family before all else, including yourself, but it is toxic! Your family is whomever you chose it to be, no matter their age or relation. Family doesn’t need labels like mother, father, brother or sister. It is the people you want in your life, at your dinner table. The people there to celebrate the good when it comes, and who will stand by your side and hold your hand during the bad.
It is the people who encourage you to take on that hobby you’ve always wanted to try, and the people who will laugh their ass off with you when you fail. It is the people who out of respect and love will caution you before you make a decision they’re not comfortable with, but those same people will then support you whatever action you take.
Choose your tribe, and know that not everyone gets a seat at your table. That is okay. Boundaries are healthy and necessary for a happy, healthy life. And if you haven’t done so already, send that text to the family member you’ve been thinking about while reading this. Sometimes just a “Hey! How’s it going?” can change a person’s day.
EDIT: So after a wine fueled post to explain myself on Facebook it came. Remember that part where I said not to punish others for their failures? I meant it. Sometimes you just need the right bait. When I posted that this story came after a diagnosis, well there it was. “What’s going on girl? What diagnosis are you talking about?”
That older brother, the wonderful man that he is, well he reached out. I speculate for selfish reasons, but he reached out. Given my nature, when he went silent after I responded and that sexy little diagnosis bomb was dropped, I followed to see if he was okay. He requested answers, imperial data that he could review and analyze. Which only serves to showcase his values. He needs information to process, emotion does not lead him down the path, facts do. So I provided the facts, in realization that this was his way of being supportive. It may not be what I want or need, but it is him doing his best in his own way. Cherish that too. As I said before, you can’t punish people for their perceived failures, because when you stand back and look you see that they didn’t fail. They simply didn’t conform to your will.