Monday, February 29, 2016

The Loss of Our Brother...

Mental illness is a horrible, horrible burden for any family to bear.  I wish there was more discussion about mental illness rather than gun control, birth control, or any other political topic du jour, but there is still such a stigma attached to it, everyone is afraid to touch it, talk about it, or do anything about it.

I am the oldest of three children; however, my middle brother and I  "lost" our youngest brother a few years ago.  He is not dead, but he is definitely lost.

When he was our baby brother, many, many years ago, he was cute, funny, adorable, and so very lovable.  Middle brother and I both protected baby brother and loved him. According to my mother, when BB was a toddler, I would translate his baby talk for him. "He said he wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich". I also have many memories of MB and BB running around our house in Norfolk, towels tied around their necks, fashioned into Superman capes or playing with their giant yellow Tonka trucks.

Of course, looking back on those days, there were signs that things were not right with BB.  He used to bang his head on the sidewalk or flail about on the ground and everyone dismissed it as temper tantrums. He was also what people called "Hyper Active", which in today's world he would have been diagnosed as ADHD.  My parents changed his diet, using the Feingold Diet principles of using only natural food without additives and eliminating other foods, such as those containing salicylates (apples, tomatoes, plums, berries, etc).  The diet change seemed to help BB's tantrums.

Everything seemed normal, until his late teenage years when he began walking into walls - literally.  After numerous appointments with military doctors who always wrote off BB's headaches as sinus or allergy problems, my parents finally found a civilian doctor who ran a multitude of tests on BB, including CAT scans and MRI's, and was able to provide them with answers.  BB was diagnosed with a medical condition called Hydrocephalus.  In simple, layman terms, Hydrocephalus is caused when too much fluid accumulates in the brain and cannot drain on its own, causing pressure on the brain and the head to become enlarged.  Typically, this disease is found in infants or older adults.  My brother was a teenager when he was finally diagnosed with it. Surgery was scheduled and a shunt was installed, which relieved the pressure and allowed the fluid to drain into his stomach.

I believe the first time BB's shunt failed was within just a couple of months from when it was first implanted in his brain.  In fact, within those first couple of years, the shunt failed several times leaving him in a comatose state a couple of times, and clinically dead on the table once.  I believe the MedStar unit got to know his name pretty quickly. With each surgery, each coma, each swelling of his brain, his personality began to change.  It may be purely coincidental.  He may have developed  BiPolar Disorder and it was masked by the complications of the surgeries, or he may have developed the disorder as a result of the complications of the surgeries; I believe that is something we will never know.

Eight years ago, BB got married and he and his wife had a beautiful baby girl a few months later.  Our entire family was ecstatic for him.  With all of his medical problems, we had been worried about his future.  Unfortunately, our elation for him faded as he and his wife made poor decision after poor decision and ultimately began using drugs, often in front of their children.

Two years ago, when I was visiting my mother as she recovered from a mastectomy, I saw first-hand just how out-of-control BB and his wife were.  There were times when I would look out the window and see BB's wife walking up and down the driveway, throwing her arms in the air yelling at her unseen demons.  Strangers were often at the house, more than likely with drugs. BB and his wife were hoarders of the worst kind.  There was dog, cat, and mouse excrement in all of the rooms, on the furniture, in the children's beds, and on their clothes.  There were bags of trash strewn throughout the house.  The kitchen was full of open cans of food, dishes used as ashtrays, prescription pill bottles within reach of the children, fly strips full of flies.  Basically, not a good place for the children - or
anyone for that matter.

It was during that trip to my parents when I decided to approach BB and SIL, asking if we could take care of the girls while they straightened themselves out. MB came with me, and I'm glad he did because when BB looked at me, I could feel the hate toward me radiating from his body.  That was the first time I was ever terrified to be around BB.  Surprisingly, BB and SIL agreed and promised they would go to rehab.  While the girls lived with us, they told us about "Mommy and daddy using dollars to put medicine in their nose".

Not surprisingly, the promise was short-lived and the battle for custody over their daughters ensued, albeit a very brief battle that we lost.

They left a dead ferret in the house, and left the live one to fend for itself.
BB and SIL packed up, left a dead ferret and one live ferret in the house, took the girls, and fled to Florida.  While in Florida, they were evicted from two different apartment complexes and picked up additional police charges (there is still an open warrant for BB there).  After they had no other options in Florida, they fled to Louisiana to live with SIL's mother.  Last fall, SIL was arrested and jailed for Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Theft, and Monetary Instrument Abuse and BB was charged with Contempt of Court with no bond (not sure what he did).  SIL was released on February 12th, and BB was released on February 16th.  Again, thank you to the states that allow this to be easily accessible public information!!

This afternoon, BB called me for the first time since we tried to take custody of his daughters in 2013.  I did not recognize the number, so I answered the phone when it rang.  I had to say "Hello?" into the phone a couple of times before I finally heard a man loudly sobbing. I knew who it was, and my entire body tensed up. When BB finally collected himself enough to start talking, it was unintelligible at first, and then he managed to form actual words.

The conversation was very one-sided.  BB was talking in a very manic manner, getting lost in his own stories, repeating stories but changing them slightly, and lying (always lying).  I listened.  It was difficult.  It was more than difficult; it was heartbreaking.  My heart hurt.  I had a lump in my throat, but I kept the tears in check.  I tried to gently remind him about what he said to our mother three years ago - "I hope that cancer kills you".  He immediately started ranting about how much she hated him.  Then he tried to say that none of us helped him, and I reminded him that we tried.  We tried to help by giving the girls a safe place to live while they cleaned up and got off the drugs.  More ranting.

He finally realized that I wasn't going to offer him money or a place to live, so he hung up.  The pain associated with hearing him sobbing on the phone, coupled with the knowledge that most everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie, was unbearable. Not being able to tell BB that I loved him was also heartbreaking.  Big tears fell, friends.  Big tears and shoulder-heaving sobs. I was texting MB while listening to BB, which helped me handle the phone call.  I called MB later that night and still had tears in my eyes as we discussed the entire situation.  Thank God MB and I have each other to talk to about this.

There is no help for those who refuse to help themselves.  You cannot convince me otherwise. We tried to save them and could not.  The health and judicial systems in place have ensured that people like my brother and sister-in-law have more rights than the people who try to help them.  In fact, they have more rights than their own children who have to live in the craziness of their parent's drug addiction and mental health problems day-in and day-out.

At this point, I'm sure our poor father will continue to hear from BB and SIL (and her mother) whenever they need money. I hate the stress it is putting on him.  All we can do is pray that our nieces are safe and protected from the insanity they are living in.