The Shuffle: This isn’t a test run
Written by: Anonymous X
This is Anonymous X’s first hand experience, detailing her journey with her brother’s mental illness.
Rule number one: we are not in control of anything. Remember that this is how you survive The Shuffle.
Rule number two: forget everything you think you’ve learned about interacting with others. The game changes once you’re living The Shuffle.
Rule number three: buy a good pair of shoes. A pair that lets you run if you have to, but are easy to get off when they start to squeeze too tight. At some point, you’re going to have to see if your toes still wiggle.
We keep going back to square one. So here we are again.
Square one typically begins with a text or a call from my mother, saying that my brother was taken to the hospital, again, to be treated for what appears to be another psychotic episode. My brother, we’ll call him A, is sixteen months older than I am. I knew him as my older brother growing up. We were inseparable as children and best friends all throughout high school. Until the brother to me and son to my parents, died one day, and was resurrected as a complete stranger.
Yes. That’s right. I said died.
Because that’s exactly how it feels when you slowly lose someone to a mental illness.
It feels like death knocking on your front door, banging on all the windows, creeping through the cracks where sunlight should be let in.
So we draw the curtains.
We are constantly grieving, yet somehow caught up in some sort of quest to shock him back to life.
And that quest to somehow bring him back to himself while still trying to maintain our own healthy and productive lives…
Is exhausting in every sense of the word.
The “constant evaluation of their daily habits and behaviors”,
the “I wish he knew how much we want to help him become successful and independent” rants,
the “is it selfish for me to want my life back?” guilty thoughts,
And of course…
the “if we leave him alone will he think about trying to hurt himself again?” haunting but necessary question.
After my routine initial phone call with my mother regarding my brother’s current state, I typically check my work schedule and class syllabus to see when time will allow for me to pack a few essentials before jumping in my truck to drive south. Sometimes it seems so urgent I drop everything and head back to my hometown.
The drive takes several hours and in that time I do my usual mental documentation of my last few interactions with my brother over a duration of time and compare and contrast his behaviors. I make note of both his gross and motor skills and changes in this area, his verbal and non-verbal communication skills, his socialization, sleeping and eating habits, compulsions, paranoias, changes in interests, etc. I then compare that his behavior before his onset of illness and remind myself that this is not who he is.
This is not who he is. This is what his illness has made of him.
It has taken over his kindness,
his ability to empathize,
his God-fearing heart, and his inability to
hold meaningful conversations,
hold his own hands, and
hold up himself.
But not the drive to move his feet nor
his thirst for independence.
Or the laughter in his soul.
It has taken a lot.
from all of us, but especially him.
But not everything.
At least not yet.
As my drive[s] continue[s] I shift my eyes and mind to autopilot and stare down the two-lane highway. It’s usually too dark to see anything except the headlights of my truck in front of me and the nothingness that exists throughout the Midwest. Sometimes I get lucky enough to see stars. They’re the best in late summer and early fall. And when the weather permits, I open my windows and sunroof to feel the gusts of air beating on my face in hope that my mind clears itself, in the same way that your body can be swept away in a wind tunnel, to become weightless and refreshed, lost– and then found.
Sooner or later I end up pulling into the driveway of my mother’s house in the middle of suburbia. I say a quick prayer as I walk up the front steps with my backpack and cross-body, jiggle the lock with my old key, and make my way into the house I used to live in, unready but having to deal with whatever happened and what is still yet to come. There’s no practice for it. And this is not a test run either.
This is the shuffle.