I love my therapist. Have I ever mentioned that?
I’ve been through quite a few different therapists in the last 40 years. I was about 16 the first time I met with one, and as I’ve progressed through the various stages of my life and illness I’ve been through more than I can remember. To be honest, most of them weren’t any good; not for me anyway. I think one of the reasons I’ve had such a difficult time with therapy is because of all the study I’ve put into both mental illness and treatments, especially after I got a little older. It can be difficult to buy into a treatment when you know the underlying theory and techniques. That’s not to say I haven’t ever had a good therapist because I have. And my needs have changed dramatically as I’ve gone through the various stages. But if one more asks me ‘How does that make you feel” I’m going to scream.
But my therapist isn’t like that.
The treatment I’m in now is really more like self-help. I relate past events and circumstances through general conversations, always of my own choosing. And she listens. Most of the time, just going through the conversation a light bulb will go off, and I learn something new about myself. There are times too where with just one simple sentence she turns that switch and I get that flash of realization.
Last night for example.
Lately I’ve been talking about family in my sessions. There’s no doubt that most of my immediate family had some major issues, sometimes catastrophic ones. (My sister being the only exception I think.) And last night was my brothers turn.
He was significantly older; 17 years in fact. And I had no clue that he even existed until I was about 4 years old, and I woke up one morning with a strange 21 year old man I had never seen before sleeping on a cot in my bedroom. I don’t recall any conversation about him, and there was no warning that he was going to be staying with us. Just all of a sudden, I had a brother. Wow. I had no idea why he was staying with us, but boy did I find out later. I do remember when he got married (the first time) when I was about 5 years old. Mostly just ‘snapshot images’ of specific moments, but I do remember. It wasn’t long though before the troubles started. I never really saw my brother unless he was in trouble. In the beginning I didn’t really understand what the troubles were, but I clearly recall the tension. My father in particular would get very upset whenever he came around needing help. For example, He and his wife were about to be evicted from their apartment and came to my parents for the money to catch up their rent. My parents were not wealthy by any means, but they always seemed to manage to find enough to bail him out. And that includes literally bailing him out; he was arrested more than once in my childhood. When I was about 14 he was sent to prison that was located about 2 hours from our house. It was on the way to where we went camping, and we’d stop by to visit on our way home. What an uncomfortable feeling for someone my age. Especially since I really didn’t even know him as a brother; it was all kind of abstract. Eventually he divorced his first wife, and then it seemed that every six months to a year he would show up at our house; destitute broke and in some kind of trouble. And most of the time it was a repeat of our first meeting. I would wake up and there he’d be; camped out on a cot in my bedroom. One time as a teenager I remember spending a couple of weeks sleeping in the living room on the cot so he could have my bedroom to himself.
But it turns out he was my half brother. Another surprise!
No, I wasn’t specifically told about the relationship. I found out when I first went to a General Practitioner when I aged out of my Pediatrician. (Unlike today when you stay with your Pediatrician until your 20’s, back then you move to a regular family Doctor as soon as you hit puberty). My mom was filling out the paperwork and I just happened to notice she wrote down ‘Half Brother” listing my siblings. What????? I didn’t ask her about it until the next day, and she told me that she had been married before and that he had a different father. My dad had adopted him before I was born, so he had the same last name and I hadn’t a clue. In her typical fashion she didn’t give me details, but started leaving a few photographs around of her and her first husband for me to find.
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
And we all got older, but the troubles continued. He went through countless wives and divorces, came home to recover (or hide) from the latest issue, and seemed to be getting worse and worse as time went by. He ended up getting married one last time, and this one ‘stuck’. They ended up together until the very end. But even this ‘stable’ relationship didn’t stop the problems; it just added another person to it. Finally, in his 50’s my Mom put her foot down and said enough. He and his wife had been living with my now elderly parents for several months, with no effort at all to find work and move out. She gave him an ultimatum, and kicked the both of them out, even knowing that would put them living on the streets. And, that’s exactly where they ended up.
That whole saga is a story within itself.
Ultimately, mom ended up taking care of him again. She gave him money when he was broke, paid off debts that he wasn’t able to pay, and made sure he always had a place to live. It only stopped with her death. He only lived another six months after that, and his wife followed him six months later.
And so ended the codependency that carried him throughout his entire life.
There’s no doubt that my brother was seriously mentally ill. Another time perhaps it would be helpful to chronicle that whole aspect, but it’s really a whole story in itself.
The story here is how I had a sibling who drifted in and out of my life, always needing help; and getting it. There’s obviously a lot of resentment on my part, and in a way it was a relief when he died. At least my sister and I weren’t going to have to be the ones to take care of him.
And my therapist listened. Every once in a while she’d comment with a ‘how horrible’ or a ‘that’s not good’, just enough to show she was listening and engaged in the conversation. Until I finished the story. She thought about it a moment, then she said…
“It sounds like your brother never had a problem getting attention from your parents that you said you never had.”
Flash! There goes the light bulb.
I’m not suggesting that I’m not bipolar, or that I ‘developed’ it just to get attention. The illness doesn’t work that way; it’s something you’re born with. But I will acknowledge that competition for attention could have certainly influenced the severity. I also know that my mental illness includes many more features than just being bipolar. I learned from a very early age however that crisis’s were an effective way to get attention. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work for me, for some reason he was the only one who did. But I’m sure that subconsciously that lesson had a great effect on my behavior.
I am in NO way trying to blame all my mental problems on my brother. Everybody is exposed to outside influences of various degrees. There are plenty of people who were exposed to an environment much more severe than what I experienced that grew into happy, healthy adults. Regardless of the influence, the ownership of my illness is mine, and mine alone.
But understanding leads to awareness; and awareness leads to healing.
My therapy has been a long, hard journey. The whole point of this guidance and self analysis is to learn, recognize and ultimately feel to move towards a healthy life. And I’m in no way finished. I suspect that I’ll end up missing my last appointment by dying first. Combined with proper medications however it’s has been a major part of my recovery; maybe even the most critical part. Medications control the physical causes, but therapy addresses the behaviors. But God knows it’s a difficult road. In many ways it’s worse than going through the original experience. This time you have the cognizance and full capability to know just how bad it was.
But you know what? I do love my Therapist.
It’s the therapy I hate.
The therapy that has saved my life.