Earlier this month I was in San Francisco helping my mom move. My sister was at the house, smoking up a storm and leaving her cigarette butts everywhere. At night she’d have loud, animated conversations with herself and left the house for hours at a time, but no one ever knew where she went. A police officer once told my mother she was a regular in the Tenderloin district, a high crime area in San Francisco and frequented by the city’s homeless population. One morning she returned with a pair of new baby shoes and clothes that she must’ve bought, or more likely stole, from a shop in the Mission. She handed them to me and told me to give them to our daughters. I thanked her and promised I would even though our girls are 15 years old. It never gets easier seeing her like this, but sometimes I just go with it because there’s not much else I can do.
One morning I went into the room she was staying to close the door. She was snoring softly and I watched her sleep from the doorway. I was tempted to lay next to her just like when we were younger, when we were 6 and 9 and built forts out of blankets and slept under them together. Or like the countless times in our teens and early twenties when we would fall asleep next to one another talking about nothing and everything the night before. I wanted to pretend for just five minutes that everything was okay, that she wasn’t sick, but instead I softly closed the door and let her sleep.
I’m a strong woman. And I can get over, and through, a lot of things. But not my sister. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get over her. I don’t know that I can. Believe me, I’ve tried. I moved 1700 miles away. I started over. I talk to her. I bargain with her. I plead with her to try. And every time she doesn’t, I hurt with her. I hurt for her. Because until the end of my days, wherever she is, and however well she is or isn’t doing, my sister will continue to mean the world to me. My love and loyalty are hers, always and unconditionally.
And that doesn’t mean I condone how she chooses to live, it only means that I love her despite it, despite what she does and has put our family through, and despite her mental illness. It means the ties that bind family are real and for as long as I am strong enough to, I will forgive her, for who she is and isn’t, and what she’s allowed herself to become. And that even now, after everything she’s done, even in my moments of frustration when I don’t think she deserves it, I still love my sister with everything I’ve got. I don’t doubt for one second that had the roles been reversed she wouldn’t have done and felt the same for me. I know she would. It’s what the best of sisters do.
My sister’s battle with mental illness has been a vicissitude of emotional, physical and financial highs and lows, and she hasn’t ridden the waves alone. My family has spent the better part of the last 14 years never knowing what to expect from her, never knowing if she’s safe, if we’re safe, if the most recent episode will be the last, or if it’s possible for them to just keep getting worse.
A minuscule glimpse of the lows of my sister’s mental illness includes: the time she took her three year old daughter from foster care placement and led the police on a televised five hour police chase along the west coast; the several times she was detained at a random airport thousands of miles from California because she was removing her clothes in one of their terminals; the half dozen times she sat cross legged at a busy crosswalk trying to direct traffic; or even the time she was found at 5am wearing shorts in 45 degree weather and digging in the neighborhood dumpsters. That’s just a minuscule glimpse. I’m saving you from the worst stories because those stories hurt too much to tell.
My sister’s episodes come in waves that last anywhere from weeks to months. Similar to many others whose lives are affected with mental illness, she doesn’t take her medication. In her case, she chooses not to. She’s in and out of mental health facilities and only takes her medication for as long as the involuntary psychiatric hold lasts.
As much and often as I wish I could find a legal loophole to force her to take her medication, and even when I think those meds might just be what saves her, I realize that whether she takes them or not or accepts treatment at all are supposed to remain her choices, not mine or my mother’s or the numerous doctors who’ve treated her over the years. No, as hard as it is for me and my family to accept, how my sister lives her life, for better or worse, is her choice and all we can do as her family is hope she finds the strength to eventually choose the life she deserves. Ultimately, managing her mental health has to start with her wanting to be better and then doing what it takes to make that happen. She’s either going to save herself or remain unsaved.
As I prepared for my mother’s move to Texas, and since my sister moving with her wasn’t an option unless she proved she could take her medicine regularly and consistently, we arranged for my sister to live in an assisted living facility in the Bay Area. The week we were supposed to check her in she vehemently refused to go and literally ran off. My mother and I flew back to Texas before we could find her. We eventually found out she was, and still is, rotating sleeping from one relative’s house to another some nights, with whomever is willing to help and tolerate her for the night, while other nights no one is quite sure where she sleeps. We have no idea where she spends her days. So it’s fair to say that my sister has consequently just joined the close to 6,500 homeless people living in San Francisco.
That it’s all come down to this breaks my heart. I would go to the ends of the earth for my sister – the ends of the earth. I would do more for her than most people would be willing to do for a sibling, for anyone. And I, and my mother, have done exactly that. Numerous family members and a handful of her friends have tried to help. Still it’s not enough. She has to want to save herself, but she doesn’t want to, or maybe she doesn’t have the mental capacity to decide that she does. I don’t know. I only want my sister to be happy, safe and healthy. I wish I could help her find that, but I don’t know how.
I have a lot of days when I pine for my sister, the sister I knew growing up, the girl I used to tell all my secrets to, the one person who never judged me because she understood me, the sister who was once the only person in this world I trusted and could rely on. I have yet to know anyone else I can trust and rely on more than I ever did her. She was always so bold, incredibly funny, loyal and just fierce. I see her boldness in her daughter everyday. She was my “ride or die,” the best one I’ve ever had. I miss my sister, I miss her more than you can imagine.
My dear friend and mentor, Denise, once told me, “I don’t have wise words or sound advice for next steps. I would only remind you that no one loves or will love your sister as much as you and your other family members. You guys are always her first and last hope. You may not understand her illness and it may distance you from her from time to time, but at the end of the day, somewhere at the essence of our humanity, down at the place where God’s creation is a work, she is yours and you are hers. I’m not sure what that this love is supposed to look like after repeated bad episodes and months of erratic behaviors, but surely it’s there and it will always be extended toward her and calling her home.”
In my moments of despair, I cling to the wisdom and hope behind those words. And when I lay my head down each night I pray. I pray that somewhere beneath the haze of my sister’s mental illness she can still feel the breadth of our family’s love. Between the bouts when the chemical imbalance in her brain undermines the logic in her mind, I pray she has moments of clarity, however brief, when she’s aware that she is not alone, that she is loved deeply and missed dearly. We have not given up on her. Her life matters, it is valuable and it matters. And God help, may she never stray so far that she can’t find her way back home. Until then, my family and I will be here, waiting, full of hope, so much hope, and always with arms wide open.
One in five Americans live with mental illness. Please help change the way the world sees mental health. Take the StigmaFree pledge. 1) Learn about mental health issues. 2) See the Person and not the illness. 3) Take action on mental health issues. Click here to learn more. And if you’re in Texas, click here. #OkaytoSay #EndtheStigma #LetsTalkAboutMentalHealth
**Folks, don’t forget I gain a large portion of my readers by word of mouth. If you like what you read, if I made you laugh, even cry, please do share my blog post. Forward it via email, Tweet it, Like it, Facebook post it, talk about it.** Much love, MS
One of the many disadvantages of divorce is that, like a deer in headlights, you find yourself thrust back into the dating pool – but now you’re near middle age, carrying a lifetime of baggage, your body bearing the battle scars of carrying three children, and worst of all, you have to navigate how to date in this current era of online date shopping. It’s all pretty darn overwhelming.
After 18 years of being with the same man you’ve dated since you were 19, it’s hard not to feel ill equipped for this new world of single ladyhood. Few friends can relate because everyone else your age is happily hitched. (Mind you, some days, that feels like added insult to injury.) So you have a lot of internal dialogue to walk yourself through how dating is supposed to work. (Much like the rest of my life.)
The first thing I learned was I needed to do a bit of an overhaul on my wardrobe. I was now in marketing-self mode and all my mommy khakis and baby doll tees were no longer sufficient for going out attire. The cute and sexy clothes section of my closet grew from a corner to near half. And I upped my shoe game exponentially. (DSW is very happy with me.)
Next lesson – how to sign up for these dating sites. The dos, don’ts, and better nots. Read more…
Once upon a time I was married to the love of my life, but then he left, and there went life as I knew it. Up until he left I had just spent an entire year carefully and methodically planning how I would maneuver through my life’s next big chapter – law school, which I’d known even then would require a fine balancing act juggling family, work, school and a commute that would make your head spin. I was excited, scared but excited, and ready. I’d already drawn up color coded schedules and posted them all over the house. I thought of everything. I had it all figured out, at least I thought I did.
What I didn’t plan for was my husband announcing he was leaving me the day before school started. I didn’t make a plan for that. Now in hindsight I probably should’ve seen that coming, but I really didn’t, not then. That week leading up to his actual exit and flight back to California, 1700 miles away from our family and the life we built together, my children and I watched him angrily pack as many things as he could as though he were trying to wipe our home clean of not only his presence, but his existence from our family for those last 18 years. It was horrible. And painful. Two decades of my life, hard work, and devotion were coming undone and for all the mastery I claimed in problem solving and running a solid family ship – my life had fallen from underneath me and there was nothing I could do. I was floored, and utterly broken. Read more…
I wouldn’t call my relationship with my father close, but we’ve worked on it more in these latter years. He saw my recent posts on Facebook indicating I was in town and asked me on a lunch date today before I head back to Austin. Nothing fancy, a simple lunch, but lovely just the same. He’s never asked me on a date before, but said, “..every once in a green moon, we shall have each other for a date..” which lent inference to me that we would be having more dates. At the end of our date and before he dropped me off at the airport he told me some things contrary to the man I’ve known him to be in the past – hard to please, not very affectionate, and rough around the edges.
The exact content of what he said is private and just for me and him, but all you need to know is he revealed his sensitive side, he expressed a deep pride for me I didn’t know exist until then, and he acknowledged me in a way I don’t remember he’s done before, ever. It was all quite sweet and made me think, “It’s never too late to try to do better.” (And quite frankly that sentiment applies to all aspects of life, not just in the repair of relationships.)
So this all got me to thinking… Read more…
My youngest dog, Dexter Jax, is a Pit Bull Labrador mix, at least according to the rescue I got him from last September. Poor guy was a stray bearing physical marks of abuse and it was evident people frightened him. My other dogs always favored my kids or my ex, but if you met Dexter you’d know within minutes that he’s my dog and I’m his human.
Dexter is very special to me. I don’t know if it’s due to the sad circumstances he came to me under or if it has more to do with the time frame in my life he arrived – two years after a divorce that knocked the wind out of me and neck deep in trying to reinvent myself whilst trying to figure out what that was even supposed to look like. Honestly, it doesn’t matter, I’m just happy he’s here.
It’s a funny thing the lessons he’s taught me since he arrived, some of which I knew at some point in my life but carelessly let myself forget or just stopped believing. Here are a few of those lessons.
Every semester for the last two years I’ve printed the 1L xxxx School of Law course schedule and kept it tucked inside a notebook hidden in my purse. I’ve been carrying it around as if the schedule were my own, praying that one day it would be.
In a life which I’ve devoted the better part of to raising a family, my hopes to pursue a law degree has been a secret desire buried twenty years beneath the daily conundrum of kids’ science projects, football practices, mortgage payments, the ups and downs of my husband’s business, and my own nine to five job. When you spend that much time folding laundry and refereeing sibling rivalry attempting law school seems more like a pipe dream and less than a reality. Perhaps even more restrictive of this law school fantasy of mine was that bachelor’s degree I lacked but required if my aspirations were to become anything more than an unsettled yearning in my chest. Read more…
I contemplated long and hard about writing this post. I wasn’t sure if I should be embarrassed…or proud.
I think people tend to be their own worst critics. Course, I don’t believe that about everyone. Browsing through my husband’s Facebook newsfeed, you might actually think otherwise. There’s definitely a good amount of tooting-your-own-horn going on over there. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a Facebook account. Heck if anyone wants to read snarky comments about my life every ten minutes on his or her feed. A few hours of that and I imagine people would start blocking me.
Truthfully, I always feel uncomfortable accepting compliments or praise and it’s a rare occasion I’m not kicking myself for something I wish I did better. It’s a little tiring really, flogging myself all the time. Read more…