Another perspective on mental illness treatment, recovery, and support; this is from my third child, the middle kid, the youngest girl. Here’s her take on how she loves her sister:
In 2010, Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 and was hospitalized for the first time. My father snuck me into visiting hours (technically you’re supposed to be over 18 to visit patients in the behavior health unit) and I saw my oldest sister, my hero, drugged beyond recognition. They were pumping Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” through the hospital loudspeakers and Sarah demanded I dance with her. I remember a very nervous, half hearted performance that ended with Sarah crumpled on the floor in her hospital issued socks, crying. I left shortly after that, scared and confused. Wasn’t the hospital where people went to be fixed? Would we ever get the “old Sarah” back?
Ten years later, Sarah was back in the hospital – though this time she admitted herself. You can read a little more about the whys and hows, as well as an inspiring call for transparency and conversation surrounding mental illness, in the original post written by my mother.
I went to visit Sarah this time and no sneaking was necessary. I mean that both literally – we are all adults now – and figuratively. Sarah does not hide her whole self, which includes nontypical brain chemistry, and we are not ashamed of her or the genetic hand she was dealt. On my last visit, just a few hours before my 6AM flight back to California, I talked with Sarah about kissing boys, meds, her dog, our futures. Typical things young adults talk about. Then the hospital started playing dance music. Saint Mary’s must be a fan of female empowerment anthems because Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” was blasting through the sound system and Sarah and I had a four-minute dance party in the hallway of the psych ward. The same place where ten years earlier I had shaken with fear, this time I was shaking with laughter and twirling with my big sister, my hero.
Maybe Sarah knew back then, as a teenager diagnosed with a misunderstood chronic disease, a simple truth (even if it was just a desire that she could not fully execute) that I would eventually come to learn:
No more sneaking. It’s time to dance.
Update: She’s home. Reentry is sometimes challenging; there are always consequences, and it takes time to get back to center. I try to ask, “What do you need? How can we help right now?” and the answer has been, “Maybe come hang out…” So last night I hung out, made a big pot of chicken and rice, washed dishes. Tonight her brother is hanging out. Every day, one more step. Healing is a process and a journey we travel together.