Sunday, August 24, 2014

Family History

When I was 15 weeks pregnant, I walked out of my OB's office sobbing. We had just found out that the baby I was carrying, was a boy. I was ashamed to tell anyone about my reaction. He was healthy, so what did I have to be upset about, people would say. 

They didn't know shit.

For me, the news that I was having a son and not a tiara wearing princess, wasn't about gender preference, it was about genetics. And fear.

I grew up with an older half sister, and a younger brother. My sister was a few years older than me, and had a few physical problems, but nothing that made life too difficult. I remember her having to wear a back brace to bed at night for a while, but to me, she was no different than anyone else. I looked up to her, and until my mid-teens, aspired to be just like her. She was normal; popular among her group of friends, smart, and beautiful.

My younger brother, on the other hand, was about as far from normal as a kid could get. He was only 16 months younger than me, so everyone expected us to be great friends. We were anything but.

One of my earliest memories is of my brother's first psychotic break. We had both gone to school that day as usual, but on the bus ride home, he was absent. I thought nothing of it until I got home and found our mom in tears.

She confessed that he had had an episode while at school, and was away to get help because he was sick. My brother was gone for three days. I later learned that he had been placed in a children's psychiatric hospital, beds complete with restraints, after running away from school with a knife, after threatening to kill the principal and her family.

He was barely nine.

For years, I watched my mom struggle to control my brother. His outbursts became full on rages. The "people" in his head apparently grew louder and pushed him to do unspeakable things. Not too long after his first hospitalization, did he attempt to drown me in the neighborhood's public pool. On more than one occasion I watched as he tried to hurt our mom, or attempt to take his own life.

Our house was filled with drawings that didn't make sense; arrows pointing to corners, circles overlapping circles. They stayed taped to the same spots so long, when we finally moved the walls were whiter underneath.

My brother is 20 now, having just celebrated his birthday not too long ago. I haven't seen or spoken to any member of my family now, for almost a year, for unrelated reasons. At my last count, my brother had been committed somewhere around seven times, the last three falling closer together than the rest.

I never knew my brother's official diagnosis. Our mom never cared to share it with us, and I never thought to ask. I knew he scared me (and still scares me), and that was all that mattered at the time. The more I think about what he was like growing up, the more obvious it is what kind of condition he has.

My mother used to tell me that I'd make a great mom. I'd been the rock for our family, helping to raise my brother when her disabilities got in the way. I'd understood and withstood my brother's assaults, and still stood up for him to the bullies. I could handle him. If I ever had a child like him, I'd be prepared. I would know how to fight for him, how to care for him, how to stay strong.

As with many other things, my mom was wrong. Having a child like my brother was my biggest fear.

My own son, is as different from my brother as they are alike. I lived in fear of the unknown until he was born. His early arrival overshadowed every concern I had once had. He grew and as we left the confusing world of prematurity behind, I let my guard down.

Until his regression.

When Caiden lost his words at 18 months and started getting violent, my first thought was autism. My brother's illnesses were the last things on my mind.

Eight months later, we have few answers and dozens more questions. I find myself wondering if there's more going on in his head than we realize. Could his smaller brain size be affecting the delicate balance of his chemical levels? What if his extreme behaviours aren't from autism, but bi-polar disorder, or worse, something akin to my brother?

Over the last week, we've seen a behavioural regression. When we started therapy, his meltdowns all but disappeared. Now they're back with a vengeance and I find my heart aching for normalcy.

I watched my brother punch himself in the head and put holes in walls for years, and barely batted an eyelash as I attempted to restrain him, oftentimes getting injured in the process. With Caiden its different. Each time he falls into a meltdown, it feels like I'm drowning. There is something so fundamentally wrong about watching your child writhe on the floor, screaming to the point of choking, and being completely unable to so much as touch him.

Sure, I know how to fight for him. I know how to pester doctors into giving me the appointments and the tests I want. I don't always know how to handle a toddler who instills a fear I have never known before.

I fear he will hurt me one day. Even at just two years old, he's strong enough to now.

I fear he will follow the same path my poor brother did, and that his youth will be stained by hospitalizations.

I fear he will never get all the help he needs.

I fear we will never know what makes him so different.

I fear one day he'll regress so far that we'll lose him completely.

I don't always know how to stay strong for him. Sometimes his meltdowns include equal amounts of crying from the both of us.

What I do know, is how to love him. I love him like no mother has ever loved her child before. I have lived a hell other parents don't dare imagine. Each day, he breaks my heart, and each day, it is only he who can put it back together.

Sometimes, on the rougher days, you have to dig a little deeper to find your courage, to grasp your shield and face the lion again. I am not special for facing another day, another battle. I do it simply because I must, and to fail to do so, is to fail the one person who needs me the most.

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