My visit home to see my mom was way over due and thus compulsory. Christmas was going to be very different this year. My 86 year old father who had struggled with his health, (addiction, dementia, hydro-encephalitis, parkinson’s) had passed away on Dec.19. As I drove across the flat, dreary, prairie landscape, I slowly came to terms that he had already enjoyed his last Christmas.
I was actually looking forward to doing my duty as the only son. It is much easier for me to take on a task, to go into emergency/crisis mode and deal with the practicalities of the situation. Emotions can be put on hold, and I dont have be as present to the inherant negativities of my family of origin. Because of this and other reasons I don’t often look forward to coming to my hometown. When I moved away 7 years ago it was much overdue and I wished to just move on and leave that part of myself behind. Although I have a lot of good memories of my life in the old hometown, they generally are not positive thoughts about family.
KJ, my little sister has struggled with her mental health in one form or another for most of her life. She was born a slow learner and didnt walk and talk until she was 4 or 5 years old. She did graduate high school in a special ed program. By the time her twenties came to an end, she was diagnosed with OCD, clinical depression, anxiety, binge eating and delusional disorder. She was not able to work, and volunteering even became untenable. She was very overweight and it was effecting her physical abilities. KJ has always been in close relationship with her mental health workers.
She had initially decided to spend Christmas away from family, specifically, my mother. Their relationship fluctuates from highly co-dependent to counter dependence and love avoidance. When she heard I was coming from my home to try to assist with the arrangements arising from the loss of my father she decided to make the effort to visit with me. She came out a couple days before I arrived on Boxing Day.
The first couple of mornings, it became obvious that she was struggling. KJ was having anxiety episodes each morning, which I have learned from my experience with depression can be the worst time. In the morning, the mind can run a little too free, rambling undisciplined in the twilight. I could see instead from her mood that it was difficult for her to move into the light of the emerging day. Instead her broken spirit, her mind, the disease was dragging her back into the dark presence of the night. The very early morning hours, when it is unsure of whether it is day or it is night, and which way to move, when working ones way into full, wakeful, awareness; one’s fragile existence can be dependent on good thoughts, light, words of hope, and the host of chemicals and processes that swirl around in our physical brains and bodies.
We had planned on taking KJ back to her home after a couple days together with my mom and myself. She was already sobbing as we packed up the car. She has a lot of anxiety to do with many things. The last couple of mornings it was to do with her residence. The noisy dog, the noisy room mates, the chaos that worked its way into her brain and would not leave. She could no longer choose to think her own thoughts and the outside dark thoughts would not let her rest.
After a few minutes on the road it became obvious that this was not going to get any better. She was increasingly depressed and her words reflected that. She could not stop the negative thoughts and her anxiety was overwhelming her emotions. She was swearing, (which is very unusual for her) and cursing her life. KJ called out for someone to help her. “Why can no one fix her”, “I just want someone to help me” “I hate my life”. My mother in the back seat sat stoically, as we Raymas’ often do in crises. Trying to remain composed and dignified. Not showing our hearts because that is too risky. If we let the beast out of the cage we might just lose all control.
We were almost halfway to our destination and KJ began to talk about jumping out of the car. Through her tears, and anxiety she said “I just want to jump out in front of this car” and end it all. Stop the pain.
I knew from my recent experiences managing a homeless shelter that those in mental health crises that begin to threaten self harm, not to procrastinate. Its not worth wasting the time to overthink whether to make the call for help or not to make the call. It’s unlikely that the behaviour is going to end anytime soon. Our families recent loss of our father, Christmas stresses, KJ’s relationship with our mom, and just random mental health vagaries that occur, are enough to prompt action.
I called the Mental Health Crisis Center in Brandon. It was the holidays and so we were sent to the Emergency Room so she could be assessed by the on call Mobile Crisis Unit workers. We were lucky it was a surprisingly quiet day in the ER and were seen quickly. As soon as KJ heard the she was possibly going to the crisis unit for a few days she relaxed somewhat. She has experience in this place it provides a place of safety and compassion where all the ramblings, worries and darkness have a chance to subside. Not a healing, but a sabbatical.
After decades of wrestling with her mental health, a cure is not in our hopechest. We are happy to be able to manage her disease. In essence it is harm reduction protocols that her helpers, doctors and family can assist the most with. But…
Is there not still a place for a cure, a miracle, some hope???
We drive her to the Crisis Center in quiet. KJ is quiet and much more peaceful than an hour and a half ago. The home is in an old part of town, a classic century home. A creeky, warm, peaceful place with friendly caregivers that know Kelly and that know mental health crises. We are relieved to leave her there as she seems comforted.
As my mom and me drive away, I feel the weight of the crisis lift. The heaviness of watching and listening to my sister in pain is straining. But the mood is lighter and as we run some errands and visit my moms friends it is obvious that my mom has some peace as well. I have second thoughts that we are being selfish. That I should have been able to help KJ, to stay and suffer alongside her, or to be able to make it right.
But, for the moment, I feel so light. There is much still to be immersed in. My personal grief over losing my father. My mother’s grief and radically changed life to being a widow at 84 years old. My older sister’s mental health struggles and broken family relationships resulting from her anger. Working through my father’s estate and death arrangements that must be taken care of with my mom and sister’s.
The list goes on…
I must take care of myself. The chaos can bring the darkness to life for me.
“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos”; Stephen Sondheim
I don’t want anyone to suffer. But, that is not for this reality. I am grateful for all opportunities to grow, transform, and to discover. I seek the light for myself, but also to be able to walk in light and hope with those around me.