Advice, Family, Mental Health, Travel

The Noonday Demon: Dear sister

Dear sister,

The scariest day of my life was neither earthquake nor pregnancy. It was when I received a message from your best friend on facebook.

On May 26, you showed up to work. You stopped talking. 911. The ambulance rushed you to New York Presbyterian. From Boston to Brooklyn, our parents drove through pitch black. You were sedated most of the month. When you were lucid, you did yoga. You sketched. Faces juxtaposed upon faces.

Dad sent me an email about praying. I had no idea he believed in god. You refused to take medication. Every second we waited, you were getting worse.

We had to go to court. The judge ruled that you had to take medication. When you got out of the hospital, your first request was a large cheese pizza. Hope.

Fear

At the airport, your hands trembled. At the restaurant, you walked out. Mom ran after you. Earlier that week, you had opened the passenger door while she was still driving.

On June 12, parallel to the Orlando shootings, I had a nightmare. We were on a plane. Sordid yellow, oxygen masks dangled. I screamed for you to wake up. But you didn’t. I awoke to a silver lining. That day, you put on a coral blue dress and pearls for some fine dining at Not Your Average Joe’s. Glow.

Come midnight, you stopped feeling good. You were shaking so hard you couldn’t put your sneakers on. ER.

The meds were too strong, but you had to keep taking them. I’m so glad you came home the next day. I’m so sorry it hurts.

Frustration

The hospital bills were astronomical, even with insurance. There was a minimum 8 week waitlist to see a doc near home. What happens to those who cannot afford to wait?

On sleepless nights, you came to my door, wiggling the handle, asking over and over: “Can I come in? What are you doing?” I had to lock it. You’d walk over to our brother’s room and do the same thing. Whether I was teaching, laughing, talking, you’d tell me to stop. I never knew if something I said would trigger you. I took phone calls outside.

It was extremely frustrating when you said and did inappropriate things. I worked out every day to keep calm. When I didn’t react, you’d turn to mom. You could always get a reaction out of her. It scared me to see you feed off that.

When you weren’t sleeping, you were eating. I know what it’s like to feel powerless over food. Eating when you’re bored. Eating when you’re anxious. Before Ecuador, I tried to force myself to throw up. I’m lucky I stopped. For so many, it’s a life long struggle.

Change

While the rest of the family tries to change your behavior, I know it won’t make a difference.  You cannot force someone to heal. Mom worries. Dad lectures. Alex tells you to get off your ass. I want to tell them to leave you alone: “Can’t you see she’s depressed?”

But I don’t. I am also recovering from my codependency. I cannot control, fix, save others. I can only offer my unconditional love and support.

What can I do?

I use every tool I learned in therapy. I accept others as they are and build a fortress of solitude around my heart. When it’s too much, I make my muscles scream so I don’t have to.

During my cool downs, I think of our New York moments: your sharp, dry humor that makes me eyes rain. Tuesdays with Sherry.

What Would Nandy Drew Do?

I rummage through your room. Your shelves are stacked with LSATs when you were so determined to become a lawyer. “Drawn Out” shows hellish sketches by a man who lost his dad at a young age. He drowned himself in sex, drugs, rock n roll. When he finally sought a psychiatrist, he discovered he’d been reenacting a “living death”. 40 years old. Illumination. I know you’ll find your lightbulb.

Still, the million dollar question remains: What happened?

There’s no easy answer. Here is my educated guess. Only you, mei mei, can discover the rest.

You were 16 when you stopped talking to dad for a month. 6 years later, you stopped talking at work. Since graduation, you’ve felt pressure to figure out your life. Worked multiple jobs. Said yes when you felt no. Your law office boss made you her personal assistant and punching bag. “She says one thing, but means another.” A sense of inadequacy amplified. Great bosses are rare. Horrible bosses abound. Not only is their behavior is accepted, but promoted. We know the world does not operate on fairness: see season finale Game Of Thrones. Sometimes it’s good to be a quitter.

In the media, whenever something terrible happens, family and friends are shocked, “we didn’t see this coming.” Kill my cynicism. You don’t know til it happens to you. Any questions about whether this is an illness have been erased. It is a cancer of the mind. It is every bit as deadly. “Do you have any family history of this?” the doctor asked. Our parents were confounded. We don’t know what it looks like because it hides in plain sight. Remember when Nai Nai would talk to herself for hours? Her moods fluctuated at lightning speed. When I lost track of time playing outside, she hurt me worse than dad. If there happened to be a romantic scene on TV, she’d turn it off. “Do not trust men,” she’d rage-rant.

I was 12 at the time. Grams is 82 now. She didn’t get a second chance. You do. I’ll be here.

Hope

On June 29, I dreamed of Mary Lynne for the first time in years. Dressed in white, we stood in the kitchen. “Sherry will be OK,” she held my hand. I got my visa to Korea the next morning.

She’s right. I’ve seen you get better. You show interest in life. You hang out with your friends. You got a job at the deli. You go to the gym.

We laugh now. We talk about boys. L said he prefers me paler so I wrote a mini-novel back, loosely titled, “Best love me no matter what color F@$%^&!” You offered sage like wisdom: “tell him you’d prefer him…bigger.” Turns out I misread his message. Glad I didn’t hit send. PMS is real. (L’s still the greatest)

We whatsapp while I’m on Seoul’s, clean-as-a-dream subway. Free wifi, shopping, food stalls, and public bathrooms. All underground. Welcome to the future.

You told me your greatest strength is courage. You told me your greatest weakness is fear.  I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.

I love you. I’m proud of you. You are fighting the hardest fight of your life.

A fine line separates a fighter and a warrior. One is motivated by reason, the other by purpose. One fights to live, the other lives to fight.

You’re both.

writinginsoysauce

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