mental illness


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So N1 is home. At least I think he is. He hasn’t checked in with anyone. Not me or CB or our mother. I guess that is typical of a teen but he owed a bit more to his uncle than that considering what CB has lost in the interim.

He is not well. Things are not falling into place. I think the final straw was when xSIL expected him to spend Thanksgiving with her sister and brother-in-law, the people who fired him and are evicting him in seventeen days. He didn’t know until the meal was practically on the table. A meal he cooked. He went back to his apartment and waited until they’d eaten and left before he returned, and I can’t say I blamed him. That would be way too much sucking up for me to stomach and I am inclined toward a cooler head than my brother.

Things have gone down and down the hill some more since then.

Yesterday he called DNOS, who took his call inadvertently. She was polite, as only she can be, and short. He was offended, but when he told me about it, I reminded him that she has not forgiven him and he shouldn’t have expected much. Her staying on the line even was something of an olive branch for her, a brittle one, but a branch.

“He’d been drinking,” she told him.

I tried to call him last night. Left two messages and another this morning before he called me back. I wasn’t feeling well. I hadn’t slept much, worrying about him. When I heard his voice, I could see why DNOS thought he’d been drinking but it sounded more like Ativan than wine to me. It’s a bit sad that I can tell the difference between the demon drink and the overly medicated, but there you go.

“I’m going to fight this,” he said. “They’re threatening my family and my finances and it’s wrong. I am going to occupy my own home.”

CB is quite taken with the Occupy movement and the notion of the 99%. I guess that is my fault for posting so much about it on Facebook and putting ideas into his head. Frankly, I don’t think that it’s every really been different from it is now in terms of where the wealth and power were concentrated. It’s just that since WWII, the 99% has been bought off with the idea of upward mobility and the notion that anyone can live the good, or at least the better, life. They blinded us with stuff and made it easy for us to acquire, but they can’t do that anymore and people are awake again to the fact that life mostly is hard work, sacrifice and it can really suck. They knew that back in the day. That’s why unions came into being and some decent politicians figured out ways to pass laws to protect workers and put curbs on corporations and banks. I have real doubts that anyone will do anything like that for the 99% again.

He was calmer and less interested in trying to come up with a way out of his dilemma today than he was when I spoke to him two days ago. He sounded defeated and a bit off.

“I was on the internet last night, looking up those other CB’s*. I don’t know who they think they are, taking my identity. I’m CB. They aren’t me,” he said.

He talked a bit about DNOS,

“She didn’t want to take time to talk with me. But whatever. She sounded good. Like she is in a good place in life. I wish her the best and I really do love her.”

Then he talked about fighting and occupying again and how he lived a good life and wasn’t worried about what would happen. If it all ended, he was okay with that. It occurred to me at this point that he might be saying goodbye and I became a little more convinced of this when it was he who ended our conversation by wishing me a good day.

“You have a good guy,” he said. “I’m glad you found someone again. He seems like he has it all together. I’m happy for you. You have a good day now. I love you.”

“I love you too,” I said. “I’ll talk to you soon.”


And that was it. I don’t know if I will hear from him again.

*CB can be a bit delusional when he’s in this mode. People write him off as a drunk with anger management issues, but they did that with Will during that year before he was diagnosed with his illness. It’s easy to mistake real mental issues for substance abuse problems because people tend to turn to alcohol when they begin experiencing symptoms in an attempt to “medicate” themselves. I don’t think they realize that they are doing it and I don’t think those around them do either. I am perhaps more sensitive to this than others given my history, but I also spent more than my fair share of my teaching career working with kids who suffered from mental health issues – some quite severe. You don’t easily forget when you’ve known people who are not right in thought due to illness.

Drawing of actor Charlie Sheen made with graph...

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The Today Show on NBC has been airing clips of an interview Jeff Rossen conducted with Charlie Sheen this week. I put a couple of them up on my Facebook and not surprisingly most of the commenters found Sheen’s behavior and appearance disturbing and uncomfortable to watch.

He reminded me of my younger brother, CB, during those times when his thought processes have jumped the track and the trains careen wide and wild in all directions.

I know he’s got a long history with drugs and alcohol but I wonder if he is truly an addict, or rather someone who is trying to even out his mental state by applying “home remedies”.

More and more I am not certain that abuse of substances is addiction as much as it is mental imbalances being addressed inappropriately.

My brother has been manic to the point of scary since I can remember. Boys in our neighborhood who were 5 and more years older and infinitely outsized him were frightened witless by CB’s rages. In his unhinged state, I witnessed him take on and stomp teens, who should have been able to hold off the peanut that my brother was until well into his mid-teens himself.

I was about the only one who could control CB, talk him off the ledge, so to speak, and I am still the only one in the family who can and will stand up to him when he goes to his “scary place”.

So, the Sheen-mania – figuratively and literally of the last few days – stirred up memories.

Sheen claimed to be clean in the interviews and even provided the results of his recent drug tests as proof, but I didn’t think he looked and sounded at all like someone who was using. A sizable number of my drop-in students at my last high school were active users, and using is not particularly hard to miss. Growing up with an alcoholic and a drugged-addled CB – in his teens – left me with rather sharp radar too.

During his last “walk about”, CB was accused of using but a drug screen in the ER was negative though my parents and DNOS weren’t entirely convinced, I was not surprised.

CB is, technically speaking, crazy. Even on good days, he sounds a lot like Sheen in his interviews.

Grandiose is the term Sheen himself uses, but it’s still borderline delusional with hints of skewed perception.

At his worst, CB rambles about being followed with hit men hiding in the bushes preparing to break into his apartment to take him out. Sheen worries about CBS trying to destroy his family and that AA is some Scientology like mind-control cult while boasting of his own superior mental acuity. One that allowed him to cure himself of addiction by “closing my eyes and making it so” and that leaves normal people in his mental wake as his speedboat brain waves and “rock star from Mars” superiority heads out to where no ordinary man has gone before or will likely be able to follow.

Mentally unbalanced people who are self-medicating with alcohol or illicit drugs are dangerous to be around. The last time CB broke with reality and tried to fix himself with a 12 pack, he work up on the front lawn with a mysterious broken hand. Fortunately, his ex-laws employ him and believe that family takes care of even its weakest and most annoying. But even when they avoid home remedies, the off-balanced are unnerving and still capable of damage.

Most people ignore the mentally ill, even when they are family. And as a society we still don’t quite believe in mental illness. We think that people have to have some control. The idea that our sense of reality and our ability to act within it can be so at odds scares the hell of us to the point where we deny it’s possible.

Sheen is wealthy. He has family who love him and appear willing to wait and swoop in when needed. I would guess his behavior is life-long, like CB’s, and they are used to these types of spells. You do get used to it even if you never are entirely comfortable with the threat.

I don’t know whether I feel sorry for him or not. In my experience with my brother, sympathy tends to muddy already cloudy waters, but my opinion is that Charlie Sheen is not so special. He is just one of the hordes of mentally ill who our society prefers not to think too much about and would rather explain away by other means.