I wanted them to find a “cure” for my brother, but it seemed like there wasn’t one
There are different kinds of sicknesses, but I don’t mean like the flu and strep throat. I mean that some sicknesses are in the body and have physical signs like fever or a sore throat. Other sicknesses are emotional, and affect the sick person’s feelings and thoughts.
When I was younger, I didn’t know that there were different kinds of sicknesses. I didn’t know that there was something called “anxiety” or “depression” that made people sick, and made them act in worrying ways. But then I got a front-row seat watching my brother suffer. I learned a lot.
I’m 12 years old and in seventh grade. You’d never know who I am; I look just like you. I have a typical family. I’m one of eight siblings. Some of my older siblings are married, and I love to help out with my nieces and nephews when they come to visit. I like to read, and I love a good football game.
I always had a close relationship with my brother, the one who was right above me. We did errands together. We went to the pizza store together. We both love reading, and my brother would tell me which books were good. We shared a bedroom, and we’d talk at night.
But then things started changing.
We were in camp when I first noticed that something wasn’t right. My brother took blankets and made a sort of “tent” around his bed. He stayed there for hours instead of coming to activities. It was strange, and I didn’t know what to do. The camp notified my parents, and they started trying to help my brother.
My parents contacted experts and therapists, and tried different ways to get my brother involved in camp activities, but it wasn’t easy to find a therapist who my brother connected to. He continued becoming more depressed and anxious over that summer. I was very nervous.
When we came home from camp, the situation didn’t improve. My brother started high school, and at first, he went to school. But it seemed to me that things were getting worse by the day.
My brother got sicker and sicker. He stopped going to school. He stopped coming out of his room except to eat. Then he also stopped coming downstairs for meals.
It was so hard for me to see my brother suffering. There wasn’t anything I could do, though my parents didn’t stop trying to help him. I wanted them to find a “cure” for my brother, but it seemed like there wasn’t one.
I can’t begin to describe the terrible feeling watching my brother struggle with his sickness. I went to school, and I tried to behave normally, but it was so hard. Every day, as I sat in my classroom, I worried about my brother. I worried about my parents, too. I knew they had to go to work every day, but they also had to take care of their sick son at home.
My parents talked to me. I cried. They reassured me that they were doing everything they could to help my brother. They also said that they believed he would eventually get better. But it was so hard to watch my brother in so much pain — and no one could predict how long it would last.
Once my brother came over to me at night and asked me what was wrong. Very frankly, I told him, “You!” because I was so worried about him. But he couldn’t do much to calm me down.
The hardest times were when my parents had to watch my brother to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. That was very scary for me.
Finally, my parents found a therapist my brother liked. She was able to help him and the whole family. Soon after, my brother started taking medicine. Because his sickness was in his emotions, it was special medication for his sickness, not like antibiotics or Tylenol. His medicine helped his anxiety and depression become more bearable. He became happier and calmer.
Bit by bit, my brother started coming out of his bed more, and becoming more involved in the family. I felt hopeful that life would return to normal. Things weren’t normal yet, but they were improving. Going through each day became easier for me, too. It was a big relief to not feel so worried all the time. It was like seeing some light at the end of a very long tunnel.
Then my married sister had a baby. She moved into our house for six weeks. And guess what? My brother was excited! He loved helping her. He took care of the new baby with her. That helped his emotions a lot.
Something else happened around then. My father took my brother on a vacation — I called it the “improvement vacation.” On the vacation, my father learned new ideas how to help my brother, and when they came home, he started implementing the new ideas right away. There were more improvements, and my brother was joining us for meals more and more. It was reassuring to me, and I felt even better, both at school and at home.
During this whole time, I didn’t talk to my friends about the situation. I thought it would be embarrassing for me and for my brother. But I had some very caring friends and that helped me, even though I didn’t talk to them about what was going on. Also, my rebbe was great. He talked to me and gave me special attention, and I became very close to him. He was available whenever I needed to talk.
There were other bright spots, too. There were some rebbeim in the community who offered to learn with my brother at set times, to help him have more structured days. Also, the principal of the high school continued staying in touch. It helped us to know that anyone who knew about our situation was davening for us.
On Purim, my brother got dressed up. He went out and gave mishloach manos to his former rebbeim and classmates. It was a wonderful feeling to see him out and about, and interacting with people and acting regular for a little while.
The following summer, a whole year after my brother’s sickness started, he was really getting better. We went back to camp and had a nice time.
We didn’t know what was going to be with school, though. It seemed impossible, even crazy, for my brother to go back to school. I hardly dared to hope. But then someone suggested a school. My family and I said Tehillim, and the unbelievable occurred — my brother was accepted!
This year, Baruch Hashem, my brother is back in school. He goes every day. I am also doing a lot better this year. I feel a lot happier and lighter.
Watching my brother’s sickness was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. But I learned a lot. I learned to talk about my feelings to my parents, my older siblings, and my rebbe. I am closer to all of my siblings, to my brother, and to my parents. I also learned how to daven, and how powerful tefillah is. I know that my parents daven for me and for my siblings every day. I do to.
During one of my conversations with my rebbe last year, he taught me that when Hashem sends you a challenge, don’t just go through it, grow through it. This became my motto.
If you’re going through something like what I went though, or any challenge, I think it’s important to find people that you trust and you can talk to, like your rebbe, your parents, or another adult. They can help you not only go through it, but also, grow through it..
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 955)
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