BEX

My brother Alistair was my best friend. We were triplets, really close and had the same gang of friends and sense of humour. He was really funny, clever and had a host of his own close friends too. He was always the life and soul of the party and was a good friend to many. He was ultra clever and wrote for children’s TV. Life was normal for a long time. We supported each other through the normal ups and downs, socialized together and laughed together.

At the age of 26 Ali had his first breakdown. This was my first glimpse of his collapse. He went from being fine, to not being able to cope with life. He made attempts to end his life and couldn’t stop the worries from circling around his head. I had never seen anyone so poorly, and felt extremely scared and responsible for his recovery.

This was to be the first breakdown that would repeat each year.  Every year was slightly worse, then he would nearly recover and return to normal life. But we had lost the Ali that we knew five years previously when his debilitating anxiety had started. Five years later Ali took his own life. That shock and disbelief is still with me now. 

Throughout his illness, my mum and dad were there for him, and he would return home where we would literally try to help him through each day. It was hard to see my parent's worry for him. My brother William and I did not know how to help Ali’s fearful worries and thoughts that were to become psychotic. I experienced so much  anguish and frustration that I couldn't 'fix' him and was completely at sea, as we did not know where to turn for help.

I had a friend called Tash. Her brother was also suffering with mental illness. She absolutely understood what we were going through, supported me and gave me hope and strength.

She helped me with the mental health system and told me about groups and organizations that were in place to help people like Ali.

I didn’t have to explain how it felt to go through this. It was okay to talk about it, and boy did it help. Tash’s experience of her own brother’s mental ill health gave me a huge amount of comfort and strength and I no longer felt on my own. Her support was invaluable during and after his illness. 

TASH

Danny was in between me and our older brother, Karim. One sunny week-end in June in the mid- 80s, when Dan was 17, he went off to Glastonbury Festival, took drugs, and was never the same again.
 
His schizophrenia took over all his adult life and eventually, aged 36, it took his life. I miss him now but I also missed him before he died because the illness had taken him away.
 
I spent all my adult life worried sick about him and experienced all the emotions that are known to (wo)man. The fear of him being hurt or hurting someone else during a psychotic episode, the anger at his illness and at him for not being well. The anger at him for worrying and upsetting my parents so much. The guilt at not being able to do more or for not actually doing more...the deep deep sadness at what could have been his life. He was a talented, gorgeous, kind and funny person whose life was taken over by a very frightening illness and I felt I couldn't help him.
 
My parents’ heartbreak was hard to witness. Being a mum myself now, I appreciate how utterly devastating Danny’s illness must have been for them. My mum was a superwoman in that she did everything she possibly could to help Dan find the right care and help.
 
As for me, when Danny got ill in the late 80s and early 90s, I didn’t know how to talk about his illness because we didn’t have the knowledge or the language. Although the stigma is slowly shifting now, there’s still a lot of work to be done to encourage people to not feel embarrassed about theirs or someone else’s mental illness.
 
I have amazing friends who, over the years, helped me cope in times of Dan’s many frightening episodes, but I didn’t know anyone else who had a sibling with a mental illness.
 
When I met Bex over 15 years ago, I was surprised at how open she was about her brother Al’s mental illness. Here was this lovely, funny, HAPPY person, OPENLY talking about her brother’s illness as well as sharing her own pain and suffering. This opened the door for me. Knowing she absolutely knew what I was going through gave me the courage to talk and my feelings of isolation and sometimes shame, slowly dissipated.