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.