“Excelsior”

silverliningsquote

The first thing that struck me was the yelling and the throwing of things. All things, it didn’t matter, like clothes, boxes filled with things, and loud things like plastic CD cases and metal table sculptures, but mostly the yelling and the stress of an uneasy house. The crying of both parent and child were next and the pills, or the lying of taking the pills, finalized the feeling of my teenage years among a brother who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness depicted on point in the movie Silver Linings Playbook.

The always down and uncontrollable behavior that I always blamed on his foggy sense of purpose was actually his mental disorder screaming at us to do something. Which led my family and I screaming at God to do something, to give a little. But really we could never do anything without my brother being open to the whole idea of living with bipolar, knowing what it meant, and doing something about it.

It’s become a common line in every day speech as a joke or a poke at a friend’s spastic moments: “Calm down, Crazy!” When Jennifer Lawrence says it in the movie to Bradley Cooper, the actor playing Pat who has bipolar, it begins to have a different meaning. But without knowing the disorder or how it works inside of a person’s mind, it’s how one reacts. I called him crazy because it’s the definition of what it looks like without medicine. At least from a sister’s point of view, that’s what it looks like.

So fifteen minutes into Silver Linings Playbook I almost turned it off. I almost turned it off because it flashbacked to my life as a constantly scared, tense, and hateful sister. Something always happened… all the time. There was never one day when we had a good day as a family. And it was his fault in my mind. My brother would wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me he’s “sorry, Bud” and “I have this really great idea, Bud” or he’d sit on the edge of my bed and tell me his newest idea, which was filled with his most recent philosophical outlook on life and what it all meant in the bigger sense. It made no sense. He was and continues to be in his head, always. If he wasn’t drunk, he was projecting his most current reason for life while blaring depressive music like Bittersweet Symphony. He saw things no one else saw, he’d say. He realized the bigger meaning of life, but at the same time could never convince himself that there was one. He’d yell all the time and when he was happy, he was unbelievably happy; so hyper he’d be bouncing off the walls and telling everyone he loves them every half an hour.

I haven’t sat on a couch with him in over seven years because he became an alcoholic and drove a car, but what contributed to this was not knowing how to handle his disorder, how to handle all the intense feelings – the up up ups or the completely downs – or how to be himself in a body that constantly played tricks. Now I can’t make up excuses for his decisions because believe me I’m the last person to do that. But my brother is a good kid (a kid of 31 years) and I can’t trust him because I’ve never seen anything but the unexpected and scary emotions. I don’t know how to include that in my life.

I think this is a hole in our society. We ignore or disown anyone who can’t swallow back his or her tears or who can’t handle reality just like us. We shun them out and let them struggle. I’m guilty of this with my brother. I don’t know how to handle it and I never really cared to help him because he made my life hell. He was a nightmare for many reasons but if people watch this movie, they will get a glimpse of how my brother and people like him are, what he struggles with still today, and how it affects the family – those family scenes are all too familiar.

While watching, I was torn to be enraged at having this life, cry because it threw me back in the room at age 15 trying to calm him down, or to protect my mother from ever seeing this movie because she may not be able to handle the truth of it all, for her to experience it once again. I don’t know whether to go out and buy the DVD and save it or never watch it again because the memories are so vivid without it. But at least a brutal story such as Silver Linings Playbook ended happily and taught me about excelsior, aka silver linings, which overall gives me hope for my brother.

I’ve never shaken more than while watching this movie and I thank God that my brother is getting help, getting his life on track, and will soon be reunited with our family to make a fresh start with all the right help for his bipolar disorder. My heart goes out to all those living with bipolar and their loved ones because in a sense we are all stronger than we know.

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