Over a month ago I’ve learned that my brother died.
It was taking time to think about what happened and what my brother’s life and death meant to me in all the ways that surrounded them. For weeks I wrote poems and blurbs, but the text below sat on its digital shelf for the whole month until today. Today is the forty days since the day. I guess it is time.
Days prior I was listening to the latest Ghost record Prequelle and while it is a great album as a whole, one song stood out for me. Listening to “See the Light” and thinking of its lines
“But of all the demons I’ve known/None could compare to you
Every day that you feed me with hate/I grow stronger!”
I thought how it related for me, in regards to seeing the world and some people in it.
I was ten years older than my brother Nikki, and yet we still had a great connection and talked about anything in the world every time we had a chance to. He was a special person to me and to our parents. He had light and kindness in him that illuminated us all. Besides all the grief and mental pain that came through me that day and others to come, music that I knew came through too. Some of them were songs I haven’t listened to for years. “See the Light” came too, but this time it related to something different.
When he was thirteen years old, Nikki started having issues unexplainable at that time, but later called anxiety. That soon has been coupled with what the doctors called manic depression. Couple years later the “manic” part has fell aside, and my brother has got his life going through severe anxiety and chronic depression on one side, and normality on the other. When it was in the stage of normality, he travelled to Europe, half the time hitch-hiking with a friend (the very thought of it terrified me, when he told me of it, laughing), studied in math analysis in college, listened to lots of music, and helped our parents with whatever they needed. When it was a storm of crippling depression and anxiety, he stayed in, refused to go out of the house, looked sad and withering, slept into the lunch hour, and although illusory, his worries were many, while his words were little. Eighteen years of that. I cannot even imagine what he really felt that he never gave voice to in conversations with me, as I lived on the other side of the world, or with our parents who he lived with.
Luckily our parents were great people who paid close attention and cared for us the kids, and they took heed regarding Nikki’s new behaviors. He’s seen doctors who put him on some meds, and soon after the list of meds he took started growing, because it turned out his body was largely resistant to most of the meds. Nikki was always a very smart kid so he took responsibility for his well being. He was very punctual and attentive to the effects and dosages, keeping diary of what medications he took and how it worked, or if it didn’t. It took me some time to realize at least a bit what he was dealing with. I did some research on clinical depression and found that Nikki would have to change meds with time and do near-scientific research to make sure things worked well and what to do if it didn’t.
He was the kindest man I knew, and he always made our parents and grandparents hearts melt. He was attentive, and compassionate. His life, however, went like waves hitting the beach. When his mind state was favorable, there were weeks of tranquillity and family fun, him travelling with parents and watching movies, laughing, and visiting relatives. But in the times of chemical imbalance, there were also weeks and sometimes months of shutting down, during which Nikki tirelessly researched what he could do to help himself, unless the anxiety came knocking hard and he would let it all go and walked the apartment like a ghost.
Several months back I started reading book Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson in which she, who suffered from many a mental disorder, described them all and how her life was taking unexpected turns. She said that depression was one of the worst illnesses out there because it basically pushed person to self destruction. It was probably the most honest and crazy book I’ve read about mental health so far. I was thinking of sending it to my brother, but I was late. Nikki went through so much in the last year and a half, including a break-up with a woman he dated and the death of our mother who fought cancer for two years. As his letters showed, he saw no end of his misery and even having all of the loving support of our father who spared nothing to be of assistance to Nikki, dealing with life in his state was becoming too much for my brother. Of all the demons he knew in his 30 years, not one could compare to the one that kept eating him alive on a daily basis. The last straw for him was learning that obtaining medications he required was becoming a serious issue in the country he lived in, his home, his native land.
My demon was alcohol, and it sure was a demon, because it kept changing shapes, growing from little friendly smile of “have one, you’ll feel better” to “you gonna need a sea to drink to deal with all this crap, so learn how to swim!” kind of an attitude. When I found the courage to sober up, I also found perseverance to move steady through the world that seemed to change with menace to my sanity. I struggled with depression, but it was more of what I called “alcohol-induced” variety, and once I stopped poisoning myself with drinking, depression has weakened its grip on me. It still comes back, but it’s hundred times less crippling. Every day that life seems to fill me with hate, or maybe, concern and confusion, I get stronger with the meaning and works of recovery I am living. It’s not only by my own efforts and determination – I know that the community I am part of has my back. We speak the same language, and we are there to help one another, literally.
The way I see it, my brother was not that lucky. Nikki had the most involved assistance and love of our parents, as well as psychiatric and psychological help, and yet he didn’t partake in any community involvement like I did, even though I strongly advised it to him in our conversations. I suppose his illness filled him with doubt, and fear, and confusion to reach out to others. It was probably similar when I proposed for him to create a routine of physical exercises that I was reading about. I told him there was scientific findings supported by tons of research and success stories of those were diagnosed with depression and working out, just a little, but steadily, and it helped them immensely to gain positivity and mental and emotional well-being. Nikki told me he knew of it, and he considered doing it, but he hasn’t, or maybe his level of dedication was not high. I remember feeling angry about that, but the understanding came later. The way depression communicates with your healthy mind is it pushes away all logic and common sense, bringing instead destructive thoughts and breaking up your values and beliefs. Another thing that I recently found out was that his mental condition also had an effect on his body: Nikki lived with muscle spasms that limited his movement, so getting dedicated to making a routine of physical exercises was out of the question for him.
Nikki who was very loyal to his friends started breaking up the connections and staying away from that social life to the point that even the closest ones were shocked to find out what he dealt with, and how his life ended, and why. He was afraid he will be judged. He thought people wouldn’t understand all the pain and difficulties he had to deal with regarding his mental health. He knew this subject had a lot of misunderstanding among people. The kindest person in him didn’t want to drop all of that knowledge on people he cared about.
It ate him alive, but he fought. My father told me several days ago that Nikki was the strongest and courageous man. I can see that now. What I originally saw as his inaction to connect with others who could help him and other ways to improve his mental health was more of inability due to serious complications of his illness. While in hate to the blackness I grew stronger, Nikki’s mind and spirit and body were being corrupted in the way all supports he has received couldn’t alleviate the pain of constant invasion that had no face, no logic, and no mercy.
I believe my brother died as a warrior who’s grown exhausted of fighting. He wanted peace for himself and love for others. It seems he has grown to think his ill existence was a burden to us. There was no way he saw he could heal in any ways this world could provide. All who knew him will miss this amazing man who gave a lot of light, and I will miss him as a kid who made me feel better and hopeful in his presence. I wish he could have more hope for himself in spite of any demons possible.
I miss him terribly, all of our years together and apart, the conversations, serious and silly, trips and games, all the complete and shattered. This pain is only the beginning, and I fear how it will be from here on, but I believe Nikki is not in pain anymore, and it makes me relieved. Rest in Joy, brother.
(the image was copied from https://www.liveabout.com/visions-at-the-hour-of-death-2594543 and messed around with by me. thank you.)