Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Living with Mental Illness

Yesterday I packed up and moved my brother, Chris.  Our family helped him gather his clothing, videos, games, and knick nacks into bags and boxes and headed to Norman in two cars.  The mood was festive and tense.  A prickly combination.  Once we got to the University of Oklahoma area Chris retrieved the key to his apartment, and we did the reverse move of helping him make the space his own.  There were decisions about how much he would need, getting to know the area, and meeting the new neighbors.  It was a lot like launching a student from home into the dorms for freshman year of college.  Only it wasn't exactly that.  Chris is 20 years older than the average freshman, and his university is a transitional living program for people who have a serious mental illness. 

Chris was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when he was eighteen.  It has been a long journey of success and failures for him in living with this illness.  Chris is not alone but I am sure that he feels that way at times.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health there are 5.7 million adults diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in the United States. The other residents in The Transition House are all managing chronic mental health diagnosis and many have a coexisting addiction.  The "professors" of this alternative university prepare the residents to graduate in 12 months into independent living. My brother spoke of his awareness when he woke up Monday morning that it was his last day in an institution, "I'm ready this time," he assured me.  He has lived for the past 8 years in a full care residential setting. The highlight of his week was going to the "Club House" to socialize and attend groups, or the outings to Walmart with supervision. Chris has a weekly schedule now where his "required" groups are highlighted.  He has choices.  He has freedom. 

The realization of this freedom radiated from his broad smile and the timber in his laughter as we walked about a half mile to get frozen yogurt.  He looked at the strange machines with flavors labeled above the self serve line. I gathered my usual coffee flavored yogurt, skipping the toppings.  Chris watched me manuever the machines then confidently swirled Taro, a purple root vegetable, in his small cup-- piled on gummy bears, sprinkles, and the token cherry on top. We sat on clear plastic bar stools and tasted our treats.

"Why did you choose Taro, Chris?  I've never even heard of that." I asked.
"I'm adventurous sis, you probubly don't know that about me.  I've never heard of Taro either- that's why I picked it."

You go Chris. Be bold, be adventurous, be safe. We wish you well in your new life.


  1. Lovely!

    Best of luck to Chris -- his sense of adventure will serve him well. (And let's get together when you come visit him!)

  2. "We wish you well in your new life."

    Yes, indeed.