Struggling With the Vicissitudes of Life

I’m still struggling with the vicissitudes of my life. The major stress continues to be my homeless brother. He is camping out in the garage, which isn’t a problem. Nor is it a problem for me to buy a few groceries for him, do his laundry, sympathize with his plight, and even, on occasion, get him a beer. I’m glad to do what I can for him, even if only out of a perhaps misplaced sense of guilt that I have it easier than he does.

If he would leave me alone, I’d have no objection to his being here, but his anger seems to be centered on me. He speedblames me for his estrangement from our father, he blames me for . . . well, just about everything. I suppose, from his point of view, I am to blame. When he gets in one of his “states” (whether bi-polar, the manic part of manic-depression, narcissistic rage, or whatever his as yet undiagnosed problem is), he is truly appalling, demanding attention by banging on my windows, sometimes up to forty times a night, calling me an evil bitch, screaming invectives at me, explaining ad infinitum that I, as a woman, have no integrity. (And these are the most pleasant things he says when he is in his manic mode.) Afterward, he doesn’t remember how ghastly he behaved. He only remembers my reaction. And there is no right way to react. If I yell at him in frustration, trying to get him to shut up, he perceives me as the instigator of our conflict, never remembering he was the one who banged on the window for my attention. If I have no reaction, that too is an affront to him. If I ignore him, he goes into rage overdrive.

I can’t track his moods. He likes to read the newspaper. Sometimes he gets mad at me if I don’t remember to give it to him. Other times he gets angry when I do give it to him because I am “invading his space.” (This is the same man who, when he stayed in the house for a couple of months, came into my room every single night to harangue me.) He hates that I buy food for him (hates the food I buy even though I buy things on a list he once gave me), and yet, most nights, he knocks on my window to see if I have something for him to eat. If I’m nice to him, he gets upset with my “sugary sweetness,” seeing it as phony. If I stop doing things for him, he gets angry with my selfishness.

In addition to his mental issues, he has a lot of physical problems. He goes for days without being able to keep food down, but he won’t let me take him to the emergency room. Oddly, when he is at his sickest, he is at his calmest. Either his anger at me cools because he needs my help, or else he is too weak to sustain a rage-full state.

Added stress comes from the situation between my father and brother. My father doesn’t want to deal with my brother, though he likes the idea of helping him. So it’s up to me to be my father’s surrogate. Not a pleasant situation, by any means.

The hardest part for me was when my brother’s anger would bounce through me and back to him, because I was afraid I’d fatally hurt him. (I even kept a journal for a while in case I did hurt him and needed a defense.) I don’t have that problem any more. I make sure I never get close to him when he is in a rage.

But still, it is an awkward situation. When he goes through calm times, I feel like an ogre, keeping him from the comforts of the house, but always his cycle comes around to rage again, and I am grateful that he is locked out.

I wish he were strong and healthy. I wish . . . oh, I wish so many things, but my wishes tend to have little strength. Writing about the situation gives me no peace, no answers, but it does help to vent my frustration and my sadness, which is a big help to me if no one else.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.