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I Came Out to My Brother Last Night

He thought he knew me. And then he saw something he'd never seen before.

By Catherine KenwellPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
I Came Out to My Brother Last Night
Photo by Kevin Gent on Unsplash

I am not shy about telling people I live with major depression episodes. But when the worst symptoms hit, I tend to keep my head down and wait until they pass. Rarely does anyone see me during them. Until yesterday. I awoke with the black sludge already pulsing through my brain and veins, and it took all my physical might to slide one leg, then the other, over the side of the bed. Push my feet against the floor. And assemble my bones and muscles to standing position.

No. Yesterday was a bright, sunny Saturday, the first day of a three-day weekend. We were planning to go to a local arts festival. It was a day free to wander and explore, followed by an evening of fun with a band, dancing, and hanging out with a group of dear friends. Pure summer joy.

The black curtain of depression was not going to come between my plans and me.

I poured my first coffee. My husband and I had a small breakfast while watching Zombie Houses, one of my favorite home restoration shows. I couldn’t stop sighing. I tried to navigate the heaviness inside me. I pushed forward. I dressed and brushed my teeth.

Every movement was wrapped in lead, drowning in gravity. Weighed down. I describe depression not as a mood, but as an invader that takes up residence in every cell of my body, replacing blood with tar and water with crude oil. It makes my brain sloppy and numb, and it changes the expression on my face. I notice it when I look in the mirror. My eyes droop and my lips practically disappear. My depressed reflection is a corpse, a death mask.

But yesterday, I was determined. I thought I could stave off the heaviness with a well-planned scheduling of events, taking small steps and retreating as necessary. I wore a hat and sunglasses to hide my gloomy stare. I employed all the gumption I had. My husband and I held hands and took our time walking through the festival. I held it together. We even ran into people we knew, and I was able to converse for a short period. More than two hours dancing on the tightrope, maintaining balance. I did it.

Exhausted, I made it home. I headed back to bed, as the invader and its tar and oil stole my voice and sucked away my energy.

I slept. When the black curtain falls between my life and me, I sleep. It has proven to be one thing that keeps me from morbid thoughts. It is a small respite as I wait for the symptoms to wane. It can provide enough energy to allow me to fight the sludgy ‘creature that isn’t me’.

But see, that creature actually is me. It’s a part of me that I’ve come to accept. I’ve done so much to mitigate its effects, and the therapy and treatments and medication do help. However, while I’m so much better 90 per cent of the time, I can’t entirely eliminate these episodes. I can’t predict when they will happen; it’s not situational depression, it’s simply something that flips a switch inside me and pulls the curtain down.

I’ve likely rambled to this point, but I wanted to attempt to set the scene for last night’s reveal.

My brother and my husband and I had tickets for a Legion dance; a great local band was playing, and we’d planned to dance and hang out with friends. I told myself I looked great and I’d be all right—I’d be with friends, my brother, and my husband. I was well rested. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, the moment we walked in the door, the black curtain fell, hitting me square in the mood regulation center. I was almost instantly mute, despondent, ghoulish. Now, the Legion is a very social place, where everyone chats with everyone else. The women at our table were strangers to us, but they introduced themselves, and reached out to shake my hand. I panicked. My arm wouldn’t move. Not shaking hands with someone who has extended theirs to you sends a strong negative message. But anxiety iced the depression cake and I almost threw up on the table.

Meanwhile, my husband had given my brother a ‘heads-up’ that I wasn’t feeling well, and of course, when we arrived, he asked me what was wrong. My brother and I have a terrific, close relationship and for two introverts, we’re remarkably chatty with one another. But last night I couldn’t get a word out. The black sludge had choked me and cut off my brain/voice connection.

So like he often does, he began teasing me. Making jokes. Trying to get my goat. Trying to make me laugh. He searched my face for his goofy, smart-assed, quick-witted little sister.

My flat, deadend reaction shocked him. He finally said, “I’ll sit down and shut up now.”

Here’s the thing: he has known for years that I experience major depressive episodes; never once have I let him see me during one. I have always hidden that from him. I didn’t want him to see it. I didn’t need his sympathy. I hoped to protect him. We each have our own mental health issues and traumas to deal with; he didn’t need to see how horrific I look and feel during the throes of an episode.

After 40 years of adult life, I let my brother in. I came out as a person living with severe, major depressive episodes. The part of me I’m happy to talk about but don’t want anyone to see.

The dance? I lasted less than 15 minutes. I was trembling and couldn’t raise my gaze from the floor. My husband put the car keys in my hand, and I quietly exited. I missed saying hello to a couple of my dearest friends, including the one who graciously drove my husband home.

Today, I’m feeling a little better (I’ll admit, emergency meds did most of the work) and I’m contemplating: when we share our experiences with mental illness and mood disorders, is talking enough? Don’t get me wrong, talking is a great start. But to help mitigate the stigma associated with mental illness, maybe we need to come out. Let others in. Let them see us. Allow them to truly witness the changes and episodes we struggle through, instead of trying to hide them.


About the Creator

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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