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Almost a year ago, on the hottest July 18 on record (at least in the Mid-Atlantic)--a day when all the newscasts were warning everyone not to be outdoors for any length of time, especially if we had any cardiac or pulmonary problems--my younger brother, who had been hospitalized with pneumonia for a week about a year earlier, was found outdoors, in a shaded gully near his apartment in Frederick, Maryland. The official cause of his death was hyperthermia. The more accurate cause was almost six decades' worth of schizophrenia, which first appeared in early childhood with uncommonly aggressive reactions to such circumstances as a major move when he was too young for kindergarten. As he grew older, he had almost constant difficulty in school, trouble making friends, and violent outbursts at home that typically took the form of verbal and physical attacks against me and, often, our parents. For a time in his mid-teens he seemed to be "mellowing," as our mother once told me hopefully, but that didn't last. After I finished high school and we moved back from New York to Maryland, his then-undiagnosed illness became worse; he finished high school, but it was a struggle for him. Meanwhile, I was enjoying life and getting a superb education at Smith College...where I was a senior when our mother died in October 1972. Her eight months with a very aggressive form of breast cancer led to exacerbation of Richard's symptoms; after her death, when he wasn't trying to kill himself, he was trying to kill me...if I was unfortunate enough (or sufficiently unaware!) to be within his reach. Our father, and later our stepmother, were no less unsafe. Richard was in and out of treatment, on and off medication for the rest of his unhappy life, in the last decade or so of which he was at Way Station (in Maryland), where, I have to say, someone fell down on the job, for in the last weeks or months of his life, his behavior led to complaints from his neighbors (about insect infestations), an observation by at least one maintenance person at his building that Richard had changed his lock to keep people out, and, ultimately, at least one individual's seeing him outdoors, in a heavy trench coat, last July 17. My family and I know that we are safer now...but at the cost of the life of a very bright and, underneath the illness, compassionate person, who inherited our parents', grandparents' and great-grandparents' skill with words and with a carpenter's tools, and who, with the right diagnosis as a young child and the right treatment for the rest of his life, could have had a very good life indeed, despite the presence of a severe psychiatric disorder. How do I know this? By having one. It's considered the most severe form of bipolar disorder. I've had it since 1974, when I was 23. Having no desire to be like my brother, I've never denied its existence and my need for state-of-the-art treatment. I've been extraordinarily fortunate in my care and in the results I've gotten with it, and smart in making the best possible use of it on an ongoing basis. That's what I've gotten out of my brother's illness...that, and the knowledge that those of us who have survived potentially-fatal disorders like mine, and have been able to build good lives for ourselves, have an obligation to share our experiences and what we've learned from them about helping others. I do this as an educator--a librarian for three decades and a writer, speaker and active member of various health-related organizations (since I have a number of other medical problems as well). I can't change the last four decades of my life with bipolar, my life with the effects of severe congenital strabismus and primary lymphedema (for which I was unable to get a diagnosis and treatment for more than forty years, by which time the disease had become disabling, disfiguring and potentially life-threatening), or my brother's life and death, but I can use them to help brighten the future.


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