First USA Thanksgiving in 9 Years: My Brother Is Really Depressed but Hanging In

I usually always post to this blog on Monday nights, but I was in transit at the time and didn’t have access to a computer. I’m probably one of the last people on Earth without a laptop. 🙂

Thanksgiving 2012 was my first in the USA in 9 years. The family tradition – established well over 30 years ago – has us head up to my Aunt and Uncle’s house for dinner. When we were little, my cousins and I used to play games outside or run around the house like animals. Now that we’re older, we prefer to sit on the couch, munch on snacks, and have a couple beers while the football game is on. One of my cousins has children of her own and it was great to see them. They are the beginnings of our family’s next generation.

My 5 days back home were uneventful and enjoyable. The only cloud hanging over the festivities was my younger brother’s difficult personal situation with his nearly ex-wife. Early August he announced they were separating and he would be returning home to live with my parents. Apparently his wife cheated on him a couple times, but I don’t know that for certain. She also had a child from a previous marriage that my brother deeply loved and treated as his own.

The impression I get from afar is that she was the one who decided to part ways, or at least was the aggravating factor in the breakup.

Ever since their separation, my family has noticed that my brother still maintains contact with her. He’s going to therapy for support and is under the impression they will eventually reconcile and get back together. The tough part is that he’s now living with my parents, who can be hard to tolerate during emotionally distressing times. My father usually advocates for concrete actions and “moving on”, ie. get a lawyer and settle up on paper, close out joint bank accounts, payoff debts, etc. My Mother approaches things from a “protective mother” point of view even though my brother is now 30+. She was mad when she saw him mailing out a birthday gift to his former wife. This incident was further complicated by the fact that she[my brother’s wife] and he both share the same birthday – this year just 2 days after Thanksgiving. As a result, he wasn’t in good spirits for much of the week.

My brother and I currently aren’t at the point in our adult lives where we can talk about intimate problems heart to heart. I wasn’t the best older brother and at times was cruel to him during our teenage years. Although that was 10+ years ago and we now function more like typical siblings in adulthood, I don’t blame him for not feeling comfortable talking to me about his personal problems, even though we both suffer from bouts of depression and have been in and out of therapy for years. My own problems with BPD only complicated matters and further removed me from the inner-workings of my family. I’m just beginning to get back into the loop – so to speak – now that I’ve returned to the USA and can visit more often.

At this point, I think the only thing my family can do is be supportive of whatever decision(s) he makes, even if we personally believe a reconciliation or “do-over” is a bad idea. My brother is horribly depressed and has resorted to self injury on some occasions. He has a close friend who lives nearby for non-family support. His friend regularly attends AA for alcohol addiction, but also for the fraternal and supportive nature of 12 step groups. My brother often joins him at these meetings for third party support and different points of view from anonymous community members. AA might not be the perfect fit, but it’s definitely better than nothing. Many alcoholics go through similar struggles with spouses and they might have some sage advice.

While I was flying back to Florida last night, I was trying to think of ways I could offer to help him without pushing thinly established boundaries between us. His friend is definitely his best form of peer support at the moment, and our family is thankful he is around to hangout with my brother. For me, it’s difficult to know what role I should play, if any, without appearing superficial or uncomfortably emotional about his personal life. I thought about offering to help him payoff medical bills for therapy, but I think he would refuse and would not feel good about owing someone money, even if I gave it as a gift. I thought about setting up a weekly phone call to chat, but he’s just started a new job and his tendency is to work relentlessly to make ends meet and focus on those immediately around him. The fact that I’m several states away wouldn’t make sense given our good, but “hands-off” disposition about personal matters.

If some sort of emergency situation develops, I think everyone in my family would need to come together and support him unconditionally as much as possible. For the time being, however, he’s going through his own grieving process and does have outlets for support other than my immediate family. He’s also staying away from alcohol and substances to avoid making matters worse.

As he became an adult and had various relationships along the way prior to his first marriage, he was always very private about his personal issues. Friendly – but prying – questions from relatives usually received a “…I usually don’t like to talk about it…” response. That’s fine by me, I totally respect his position. I don’t make a habit of talking openly to relatives about my struggles either, in part because my Mom feels embarrassed that her children have struggles to begin with. In her eyes, we had a wonderful, pain-free childhood and we don’t talk about emotional scars and other touchy baggage.

Between now and Christmas, I’m going to email him a couple times to test the waters and encourage him at his new job. Then, when I return home for the Christmas holiday, I’ll reevaluate the situation and see if he’s better, worse, or the same. If he makes an offhanded comment to me about something that is upsetting him, I’ll use that as my in to be more supportive. Otherwise, I stand at the ready to help out in any way, if and when he decides to ask his siblings for assistance.

When someone is private about their life, the last thing they need is someone poking into their business. As painful as it is to watch from the outside, I need to respect his space and let him call the shots, even if I think some sort of intervention would move his emotional recovery along faster. For now, he has a good friend and therapist to speak with in confidence, and that is probably all that is needed unless things take a turn for the worse.