My life is not what it seems. I go to school, church, friends' houses and everything else teenagers do, but when I go home my "secret life" begins. I call it that simply due to others' ignorance and fear. My ten-year-old brother, Josh, has bipolar disorder, a mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Josh's disorder can cause him to become very depressed and suicidal or violent and harmful to himself and others. See where the fear comes in?
I don't blame others for being scared of Josh. I was too when he was first diagnosed. Now though, I am not because I understand what bipolar means. While it can be scary, with the right medication and services, Josh can have months when he is stable.
Right now Josh is living at a treatment program where there is a school. He has been there for nine months and made incredible progress. Josh comes home on weekends. Some may think that my family is cruel for sending him to a school far from everything familiar to him, but we aren't. My parents, my brother and I sat down and decided that the treatment program would be the best thing for Josh and the family as a whole. Sending him to the school wasn't a punishment for his actions. It is a way for Josh to learn how to cope with his disorder.
Josh will be coming home soon. Although he will always be bipolar, he has learned different and better ways to deal with his feelings. Knowing that he is coming home, my mission to increase people's knowledge about bipolar and other mental illnesses has become more intense. My brother is a ten-year-old like any other. He loves the outdoors, animals, and drawing. Josh may have some learning problems at school but when grade-appropriate work is presented, he understands and completes it. My brother is a very smart, talented, loving, caring person who just happens to be bipolar.
Children with mental illness are often misunderstood. They are smart kids who can achieve a lot with the help of others. Just because you can't see my brother's disability by looking at him does not mean it is any less real or severe than one you can see. So, please, take the time to learn about mental illnesses so fear can be erased and family members can make our "secret lives" public. tf
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.