A Different Form of Play

December 10, 2009
By jnslavin BRONZE, Princeton Junction, New Jersey
jnslavin BRONZE, Princeton Junction, New Jersey
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Just a glance at our perfect family portrait fills my mind with warm memories and I am instantly reminded of the love that links us together. My mother, father, brother and I stand close together under the Caribbean sunset with joyful smiles on all of our faces. Suddenly the picture frame shatters into pieces and furniture is thrown across the room. He screams. He cries. These tantrums were a frequent occurrence in my house and I was a witness to it about twice weekly. I never understood how such a seemingly happy little boy with a bright smile could cause such a scene in a welcoming home with a small, caring family. It frightened me when I heard him starting to get angry. I hid in my room wondering why he had to live this way. My mind wandered back to the carefree days when we were both young, pushing each other on the swings and running around laughing and holding hands.

My brother was about seven years old when he started seeing Dr. Heidi, and he never seemed to mind it. As I prepared a large meal in the play kitchen and fed a baby doll, my brother would wage war with G.I. Joes, monsters and dinosaurs. For much of my childhood, I made regular visits to Dr. Heidi’s office without understanding the true reason behind them. When I could not contain my curiosity any longer, I asked my mother: “Mom, why does Jon see Dr. Heidi? What does she do? She doesn’t seem like a doctor.” I learned that Dr. Heidi is a children’s play therapist who observes Jon as he interacts with toys representing the outside world and helps him control his emotions when he gets anxious or upset. I thought about the office with all of the toys, picture books piled up in the waiting room and pieces of art made by children adorning the walls, but it still didn’t make sense to me. I wondered why I didn’t see Dr. Heidi when I got angry. I realize now I was just too young to understand and too blind to see my brother’s unhappy side at the time.

My outlook on life changed when I realized that my brother suffers from a mental illness. My courageous personality has been shaped from understanding my brother’s feelings and the heartbreak I experienced when he was in a state of depression. When I saw my brother playing by himself away from a group of children, it motivated me to open up to new people and take time to learn about their lives. The time I spent with him playing on the slides at the community park has taught me to believe that the greatest gift in life is the ability for each person to be unique, everybody should be able to stand out in the world and make life interesting and rewarding for other people. My own personal qualities, my values and watching my brother’s interactions with Dr. Heidi, all inspire me to help others around me and to make a difference in people’s lives. When I see the happiness expressed on the face of the elderly woman who just won bingo or the hope in the homeless man’s eyes as I hand him a bagged meal, I have discovered that there is no better feeling than knowing I am putting a smile on someone’s face and improving their life with kind gestures. My love, appreciation and understanding towards others are to a great degree the result of my own interesting life with my brother.

Growing up with a learning disabled, bipolar sibling has instilled a curiosity to gain a better understanding of how the brain functions in children who suffer from these abnormalities. I am determined to change the lives of children and make them feel special regardless of the hardships they are facing. My experience growing up with a psychologically disturbed older brother has not dimmed my appreciation for the wonderful childhood that served to form my values and aspirations. All of the memories of time spent with my brother motivate me to learn how to provide support to other children who may be in a similar situation. Dr. Heidi told my family that she entered this field because her own children were learning disabled; it is my intention to follow in her footsteps.

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