“I don’t want to write about it.”
“You need to write about it.”
“It’s not going to be uplifting.”
“You still need to write about it.” The college counselor looks pointedly at Michael. She’s not going to back down on this.
Michael is deep into the process of applying to college. He’s been writing essays for months, digging deep into his skills and experience as he seeks to share who he is with the colleges he is interested in attending. This whole time the proverbial elephant has been present. Michael does not want to talk about his brother. There are so many other things that he would rather write about. Why won’t she just drop the subject?
Now the counselor is looking at me. Her eyes tell me it’s time for me to leave the room. Michael’s head is down. I know he doesn’t want to hurt me with what he’s thinking. I take the cue and excuse myself.
“I’m going to go outside and do some work.”
About ten minutes later, the college counselor sits down in the chair near mine at the patio table.
“I’m giving him space,” she tells me. “He’s really gotten down to writing and I can see that he’s getting emotional.”
We chat for a while and then she goes back inside. Michael emerges a few minutes later. His eyes are red. I put my arm around him and we get in the car to head home.
“I really needed to do that he tells me. I really needed to write about what it’s like to live with a brother who has OCD. I didn’t know that I needed to write it. I’m so glad she pushed me to do it.”
And then he cries for the rest of the half hour drive home. In between the tears he tells me that he’s been holding his emotions back so much. He feels cleaner now; more refreshed. He is glad for this rush of emotion.
As the weeks roll by, he and his counselor choose the essay entitled, “Brother” as the main essay for most of his college applications. Finally, Michael allows my hubby and I to read it. It is a poignant portrait of our family life – one that is painful for me to read in its honesty, and yet healing just the same.
Michael feels a sense of satisfaction in telling his story. Putting it down into words has helped him immensely. His relationship with Blake has improved tremendously in the weeks since his first draft. The anger that I often felt hanging in the air whenever both Blake and Michael were in the room together has mostly subsided. Michael treats his brother with more kindness and understanding.
I asked the counselor about her insistence that Michael write about his experience. She told me that she knew he had a story to tell, just as many of her students with siblings with mental health challenges have a story to tell. It is almost a rite of passage she tells me, a moment in which they grow up just a bit as they put their experience into perspective.
Blake hasn’t seen the essay yet. He only vaguely is aware that one exists. Michael is saving it to share with him someday when he feels the time is right. He is waiting for a day when he believes Blake will not be hurt by it, but will be able to see it as a way for them to share and connect. Something tells me that time will not be too far off.