The Friction In Your Genes

It’s not until he mentions it that I realize that he’s funnier than he’s ever been before.  I’ve been sitting here, drinking coffee with him—my middle brother, 3.5 years my junior—for an hour, maybe.  And I’m just now realizing that I’ve been laughing with him far more than I usually do.

Funnier, yes—and talking fast, loud.  I can barely get a word in edgewise as he quips, his words darting faster and all around me.  He pulls faces, laughs, then stops.

I feel stupid, because I maybe wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t said anything about it.  Quieter, now—“I’m going to go see somebody, one of the counselor’s at school.”  He talks about how he’s fucked things up, how he lost his girlfriend of more than a year by being stupid.

He’s the same age I was when I fucked things up.  21 and change.  The age where everything starts to come together, when your body feels electric with the burden of the future and the prospects of freedom and responsibility start to wind themselves around your ankles.

And I envy him, if only a twinge, before I am suddenly scared for him.


(remember)  What it’s like to be told in a room by a man that you have a chronic illness that will never go away.  And it’s something that’s inside you—it’s something that you’ve always thought is you.  Because it’s in your head—in your brain—it’s hard to separate out the sick part.  You start the never-ending data-mining, the perpetual jump through funhouse mirrors—you decide what to keep and what to put away in a box marked “other.”

You are stricken by two dual forces.  One.  You would never wish this fate on your least favorite person.  Think about childhood bullies and mean bosses.   You may wish for them to die, but you’d never wish for them to feel this way.  Two.  There’s a genetic component.  A much higher likelihood than you’ll admit that someone you love will do this too.

These forces get inside you and they explode your heart.  Pieces of it go everywhere, flying into all of those they love.  You understand that quote about your heart walking outside of your body.  You live with it every day.


And still, I dare to dream about a normal life, ignoring the fact that I took a left turn from normal years ago.  Once upon a beautiful time, I had a coherent line of sight.  I was engaged, had a wedding planned for June 14th, 2008.  I wanted to go to school, get married, start thinking about children.

The words “bipolar disorder” make everything so fucking complicated.  When they find out that we’ve been dating for seven years, even casual acquaintances ask about a ring.  I laugh it off.  I say that we’re taking our time.  I don’t mention that we were engaged.  I don’t tell them that we’re not engaged now because I contracted a case of the crazies and went about fucking schoolboys while my fiancé worked at 5 AM on Saturdays to pay for my ring.  When I think about it, my jaw starts to hurt from the clenching of my teeth.  My lungs are filled with air that won’t be pushed out.  I take a look at the path at the fucked-up path of burnt-out bridges that lay behind me.  How do you explain this?  How do you make sense of something that feels so senseless?  How do you do anything but move forward, blindly, spouting platitudes and bullshit about taking your time.  Taking the long way.  Going the whole distance around your ass and still, somewhat improbably, coming out ok.


In the review session for my neuroscience final in my first year of medical school, the question is posed: “What is the heritability of Bipolar Disorder?”

The answer I’ve learned to parrot is:  “Autosomal dominant, but with partial penetrance.”

In my head, it sounds more like: “You are playing Russian Roulette with your future children’s lives.”

In these moments—among others—I am forced to contemplate the ghost-children who will someday tumble out of my womb, with so much potential for brilliance and pain lying latent their skin.

In the dark, I will whisper to them that my genes do not determine their fate.  Then—and now, even now—I will whisper it to myself.

Posted by AnotherChanceTo on March 1st, 2010
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