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My Brother... My Hero

The Effect of a Bipolar Diagnosis

My brother has always fascinated me. He's three years younger than me, loud, politically incorrect, brilliant, unfocused, hysterical, and incredibly loyal.

Where I was quiet, he was a social butterfly; where I would get scared, he would thrive; where I failed, he succeeded (and vice versa). We are each other's polar opposites and it has certainly caused us to butt heads.

I wanted to understand him so badly. Why couldn't he ever be on time? Why did he pull such stupid shit with his friends? Why, oh why, couldn't he just be NORMAL?

No, my brother and normal were never meant to be. He's made it through most of his life by doing things the hard way, just because that's his way. The things I've watched him get away with shock me; sometimes I wonder how he hasn't been punched in the face yet. But his natural, genuine charm wins every single time. He'll tell you like it is in such a brutally honest way, and still manage to avoid hurting your feelings.

I remember when he was no older than 5 when he looked down at his pajama pants, noticed a hole in the crotch and proclaimed "Oh, shit!" without even thinking.

I remember him being glued to my mother's side the day of our grandmother's funeral, keeping her calm the whole day.

I remember the rare moments where we'd just sit in the living room and chat about life and genuinely be interested in what each other had to say.

I remember being able to talk him into almost anything if you made it a challenge. He's almost been like a superhero to me, always fearless.

I've seen him care, and joke, and love, and risk it all. I've seen him try, and fight, and have complete faith in himself. I've seen him live.

I never thought I'd live to see him break.

When my parents told me what had been going on with him and that he had been diagnosed as bi-polar, I was confused. Surely, they had him mistaken with someone else? This couldn't be my brother... Nothing fazed my brother. He was always so happy and free, now he's a prisoner of his own mind? It couldn't be true... but it was.

I don't know how or when it really began—all I know is that one day he was lying down in the middle of his girlfriend's lawn, holding his hands over his ears and screaming at the top of his lungs. The entire time his friend was driving him to the hospital, my brother was convinced he was trying to kill him.

He was 21, and it sounded like he was falling apart at the seams.

A person who once took great pride in his appearance had let his hair grow long, and his acne return. A person who went to the gym almost daily stopped going altogether. He stopped going to work, he barely spoke to my parents when he saw them, he retreated into himself, and let few people in.

He wasn't sleeping. He became afraid of the dark. He would spend night after night just driving around with no destination. He kept having anxiety attacks. For the first time, I was truly scared for him. He made rash decisions all the time… What if he made one now that he couldn’t come back from?

I saw a new side to my brother during that time. Someone vulnerable and... afraid. He'd never admit it, but I knew. He'd lost control and he had no way of getting it back. He needed help but didn't know how to ask for it because he'd never had to before. Everything familiar about his life was changing... Who wouldn't be afraid?

Of course, his large support system made sure he got the help he needed. He started medication, and in time he started to come back to us. It's been a slow process, and there are good days and bad, but that superhero is still inside him somewhere. It’s true, maybe he was no longer completely fearless, but he became brave. He learned what it was like to have your mind betray you, and beat you, and tear you down… and he still didn’t let it defeat him.

My brother is a lot of things, but the one thing he’s not, is weak. He is fire in a cold world, and no matter what happens, I know he will never lose that.

"You're only given a little spark of madness, you mustn't lose it."- Robin Williams