There is no Normal
It was difficult enough adjusting to my brother living so close by. Now he is living with us, in our rickety Boho house with no spare room, I am finding it hard to breathe.
All the things that made our house so charming and quirky – its precarious steps to the front door, its funny changes of level in flooring and the steep narrow staircase, all these things are potentially lethal for someone like my brother. The loo is upstairs and I'm terrified that he will trip or fall on the stairs or in our clapped out bathroom that I have been longing to replace for years but have never quite been able to afford or get round to. Until you see him swinging madly from wall to wall just trying to walk a few steps, or feel the sheer force of his weight when he falls, you might not understand.
Our original mid century dining table and chairs, dad’s pride and joy in the 70s, on their last legs after decades of children swinging on them, just about able to bear my brother’s weight but I hear them creaking and fear for his safety. He’s sleeping on the sofa bed in the front room; we have previously given him our own bed and slept downstairs ourselves but Simon has a tough week at work and we made the executive decision that he needed our firm comfy mattress more than Nick – who these days drinks so much that he falls into bed like a stone.
Nevertheless. This is not a safe place for him to be for long.
And I’ve not even mentioned the sheer relentlessness of having to wait on him like a maid. At home he can just about shove a ready meal into the microwave but he no longer even boils the kettle because these things are becoming too difficult for him as well as dangerous.
Or the very real fear that if he stays here for long, he’ll do the same to our plumbing too; smash the cistern, dislodge the taps, pull the banister off the wall, dislodge the sockets, break yet another precious cup or dish. It’s all just stuff, I know. But when your world is gradually falling apart around you, it’s nice to have your stuff.
Social Services do not see it this way. As far as they’re concerned, my brother is not homeless, he’s with family, getting all his needs met, it might be very far from ideal but they do not see it as a problem.
By providing so much help, by tidying up after him, cooking his meals, doing his washing, collecting his meds and taking him to appointments, by doing the 1001 small things that I do every day to keep him afloat, it’s one less person that the welfare state has to worry about. And fair enough – of course there are people who have no-one (I’ve seen them for years so I should know) and they take priority. But I didn’t realize to what extent we’d be ignored if if it looked as if we were managing.
We are managing, but only just. By trying to make life happy and pleasant for Nick, it seems I have further estranged him from the services that he is soon going to need.
I think I have really shot myself in the foot.