I'm not certain now's the best time to sit and try to organize my thoughts, because they are emotional and volatile to say the least.
In 2009, I graduated from college. About a week after the ceremony my dad got laid off from his job. It was completely unexpected and we were, as a family, in no way prepared. Things in our house were incredibly tense. My dad places a lot of value on having and maintaining a job. Something hardwired into him from his childhood. When he lost his job he was obviously depressed, which translates very quickly for him into anger. He was unemployed for several months before he was offered a job he was not enthusiastic about. He has been with that job until today.
When he went back to work his schedule was very demanding. The company who hired him are based out of Brazil with offices in Miami. He traveled constantly to trade shows, to Florida, and to the headquarters. When he was home he was sequestered in his office. The expectations were high and the pay was not. My mom took a second job. All of this reorganized my priorities. I stopped looking for jobs and internships out of state.
My younger brother is 22, now. He has Down syndrome. He is low functioning, by which I mean he operates mentally and emotionally at approximately a second or third grade level.
My brother is my world.
When all of these things began to shift I knew I couldn't leave because he needs a lot of support around the house. My job teaching left me with a schedule that reflected his, home in the mornings and mid afternoons. I wasn't asked to do this, it wasn't some great burden. If my parents had tried to bring someone from outside the family in to assist him, I very likely would have thrown a fit. I don't trust other people with my brother.
It's very difficult explaining my relationship with him to people who do not have siblings with special needs. Growing up I wasn't alone, the way an only child is, but I didn't have the kind of social support structures the way children with siblings do. My closeness with my brother is based more out of a parent/child interaction and it always has been, even though we are only four years apart. When he was a baby I assured my mom she wouldn't need to worry about teaching him anything. That it was my job.
The structure of our home life, following my dad beginning his new job, had a deep impact on my brother, something we would only come to realize almost a year down the road. My mom was working long hours. My dad was inaccessible when he was home and when he was gone, he would be traveling for weeks. My brother does not have the capacity to express his feelings verbally. He couldn't say he was mad or confused or upset. Slowly over the year he retreated into himself. He started talking to himself more and more. He abandoned activities he enjoyed. He started displaying signs of depression. It was incredibly frightening for me. I watched my brother disappear and felt powerless.
It got progressively worse.
He would collapse on the floor and have crying fits without any obvious reason for a trigger. He would go days without speaking to anyone. He started losing control over bodily functions. Sometimes he would sit in his room and just scream.
The preschool classroom I taught in was within the Directed Teaching program. This was the school's terminology for self-contained special education. Self-contained denotes that the students I was working with had limited to no contact with other classrooms. All of my students were identified as being on the Autistic spectrum and were low functioning. For preschoolers it was a long day. They were with me for almost six hours and we worked heavily on language. Most of my students were nonverbal and highly behavioral. In the three years I taught at the school I sustained several injuries, including a broken nose from one of my students. It's shocking how strong a five year old can be when they are frustrated with you.
At some point my coping mechanism developed into being in teacher mode constantly. Whether at work or at home with my brother. There wasn't a separation any longer. I think this significantly altered our relationship and even harmed it in many ways.
I ran away.
Or at least, I still worry that's what I did. I was angry all the time, tired, and emotionally blank. When a girl from college looking for a roommate offered me an opportunity to leave, I did. I quit my job, took what I could, and relocated here. I still feel guilty. I still question whether my actions benefited either of us.
When I left, my mom left one of her jobs, so that she could be available to care for him. Today my dad was laid off again. I'm scared of what this means for them, for him, for me. Likely my parents will sell their house. My dad wants to return to the South for better housing prices. This kind of upheaval will cause my brother an incredible amount of distress. My mom is already frantic about it. I feel responsible, even though logically I know I'm not the cause. In the wake of my own inability to find reliable and permanent work, I find myself wondering tonight more than ever if I made the worst kind of mistake for leaving in the first place.