Monday, February 21, 2005

Obsolete Sounds: His voice before

I miss what my brother’s voice used to sound like. Before the first break, he had music in his voice: variations in pitch and tempo, accents, melismata. Now, he speaks in a steady, clipped monotone, just loudly enough that he can hear himself over the other voices that are always there. I haven’t heard him laugh in four years.

Onomatopoeically, psychiatrists refer to this phenomenon as “affective flattening.” It impacts facial expression, eye contact, and body language as well as the speaking voice, and is one of the criteria used by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose schizophrenia. It is also, perversely, a side-effect of the medications that are commonly used to treat the disease.

My brother’s voice has haunted me since Friday. It is him and not-him; it is the voice of a mentally ill man who used to be my little brother.

It’s Monday. I’ll stop now.


Caron said...

I'm so sorry; I cannot imagine how sad you must feel. I imagine this must be a similar experience to those whose loved ones suffer from Alzheimer's disease - where someone is alive but not living.

Vila H. said...

Thanks, Caron. I hope I haven’t been melodramatic; if I have, I apologize. I’m still learning how to talk about this, which I didn’t for a long time.

Schizophrenia is very much like Alzheimer’s in certain respects, in that it affects many of the attributes we most strongly associate with being human: language, thought, perception, emotion, relationship. But the individual remains both alive and human, albeit in a way that is enormously difficult to understand.

I think I am still trying to figure out how to love my brother as he is now. I think it’s important that he tries to talk to me, and I try to put myself aside and listen, without playing therapist. But it’s hard, and sad, and although I’m ashamed to admit it, a part of me is still deeply afraid of how he is. I wonder if there’s a point where you stop being afraid?

Caron said...

I assure you you haven't been melodramatic. Anyway, who is anyone else to judge how you deal with your life and loved ones?

It does seem very scary, so I guess I would just suggest you embrace the fear, just sort of honor it for now. Trying to love your brother as he is now will be hard, and maybe you need to mourn the brother you've lost first?