Shelley is my cousin.
While we have obviously known each other since we were children, we were not what most would call ‘close’ until recent years. We have socialized over the years, of course, and we genuinely liked each other (I think) but we hadn’t really bonded.
I’m not really sure when that changed.
I guess when Shelley started to be more open with her illness. I was surprised, like so many others, to find that she had been hiding her times of despair for all these years.
I remember Shelley as a sensitive soul, a few years younger than myself. She cried a lot, but I grew up in a slightly rougher home than she did. And I thought she was just a sissy. I know that is politically incorrect now, however, that is an honest opinion from the child I was then.
When Shelley started to post on social media about her treatments and the totally fun car rides she promised to Toronto on the daily, I signed up.
Not for her, for me.
She said they would be fun. I believed her.
She didn’t lie.
I learned a lot about mental illness and my lack of understanding. And that for many years I lacked empathy for things that seemed so black and white. About how the rules that society and your parents teach you unintentionally about weakness and fitting in aren’t so crystal clear. That people can struggle desparately and hide that from people close to them everyday.
I also learned that this girl is funny!
And kind, she sees the good in others, even when her light is dim. She genuinely cares so much for others it is to her own detriment at times.
These car rides are not full of sadness, even though we are going to get her brain zapped, and she will have a giant headache when we leave. I like to think we make the best of our time together. We laugh, we laugh a lot. We talk about things and life and kids and parenting and all that goes along with that.
Sometimes I feel guilty when we finish our days together. I wonder if she really thinks I’m as hilarious as I do, or if it’s just the mask. Sometimes I feel guilty that I have enjoyed our time too much and that I should be more serious, and considerate of the treatment she just endured. Maybe I shouldn’t talk so much or laugh so loud? Not be so sarcastic?
But the I think that together we are a couple of weirdos who enjoy each other for who we are. During that car ride we can be ourselves and be ‘normal’. I think (hope) it is cathartic for us both.
I can see the difference from the start of each session to the end. I can see there is more struggle in the beginning, maybe more tears (happy and/or sad) in the middle, and then… then Shelley is back. We are easy together, she is lighter, the world is not on her shoulders. And we have fun!!
What I’ve selfishly gained through our rides together is a friend.
I’ve learned at the end of every darkness there is light, and there is laughter.
And I am thankful that Shelley has the strength and courage to go through this over and over again to bring her back to us and I am thankful that she lets me share this small part of her journey with her.
Written by: Stacey Irwin
Photo Credit: ‘Kim, Shelley & Stacey’ taken by Courtney Taylor, Brainstorm Revolution