My youngest brother Reuben, who has Down’s Syndrome, suffered a breakdown 4 years ago. It was a form of regression that locked him into himself. After two years of moving between my parents and partner´s homes, as we were trying to get him better, he moved into a care home in Dorset, UK. Then the lockdown happened and Reuben was more isolated than ever. He spiralled into a deep depression and became non verbal.
As another UK lockdown loomed in late 2020, I couldn’t sit in Spain twiddling my fingers. I decided to come back to England and bronap Reuben from the mouth of a whale; a care system that either didn’t know how to care for him or didn’t have the resources to care for him; one of the two, perhaps a little of both.
After 20 years of living in Spain, I returned to England to rescue him and together, we spent the quiet months of lockdown trying to work out what went wrong and how to make it better. As I devised methods and approaches to tackle Reuben´s breakdown, I realized that I needed to understand what it was like to be him; what it was really like to be a young man with Down’s Syndrome in a system and society that somehow had failed him. I spent the next days, weeks and months, becoming my brother, and together, we found a way out of the darkness.
He was suffering from high levels of anxiety. The most simple of tasks, like taking sheets off a bed, threw him into a panic. As he couldn’t access his voice, he began to communicate with me through drawings and the written word. Every single evening, he drew me a picture and then wrote underneath it, “Sleep well brother. Love You.” He would hand it to me upside down, for an exciting reveal, gently kiss me good night and slowly make his way to bed.
A year earlier, I had begun writing about my life in Andalucia and mere weeks into our brotherhood lockdown, I finished the book. I called a new lockdown friend and he met me on Chesil Beach to have a socially distanced celebration in the rain. A rainbow lit the skies to the west and he said,
“That is for you. You know what they say! As soon as you finish one book, you should start your next.”
True to his word, the very next day, I began writing a book about our journey of brotherhood. Reuben drew: I wrote. We were telling the same story using different mediums; parallel narratives through art and words.
When the book was finished, we met the directors of Little Toller Books, introduced by an old friend. We sat in a sunny garden drinking coffee and nibbling on croissants. I presented my words. Reuben presented his art. We were all captivated by a deep sense of understanding. I bathed in the relief that they understood our relationship and had the vision to give it a voice.
As a writer, you always hope that one day, your words will arrive at somebody’s door who needs to read them. Writing is a lonely pass time – my friend calls it an expensive hobby – and it requires hours and hours of isolation. As I wrote through the winter in that house in a quiet valley of West Dorset, words helped me find a path through the despair and created a structure of hope that I could cling to during the days when Reuben didn’t want to get out of bed.
Reuben taught me how to be a brother. He taught me how to love. And he taught me that little by little, word by word, drawing by drawing, we would crawl out of hopelessness and into hope.
Our book ‘brother. do. you. love. me.’ published by Little Toller Books is available from all good book stores.