By An Adopt4life Community Parent
It almost feels like yesterday, coming home to the same after school routine. Call mom, let her know I’ve made it home, check on my sister to make sure she is ok, and if not, try and decide how to help until mom came home. Sometimes that meant cleaning up the blood on the walls, other times, it meant calling 911, or mom begging her to hurry. You see, I grew up with a sister with severe mental illness, and although I was 8 years younger, in many ways, I was “the big sister”.
My parents had always done their best to try and protect us from the realities of mental illness, trips to the hospitals, in-patient units, late night 911 calls, sort of became my norm. It was a delicate balance between playing this game of pretending not to know; and knowing enough to raid her room to throw out the pills she had gotten a hold of. I found myself trying to keep my problems to myself, so that I wouldn’t add more to their plate…although I often felt like such a burden. As I grew into my teen years, I rebelled. I was angry, jealous of all the attention she had gotten and misunderstood by so many, including the professionals in our lives, who seemed to forget how much of an impact having to grow up with a sibling with mental illness can have on someone.
My relationship with my sister wasn’t always a scary one, as we got older, my own understanding and appreciation for mental health issues grew. Like all families, we had our ups and downs. The last years of my sister's life, I got to see her flourish, it was almost like she had become the big sister I had always wanted. Those memories, her laugh, generosity and quirky personality are things that will follow me for the rest of my days. You see my sister's years of self-abuse and neglect ultimately took her life, leaving us to try and pick up the pieces. Although my sister was the one diagnosed, as her sibling, it was as though I was diagnosed as well.
It wasn’t until I became a parent years after she passed away that I realized just how difficult this must have been for my own parents. Stuck between their wishes to protect us younger children, while trying desperately to get the help, the real help she needed. Looking back, I wish I had the courage to talk to my parents more, I should have let them know that although I was only 8, 10, 14 years old, I knew.. I saw, and I was scared too.
My wish for any parent who may be reading this is to know that it's OK to be scared, and that as a sibling, we know you are trying your best. We might rebel, we might say things to hurt you, but the reality is, is that we’re just trying to figure everything out. It's ok to make mistakes, it's ok that you sometimes need to spend more time with your other child. We may not understand it as children, but we will, and we know your love for all of us surpasses any diagnoses.