The Blessings and Curse of Being a Big Sister

The oldest of three girls, I have never allowed my parents to take full responsibility for raising them. I was a mother hen since the age of 5 when my first little sister was born. My parents were young, so they were happy to have turned their first born into a stay-at-home babysitter. This also means that I often take credit for the qualities they have in common with me. When they use their intelligent wit to win situations, flex their creative muscles or exhibit their beauty, I like to say they take after me.

Unfortunately, once we got older I also started noticing the traits we shared that would interfere with their quality of life. You know that time you wished you could time travel to the past and give yourself advice? I can. Big sisters protect little sisters, sometimes from themselves.

There was this time when I called my sister to commiserate with her after suffering a devastating breakup. At the same time that I was heartbroken, she was having her own struggles with her partner. Without going into too much detail, we both share the poison that is mental illness. I’m no doctor, but it’s my belief that in both our cases it’s due to chemical imbalances in our bodies. Mine from the brain tumor and hers from her lady parts. For years I was in denial. I would have large blowups (or manic episodes as they call them in the doc’s office), learn from it and move on. Not to mention that I also suffered childhood trauma which would confuse the situation. Instead of diagnosing the problem as being from the imbalance and understanding the importance in treatment, I would blame the shit that happened to me as a child and deal with that, then move on. No real treatment for the disease. Not to mention, I had to take care of the rest of the world. What would it do without me? I had to make sure no one else was suffering, couldn’t worry about myself. Let’s face it, I didn’t want to deal with it. It was scary. It was even a root cause for the devastating breakup I had called her about.

This monster in my mind had caused breakups before, but this time was the last straw. This was the man I was destined to be with. As much as I could try to say that he was an asshole for not wanting to help me through my traumatic time, I would be a bitch if I didn’t give him credit for sticking around as long as he had. I had also grown sick and tired of the cycle that had taken over my life. Be single, be happy, find love, be happy, put others first, get insecure, lose myself, destroy myself, destroy my partner, destroy my life, lose my partner, and repeat. This time I had finally learned I must eliminate the part about putting other people first and instead rewrite the cycle like this: put myself first, be happy, be healthy, love myself, find love from another, love myself more, stay healthy, enjoy my partner, be happy, live life, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Somewhere in between our whining and moaning, I realized that I was talking to myself at her age. I immediately stopped the bitching and venting and instead started scolding her. I reminded her that no matter what, she would have to stop worrying about what her partner was feeling or how he could understand her or not. That he will never be able to empathize with her situation, nor would she want him to because that would mean he was enduring the same kind of confusion and dystopia that she does. I came to hear the words coming out of my mouth directed at her and bouncing back into my own ears as if I was just a mouthpiece for some omnipresent advisor for the two of us. The most profound piece of advice to her/us was regarding her stigma with taking a step back from her partner for herself to recalibrate. I had requested the same of my partner and he had the same reaction as hers- that if she takes this step back, that if she moves out on her own to focus on her needs, then he considers that the end of the relationship rather than a step in moving forward. I stayed with him despite what I knew I needed and it was the worst mistake of my relationship. I was now in a time machine and had a chance to change if not my past, then her future. I said,

“If you are so worried about how you will affect him by taking a step back to take care of yourself, think about how much worse the effect will be if you don’t. Do you want to go through this every few years for the rest of your life? There isn’t anything you can do worse than not doing something to help yourself just because he is not comfortable with it. Listen to yourself. You know what you need and it’s about damn time you listen.”

It seemed to be too late for me but I was going to help her, help myself. She gave me more motivation to be strong in what felt like my weakest time more than anything else. She reminded me this wasn’t the first time I had been here; but it would most certainly be my last. For me, for her.


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