“I’m sorry I called you a cunt at mom’s wedding,” is how the voicemail began. My sister had one her episodes the night of my mother’s second wedding and now that is all I can remember from the evening. This is how my entire life has been measured, in moments and occasions marked by my sister’s episodes. Growing up in a house with her was a constant battlefield. We all lived our lives tip-toeing around the minefield, hoping not to step on one that would send her into a manic rage. Sometimes it would be because I took her coloring book. Other times because she was simply tired. She had no control over her own emotions and my parents had no control over their youngest child. My childhood was at the mercy of my sister’s volatility.
I never feel more crazy than when trying to explain to someone who is not a member of my family why I am mad at my sister. She has an undiagnosed personality disorder that causes her to break out into hysterics at the slightest perception of mistreatment. Growing up, I was the “well child”. I did not learn this term until recently. There are many studies on the effects of growing up in the same household as a sick sibling and how this can transform into a lifetime of internal emotional battles for the well child. Perfect. Because the teenage pregnancy and the abandonment by my father was not quite enough. In my quest to become a better person, though, it was concluded that it is no longer in my best interest to maintain a relationship with my sister. This was three years ago following my mother’s wedding. We see each other at holiday meals but speak minimal words to each other. I do not have her phone number. I do not know where she lives. My only nephew is a complete stranger to me.
Mental illness runs in my family. It goes back many generations we are told, but it always shows up more prevalent in 2-3 persons per generation. My sister drew the short straw. One would think that knowing our family history, we would be hyper sensitive to our psychosis and seek medical treatment regularly. LOL. That ain’t our style. We like to suppress things until they explode, because what fun is it to have things under control all of the time? My parents never sought medical advice for my sister. I think after so many years, the behavior is no longer even abnormal to them. My dad left when my sister was 12. I left a couple years later. My mom never got out.
Sometimes I’ll see pictures online of my friends with their siblings. They take family vacations together. They pose in front of the Christmas tree wearing matching pajamas. They tag each other in funny memes and have inside jokes. They are joyous posts and they break my heart. Those types of relationships are not in the cards for me and it has taken me a very long time to realize that that’s okay. Everyone yearns for a feeling of family, a sense of community and a sense of home. I don’t have that with my sister or my mother or my father. I had to create that feeling on my own at a very young age, often times in all of the wrong places. But now I have it with my daughter and I cultivate it with my friendships. My best friend (who is anxiously awaiting the day I mention her here- “that bitch better not write about me” were her exact words I believe) has become my sister in every sense of the word and I thank the universe regularly for putting her into my life.
One of the hardest parts of all of this, though, is knowing that my sister unleashes these behaviors on others beyond myself. I have guilt and I have grief when I hear these stories. Guilt because I was incapable of helping my sister get well, grief because I know in a lot of ways none of this is her fault. I no longer speak to my sister but her presence in my life is larger than ever. Yesterday I received messages from a cousin venting about the terrible things my sister just screamed at her over the phone. Then she forwarded me a voicemail from my sister. Memories came flooding back and I could feel my chest tighten at the sound of her hysterical voice. My cousin reached out to my mother to help resolve the situation. “I’m sorry,” my mother replied. “She’s just emotional right now.”