Family Dynamic – Part 1

Alex and I, Homecoming Dance October 2015

That photo above this here text is one of my favorites that I could find of just my sister and I. I have mentioned my sister, Alex in various posts in passing, but I guess on the day after national sibling day, she will be my main topic of conversation. I don’t remember what I joked about, but our friend was able to capture this moment at her first rental home just perfectly. I just remember this was kind of a pivotal moment in my mental health journey.

I just started dating my very toxic now ex named Jake. He was two years older than I; the same age as my sister. I was a senior in high school and it was my last school dance besides prom. Even though high school dances weren’t his scene, he went as my date because he knew it was important to me. He hated to dance so he made me feel guilty for keeping him there and we left and I sobbed the rest the night, I was so upset. Once I left, I couldn’t reenter the building and I had to escort him off the property because he was no longer a student there. That was the first night I had a clue that what I had might not be just depression.

Shortly after that, I went through a slew of medical issues, which all led me to become diagnosed with bipolar once I turned 18 in February of that next year. During that time, my sister was living on her own with a roommate, was attending community college, and had just started dating her now husband, Phill.

Alex and I have a very… different and even difficult relationship in our later years. Growing up, her and I were inseparable, just as my mother intended. Our mom never had a sister growing up, but always wanted one. So when she had children, she wanted two daughters who were best friends. And that’s exactly what she got. We were born just shy from two years apart, she’s the older Pisces, and I’m the younger precarious Aquarius. We shared a room until I was ten years old. In my childhood home and from when I was born to about age 7 or 8, we had to always match. We dressed alike, we had matching comforters for our beds that were purple, purple carpet, purple curtains, you name it. We matched and purple was the theme; my mother was thrilled. We played together and she always thought that she was the leader because she was older, but I did what I wanted and I was always bigger than her so I could beat her up if she got in my way!

As soon as she hit middle school, we kind of went our separate ways. I would ask her to play Barbies with me and she was too cool for school and would dismiss me. We no longer shared the same interests because we were growing up and I really struggled with that. My whole childhood identity was that my sister was my best friend and I felt I had lost that. I had to go through this whole grieving process and everything and find a new identity as my own individual.

Once we both were in high school, we became a bit closer. Our mother’s alcoholism was in full swing and came with no end in sight. She was also developing signs of severe paranoia, truly believing people were out to get her and that people lived underneath our house and were spying on us. So my sister and I made a pact to stick together because all we really had at that point was each other. Our dad worked long hours and commuted to and from work three hours round trip everyday and would find reasons to stay later than need be at work to avoid dealing with our mom. Now, I no longer fault my dad for not being present; he was doing the best he could with the situation he was presented with. He was coping the only way he knew how, which was to provide for all of us financially.

We both coped in different ways, my sister and I. She would tend to stay cooped up in her room and would talk to my nana via phone and would text friends and whatever boyfriend she had for support. If my mom was drunk downstairs being belligerent, I was usually down there with her to ensure her safety, while my dad was at work. But the one thing Alex and I had together that we thrived at was debate club. She was a captain when I was an underclassman. It was our escape. Although we never competed together, she was a big support and a reason I pursued law in college after I graduated high school.

That catches us up to speed with the picture I shared. Alex had beliefs that differed from me around this time. Although we grew up in a fairly progressive home with Christian values, I feel as she went the opposite direction, she wanted to be nothing like our family. She met her now husband, Phill through youth group that she and I attended together. He grew up in a very conservative, alt-right, home schooled, Christian household and she became very drawn to that lifestyle because it was everything our family was not. Now I am not stating there is anything wrong with any of those things, it was just very different from how we were raised and there wasn’t anything there that compelled me to fit this so seemingly “perfect, Christian mold.”

She held these different values than I did; for example I was no longer a virgin when this photo was taken, while she saved herself for marriage. I’m not sure if she at the time held that against me, but she made sure that I knew that’s not what God had intended for me to do. Now, I’m at a place in my life where I can say, in my opinion, that Alex was trying to protect herself from getting hurt whether it be by me, or my parents, or whoever. Her values were a form of protection and imposing them on me made her feel better about herself. She created a fortress around herself so to speak. A layer of protection.

When I was diagnosed as bipolar in 2016, she stated that only God could help me get through and that medication was not the best nor the most natural way to go about things. Although I conceded the fact that I knew God’s plan would prevail, and I would get through this, I didn’t need nor could handle the negativity when she said, “Medication was not the best nor the most natural way to go about things.” She was and is not my medical doctor. She was and is not my therapist. She was and is my sister. During this time, I craved her support, not her personal beliefs and ideals. It was her belief against mine which really threw a rake in our already fragile relationship at a time I needed her most. Again, I was forced to find a new identity without the support of my sister. Another blow to the good ole’ self esteem.

But then…

In early 2017, we almost lost our mom to schizophrenia. Mom drank her last bottle of alcohol on October 14th, 2016. She had been sober only a couple of months when she slowly stopped going to AA meetings. Then she stopped getting out of the house. Then she stopped getting ready everyday. Then she stopped showering or brushing her teeth. Then she wouldn’t get off the couch. Then she stopped eating. Stopped drinking fluids. Stopped using the bathroom. She stopped living.

She dropped half of her body weight in a month’s time; from 140 pounds to 70 pounds. I remember vividly carrying her to and from the car, taking her to different doctors’ and therapists’, trying to get her diagnosed with schizophrenia. During each visit, I primarily did the talking. She sat silently. Her complexion was gone. Her drive and will to live had vanished. There was no life in her eyes. I screamed at her so many times to shower. I forced her to take off her clothes and bathe and all she could muster out the words, “I’m scared.” After that, I told her to get dressed. It was no use. I needed help and no one was helping me. She pulled on the same pajamas she had worn all month long. I tried to buy her beans and rice, her favorite meal, all she could eat was one single grain of rice and no beans before she began to gag. That was a lost cause.

When my dad walked in to the house that day, I screamed at him,”We are taking her to the hospital!” There was no way I was doing this shit alone. I had been alone and scared for so long and I wasn’t about to let her die on my watch.

After some bickering back and forth, he reluctantly agrees to drive an hour and a half away to a decent hospital that had more mental health capabilities than our local hospital had. I distinctly remembered she answered the question with a “10” when asked, “How suicidal are you on a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest?” It broke my heart into a million little pieces, watching my mom, my supposed caretaker say that if if she theoretically had a gun in her hands, she had the hurt in her heart and the willpower, to pull the trigger.

As we waited hours upon hours to be seen by a doctor and a social worker, I distinctly remember doing my homework in the hospital. I remember I missed a lot of class in order to take care of her and I would be damned if I was gonna let her get in the way of my nearly perfect GPA. As midnight rolled around, we had yet to see a doctor, so I called my then-boyfriend, Diego to come pick me up so I could go to work in the morning. After that, the details are a little blurry, but they ended up discharging her not long after I left. I was furious at the healthcare system in this country.

The only bright side of taking her was at the very bottom of her discharge papers, the doctor put the diagnosis, “Schizophrenia”. That was then put in the computer system, Epic, which allowed for any medical professional to then treat her for schizophrenia. In the days following after that night, she was immediately seen by her primary care provider who then placed her on heavy-duty anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. In the months following, she began to be herself again. The old her. The real her. It was a beautiful thing to see. She slowly gained her appetite back, she showered, she changed her clothes, she started talking. She stopped talking about the people that lived underneath the house and she stopped talking about the people watching her.

Back to the Main Story

But this story isn’t about my mom, although that story has a very happy ending. It is about Alex. And where was Alex in all of this? No where to be found. She excused herself from taking our mom to the ER because she thought she didn’t need medical attention. She remained very distant throughout the whole ordeal in order to protect her own emotions, whereas I was in the forefront of it all.

I think in 2018 is when Alex started to seek counseling to deal with her social anxiety. Alex, of course, detested my counselor due to her “lack of morals.” Ironically, it was my counselor who recommended a nice, Christian counselor to my mother, who then shared that information with Alex. Along with social anxiety counseling, I think Alex had a lot of grieving and recovery to go through growing up with having our mother as our mom.

With counseling, she came around to the concept that maybe people like my mom and I actually needed medication. It was through the advice of Phill that Alex reached out to me to see if I would attend a counseling session with her and her therapist. I don’t remember a lot from that session besides the fact it was extremely uncomfortable; like I was the enemy. But her counselor suggested that we go have coffee to “catch up” every 3-4 weeks so we could work on rebuilding a basic friendship, let alone a relationship.

That is something we do to this day, and I am very thankful for that day and that I was an active participant in her therapy session. Because of that one and only therapy session, the next year, I was one of the first to find out when Phill finally decided to propose! We had a huge argument leading up to the wedding day, which caused me to be uninvited and then re-invited, but we managed to work through our issues and below are the results.

January 5th, 2020 – Alex and Phill’s Wedding Ceremony
Left to Right: Dad, Dani, Alex, Phill, and Mom

With corona virus and her being a newly wed, I have hardly seen her since her wedding day. But I have faith that no matter what life throws our way, we can get through just about anything. We are sisters after all!

Sorry not sorry for the long post.

Til Next Time,

Dani

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