The words "mental illness" were never spoken until the evening of my sixteenth birthday. I sat with my sister in the car on our driveway and listened to her confess to me that she had been battling depression and anxiety for months (which we later learned were the symptoms of a more serious psychological disorder) and no longer wanted to keep it a secret. This was one of the worst nights of my life. At first, I became furious with her. I was mad that she had "ruined" my birthday, I was angry that everyone in my family knew before I did, and I was jealous that she had chosen to first confide in my brother about it, instead of confiding in me. But then I remembered that this wasn’t about me, it was about her so I stuffed those feelings deep inside and bottled them up. From then on in, I internalized everything and instead consumed my self with keeping her alive, content and strong. I took on this new role of being my sister’s keeper.
This role meant that my focus was on making sure that she got better and got the help that she needed. Living with someone who suffers from severe mental illness is not something that can easily be put into words. It affects every aspect of your life and then some. There were many nights where I lay in her bed trying to calm her down from hysterics and ease her anxiety. I was so focused and immersed in being the perfect big sister who was supportive and strong that I failed to recognize that I had developed a psychological disorder of my own.
It wasn’t until about three and half month ago that I had fully grasped the extent of the damage that I had created. I realized something in me had changed. I no longer felt like myself. Lauren had escaped my body and left only a skeleton of that person behind. I experienced constant feelings of anger and frustration. The littlest things would irritate me and set me off. I spent two weekends isolated from my family, consumed in my bedroom by the anger and sadness that had become my new constant state of being. This was not like me. I was always the strong one, the one that was a constant source of support and care.
There is this misconception that mental health is black and white and that the symptoms of a psychological disorder reflect this notion. For the longest time I believed in this misconception. Depression is not an easy thing to accept or recognize in one’s self. For years I had associated depression with the symptoms my sister showed, but as I have learned, depression comes is all shapes, sizes and forms and manifests itself differently in every person.
I never wanted to believe that I had a mental health issue because in my mind, my life was perfect. I am extremely ambitious, I have an incredibly supportive group of friends, I have no financial worries, and I love what I am studying in school. I have a reason to get up every morning. Yet, something in me didn’t feel right and as I have since realized, hasn't felt right for some time. I was in denial that I was suffering because I was scared of the stigma that it's attached to.
I wanted to share my story to address the elephant in MY room and inspire not only those battling mental health but to inspire the individuals who live with someone who has a psychological disorder. These parents, siblings, and friends are not often as talked about and their stories are not often as shared. It is not easy living with someone who suffers from a psychological disorder. It is like you are constantly walking on eggshells around them and it takes every ounce of strength out of you. The anger, frustration, resentment, and grief that you are probably feeling are completely normal and these feelings don’t make you a bad person. They make you human.
It is so easy to forget about yourself and your own mental health when someone who is suffering constantly surrounds you. My advice is to never neglect your own emotions and feelings. Seek help and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. No one deserves to suffer in silence and by doing so you are causing more harm than good. Although it took me a few years to realize this, I am now getting the help that I need and focusing on myself while still being that supportive and strong big sister. It is important to talk about mental health, as it gives a voice to those who are too scared and ashamed to and the more you talk about it, the easier it gets.