Welcome to this week’s Womanly Wednesday! It is always an honor to have women share their hearts in this series, and this week’s post really touched me with its honesty and rawness. Autumn, a blogging friend from Stay Gold Autumn, is opening up about her experiences growing up with a sister with many mental health issues. I can relate to some of this from my own extended family and some of it from friends and their families, and I hope that anyone who’s in Autumn’s (or her sister’s) shoes is encouraged by her words here today.
A Doctor approached my dad in the hospital. “Is this your child?” My dad replied. “Did you adopt your child?” My dad replied. The doctor looked back and forth from my sister to my father and said: “I wouldn’t have bet a penny on this child’s life a year ago.”
My parents adopted my sister at the age of 3, but she had almost died from malnutrition multiple times before being placed into foster care. A year or two after the adoption, my parents were in an abuse seminar when my Mom realized that they were passing my sibling’s pictures around as examples; in that meeting, my parents found out that my sister was placed into foster care after being in the worse child abuse situation the state said it had seen.
I’ve always been very cautious about talking about my sister’s experiences, and my experiences as her younger sister, because I did not want to add to the stigma of foster care adoptions or perpetuate stereotypes of children who are adopted having “problems.” Instead, I want you to understand that my sister’s illness is indicative of being severely neglected and abused, having severe psychiatric illnesses, and that I forgive her.
I realized at a very young age that my sister had a major eating disorder and also that she was very jealous of me. I remember her telling me weekly how much I ruined her life and I began to believe it when she threw herself off a bridge when my parents were able to formally adopt me at 5. When I tried to hug her in her bed in the hospital after surgery, she said that I had wanted her to die.
I lived in this strange world where people stared at our family anytime we were ever out, or were rude enough to make comments about my sister’s weight where we could hear. I defended my sister; however, my sister was a complete monster to me anytime we were in private. I dreaded Christmas and birthdays because my presents would always go missing or get broken “mysteriously.” I was terrified of receiving compliments from anyone or asking if I could change the TV channel because I never knew what would set off her abuse towards me. The older I became, the more ill my sister became and the worse I was treated at home.
On April Fools Day in the 7th grade, I had to call the police on my sister.
The next day, as I walked through my home still in shock, I picked up my Scriptures and read. In spite of the trauma, my faith grew. Even though I was only 12 and I know I still wasn’t able to process everything, my scriptures and faith helped prepare a foundation for me when I did understand and felt my world tumbling down. I found comfort in knowing that Christ had continuously remembered me and understood my experiences (Isaiah 49:16).
Over the next few years, I grieved my lack of relationship with my sister. My family had contact with my sister when she would accept and go to therapy. In college, my sister had tried to really improve herself and so I accepted phone calls, emails and texts. However, once I began dating, my sister was extremely jealous and I had to limit contact again. My sister began harming herself to the point of hospitalization every time I would visit. When my husband and I were moving into our first home together, my sister tried to commit suicide every time my parents tried visiting me and ended up hospitalized. I had to block her phone number in the hospital and the last message I received from her was on my mom’s phone describing how much she hated me.
My sister ended up passing away my first week of grad school from her eating disorder and from complications of her suicide attempts.
Shortly after marriage we had moved cross country away from our friends and safety net and I began having such crippling anxiety that I could not function. Through therapy, I learned I had delayed onset Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I began going to therapy for that; ironically, I found the therapy was much more painful than the initial experiences ever felt. I became open with my family about the abuse which began a family wide grieving cycle that often felt like a tight rope walk trying to balance sensitivity towards openly grieving for the first time, but respecting my parent’s ability to love my sister as their child. After she passed, I stopped praying for resolution, but instead began just praying that I would know that my sister loved me in a real and tangible way. I felt if I knew that, despite the relationship we had, that would be enough for me to press forward.
A year after she passed, I was going through boxes of pictures and ended up finding a letter my sister wrote for me at my baptism at 8. The writing prompt was for people to write about their baptism. I recognized my sister’s handwriting from the letters and decided to see what she remembered about her baptism. Instead of following the writing prompt, which is typical of my sister and made me smile, she wrote about the first day my parent’s brought me home and how much she loved me.
This was a story she had never shared with me in any other medium and I could see Anne’s genuine personality. The real her and I felt so much love as I read that letter and I knew everything was going to be okay.
Autumn is 27 years old and blogs over at Stay Gold Autumn where she blogs about life from a reflective and positive perspective. She blogs about a variety of things from her life like goals, road trips with her husband, and posts gratitude journals monthly. She is an ESL teacher, grad student, and a southerner who believes in underdogs and Jesus. You can also find her on twitter, facebook, bloglovin’, and pinterest.