How Supporting My Sister Taught Me Self-Compassion
By Taylor Adams, MHA Programs and Operations Manager, February 20th, 2019
There are few choice words I would use describe myself: I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend, a Pinterest enthusiast, a well-intentioned but awful plant mom. And I am a frequent client to my therapist because I have depression. Sometimes it feels like that last descriptor overshadows the other parts of my identity. Without the appropriate help, it consumed me as a young person who had lacked a real sense of identity. Being a loving daughter, a guiding sister, or a good friend always took a back seat.
Absorbed in my own issues, I felt guilty when I failed to notice my sister struggling with disordered eating. I felt worse believing I was not able to provide the emotional support she deserved from a sibling. She approaches life with a carefree attitude and quirky sense of humor. And she is fearless, a quality I admire most about her. But like my depression, her eating disorder can overwhelm her.
I fondly remember the frequent day trips my sister and I took to the Jersey shore, building sand castles and hosting our own sand-inspired cooking shows. Now, I liken our mental health to a sand castle in constant fear of an approaching tide that threatens to wash away all the hard effort it took to create. At times, a moat is desperately needed to catch the brunt of the crashing waves.
Reserving my feelings of guilt for therapy, I also felt hopeful about my sister’s recovery. The unwavering hope I felt for her replaced the hopelessness I felt for myself. I never doubted that she would thrive in spite of her eating disorder. As she works through her recovery, I am proud to see how her language and perceptions evolve with each victory and hurdle. The process is by no means linear, but I am confident the direction is forward. She is still the sister I know and love, and her eating disorder does not define her. Just as my depression does not define me.
Supporting my sister’s wellness has taught me to be kinder to myself in my own recovery. The thoughts and words I use to support her directly challenge the negative self-talk and perceptions I hold to be true about myself, constantly reminding me that these thoughts are not grounded in reality.
It takes practice to find the right balance between asking for help and offering support. Effects of mental illness include feeling like you are a burden to the people you love, but I find it easier to open up when I feel like I am helping her too. Instead of berating myself for being a bad sibling, I am grateful to have a sister who I can talk with about our similar concerns. Our mental health struggles have only strengthened our relationship knowing that we are both capable of acting as our own and each other’s moats.