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What Accepting Bipolar Disorder Means to My Sibling Relationship

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I have always had a loving relationship with my sister, tinged with the envy I have felt for her as the golden child of our family with considerable popularity in our community. I remember my father once said to me in a moment of frustration, “This is why you have no friends. You should be more like your sister.” During a few bad years in elementary school, gangs of girls would corner me in the bathroom, pulling their eyes into slits, chanting “Ching chong, go back to China.” The same girls would sweetly pat my sister on the shoulder on the bus back from school and say, “We like Shelly, she’s cool.”

• What is Bipolar disorder?

In high school I was able to hold my own in terms of achievements. I was valedictorian, won speech contests and essay contests, and entered Princeton University. When she was in high school she, in a way, had to live in the shadow of my accomplishments. When I went off to university I thought, finally, I had arrived.

My freshman year I had painful depression. I had always been an exquisitely sensitive person and I was unaccustomed to the stresses of university life, from the disorder of the dorms to the emotional bruising of hookup culture and the sudden decline in my grades. I ended up sleeping less than three hours a night and isolating myself in my room. When I went home on breaks and saw my sister thriving in high school, winning her way to Harvard on a platform of spectacular achievements, I couldn’t bring myself to be happy for her. Fortunately, I eventually adapted to college, found a wonderful boyfriend, and was able to thrive in my athletic and academic communities.

Today we’re very close and I celebrate her achievements with her. She has a successful career in finance and an equally accomplished boyfriend who adores her. Her employees look up to her and she takes caring and competent care of them. Meanwhile I’m single, a student supported by my mother. I am self-conscious of the bipolar diagnosis and self-harm scars I will have to disclose to each potential suitor. I worry how my episodes will interfere with my work in the future.

Recently I have decided to let go of the envy I have held onto for so long. It is corroding my soul and it does no one any good. I think all those material things she has, those designer bags and Cartier rings don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. I think being a psychology student is just as prestigious as being a hedge fund manager because it means I am going to make a beautiful difference in the lives of many people. I think that as a romantic partner I am brilliant, funny, and loving. Scars and all, I am absolutely beautiful. I am like one of those Japanese ceramics mended with gold.

When I next see my sister I am going to embrace her with my whole heart. I am going to smile with true gladness. I am going to welcome her into my home without a scrap of envy. I am going to think, “I am able to love you without reservation because I love myself!”

Getty image by recep-bg

Originally published: October 11, 2022
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