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How Frankie Jonas’ TikTok Journey Made Me Feel Seen

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Frankie Jonas is eight years younger than his next sibling, and in some ways I feel like I can relate more to him as the older sibling than anybody else. I may be the older one, yet in many ways, I was overshadowed and struggled to find my own like Frankie did himself. As Frankie was known as “Bonus Jonas,” I was, for many years, known as “the big sister” or “her sister,” never being called for who I am. When my sister was born, I was excited to have a playmate, a built-in best friend.

What I didn’t know was that being eight years her senior, there would be a lot of moments when my build-in best friend wasn’t there for me, when she couldn’t relate to what life stage I was going through, to help me through my struggles. I vividly remember a moment when I was a junior in high school, struggling with my pre-calculus homework. It was one of those rare moments I went to my father for help, and as the help session progressed, we both became more and more frustrated with each other. At one point, I don’t remember what triggered it, he turned to me and said, “Why can’t you be as good at math as your sister?” There was anger in his voice. I didn’t have a response. I grew silent.

This was the beginning of years of comparisons with my little sister, when we really had not much in common besides being sisters. We were our own individual beings and had our own personalities, yet the small side comments about how my little sister was better than me at handwriting, how she was more flexible and athletic or how she was sweeter and smarter took a toll on me. I started to feel inadequate. I started to wonder about how could I get my voice heard? How could I be seen? I played varsity softball, was in honors and advanced placement (AP) classes and the school wind ensemble, not to mention holding officer positions in a couple clubs on campus. Yet I was being told that I was just not as good as my little sister.

There is no comparing siblings. I think each one is their own individual and unique in their own right. The comparison I experienced, whether intentional or unintentional, led to consequences for my mental health that have only slowly begun to resolve. My mental health was not in a good place as it was, as I was struggling with major depressive disorder, anorexia nervosa and self-harm starting at age 14. The comparisons between my sister and I added to the cloud of depression that overcame me. I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough and like I had not lived up to my parent’s expectations of their first born, that I was a catastrophic failure. There is also a layer to this too, where I was expected to be the first-born son in my family at my generation, yet I was a daughter. That dynamic has played out significantly in my life as well and has had severe consequences but that is for another story. For now, the comparisons between my little sister and I have sometimes overshadowed the experiences I have had and the accomplishments I have achieved.

Even as recently as the last few years, I remember my parents saying that my sister was more fit and had more muscle tone than me. This is toxic and was damaging to my mental health. I have struggled with and still struggle with body image due to my decade long fight with anorexia and the hits at my body image and lack of muscle tone did not help. In addition, my sister gathered a substantial social media following for her impeccable writing and study skills, something that my parents couldn’t help but notice and compliment her for. “Why can’t you be neater like your sister?” “Why are you not you as organized as your sister?” Even as an adult, these comments stung.

Like Frankie Jonas, with years and years of therapy, from individual sessions to group therapy to residential treatment, I have learned to separate my identity from that of my sisters. I have learned we are two unique individuals that have different paths in life. It took many years of work on my own mental health to get to a place to understand that the comments and jabs taken at me were not intentional, that they aren’t always meant to pit my sister against myself. I am growing more comfortable in my own skin, as I have found ways to separate myself from my sister. We are individuals and as she has gotten older, it has helped us bond in a way where we now have more shared life experience (eight years age difference is no joke). She is more understanding of my experiences as I am hers; we are able to converse and support each other wholeheartedly more now than ever before. I am still a work in progress, but as I have found my passion in education, disability and mental health advocacy (with my service dog by my side), I have found it becoming easier, day by day, to say today is for me and I am enough.

Lead image courtesy of Frankie Jonas’ TikTok

Originally published: April 26, 2021
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