Apologies, explanations, and sibling rivalry

My dissertation has suddenly picked up speed, which is good and expected but stressful. I have a whole series of posts planned and even some drafts started, but just can’t spare the time to give them the attention they merit. I haven’t even found a good mental space from which to reply to comments on my initial post (sorry!); I hope to get to that this weekend, once I’m done with my current experiment. I also hope to post a descriptive post with medical/relevant details about my sister’s disabilities, and some basic biographical aspects of our story (hopefully with the introduction of pseudonyms to ease the narrative process).

Today, though, I wanted to take a moment to address the major thought on my mind right now: my sister is starting the transition from living at home to living “outside.” She was accepted into a wonderful supported-living program a few months ago in which the client or client’s guardians procure housing for the client and a rotating team member. (This means two bedrooms at minimum.) There are staff on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week – hence the second bedroom, which sometimes doubles as the office so that the team can communicate with each other and their supervisors. My sister doesn’t have a full staff scheduled yet, so we think she’ll spend some days/nights with my parents for a few months…but she is definitely beginning her move out.

This past Monday was the day that my parents signed the paperwork to rent an apartment for my sister. It’s perhaps five minutes’ walk from my parents’ house, which is absolutely great. This means that my sister can still access local stores and restaurants that she likes, and she’s close enough that my parents can respond easily if need be.

You may have noticed that I included this post in the “great news” category but used a less-positive title. Right now my sister needs pretty much all the emotional and physical resources my parents can spare. Part of that is what they need for their own transitions; part of it is for hers. Thus, my family and their support feel largely inaccessible to me, and I’m having a hard time not feeling deeply jealous of the support she’s getting from them. I’m in the middle of one of the most stressful parts of my dissertation work, in which I have a couple of months in which to wrap up experiments, write up my final findings, schedule a defense (and prepare for my presentation/oral exam), and arrange to relocate for the job I (thankfully!) have waiting for me. It can feel very lonely, as I spend the vast majority of my time wrapped up in my work, and my local social network isn’t providing the support I want. (Almost all of my friends are in similarly taxing situations, so I don’t blame them for this, but it is frustrating.) It sometimes happens that I call my parents when I need reassurance, and if my sister isn’t trying to redirect or interrupting the conversation, they’re often not on the same wavelength as I am, and it makes me unhappy.

I would guess that it’s a fairly common experience to feel not only jealous of the sibling who logistically needs more help and attention, but also to feel guilty about it, understanding that it’s a legitimate need. That doesn’t always translate into coping well with the realization, though…

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4 Comments on “Apologies, explanations, and sibling rivalry”

  1. Carolyn says:

    It’s nice to hear you verbalize that tension—it’s something I come up against with my sister just in terms of mental illness, but not something I’ve heard you mention much in full words. And also? Good luck with all that work you’re doing–I’m rooting for you!

    • bornthatway says:

      Thanks for the well-wishes! It’ll be intense, but it will be over in a matter of months.

      I’m a little surprised that I haven’t said anything about the sibling rivalry in your hearing…it’s been on my mind a lot, and I’ve actually been talking to my parents about it a little bit. Also, it hasn’t been as intense over the last few years as it has been over the last few months.

  2. I would guess that it’s a fairly common experience to feel not only jealous of the sibling who logistically needs more help and attention, but also to feel guilty about it, understanding that it’s a legitimate need.

    This is so well put — that combination of guilt and jealousy is very familiar to me. My brother was largely healthy when we were little kids, whereas I was sick a lot of the time (with the usual kid things — ear infections, sore throats) and I took a perverse kind of pleasure in being the center of attention while I was sick. It was the one scenario when I got to be the needy one with no questions asked.

    • bornthatway says:

      It was the one scenario when I got to be the needy one with no questions asked.

      Someone once asked me whether that was why I was such a good student – if earning academic accolades was my way to “earn” the attention. I’m still unsure about that; to a degree, it is probably true, but I also grew up in such an education-positive household that there’s definitely more to it than that!


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