There’s something wrong with my sister – what about me?Posted: March 8, 2010
Note: this entry dives a little deeper into my emotions than some posts, so there’s a good chance there are extra typographical errors or weird patches that I may come back to correct later.
One of the more uncomfortable internal dialogues I’ve had over the last, oh, twenty years has been the issue of whether something could be seriously wrong with me. I was convinced for about five years that I could have some latent form of epilepsy, since Lily’s seizures had come and gone. It was just a matter of time, I told myself, before some new trigger would arise and – boom! – I’d have my own seizure disorder. I gather that this isn’t unheard of among siblings, particularly when we’re young, this wondering if medical issues are something only having to do with our sibs, and not ourselves.
Around the time I hit puberty, I managed to convince myself that sexual intercourse and orgasm, as an experience set that I had yet to fully understand and experience, could somehow be a trigger for this lurking epilepsy. (You’d think my early interest in biology would have helped me to avoid such thoughts, but it was surprisingly unhelpful. And yes, this set of worries has since been allayed, but not without some damage to my love life.) You may remember my fear that using a dusting aid triggered Lily’s spectacular seizure a few days before my sixteenth birthday; that was related.
I guess one of the root issues is that I grew up in a family where I probably learned all too quickly that life changes, and changes fast, sometimes in unpredictable ways. Earthquakes happen (I grew up in earthquake country). Seizures happen. We can’t predict them, general havoc may ensue, and we just have to learn how to prepare ourselves. Unfortunately, given what I suspect were my predilections for worry and overthinking, this realization didn’t translate into an attitude of carefree adventure once preparations were taken – it turned into a nagging uneasiness. There are absolutely days when I’m overtaken by the notion that even if you do everything perfectly, the whole world can still go to hell.
By this point in my post, you’re probably not going to be surprised that I’m currently being treated for generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes I worry that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – that I have been so worried for so long that something would become wrong with me that the worry itself turned into something that is wrong with me.
As I was recently commenting to some friends, according to the Mayo Clinic^, I meet most diagnostic criteria, and probably did as a child, too. It was only in recent years that I shared with my parents my great fear during the fireworks on a Fourth of July: having just learned that a federal holiday meant that everyone had the day off, I assumed that everyone had the day off, including police, fire, and military. My feeling was that because nobody was paying attention, it was the perfect time for bombers to attack (can you tell I grew up during the tail end of the Cold War?) What’s particularly interesting about my diagnosis is that I don’t see it as something that’s wrong with me in the way I view Lily’s epilepsy or blindness, or any of her other medical conditions. It’s just something that’s happening that I’m trying to manage and overcome.
That said, what I feel also fluctuates from day to day: sometimes it’s a relief to have had a doctor say that there’s something wrong, because it makes a lot of little pieces make a lot more sense. (Not to mention, I like the vanity that it’s not my fault that I feel so miserable sometimes.) More often than that, however, is a conviction that pairs nicely with “this isn’t a disease!”: that as the typical (and older) sister, I can’t have anything wrong with me. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to my parents to have two broken children. It’s not fair to Lily, if her sister needs help, especially with a comparatively less damaging set of problems. It’s supremely unreasonable for me to feel relief that I’m like her, or that somehow now I merit attention, because I have been given a diagnosis.
Maybe someday I’ll stop worrying about all of this. At least the part about spontaneously developing my sister’s conditions. After nearly 30 years, I haven’t had much more exciting happen to me medically than valley fever and 2009 H1N1 influenza (oh, yeah – swine flu, baby!), and the odds of developing a congenital disorder at this age? Yeah, not so high, except for things that happen to people as they age. And in that – I’m not alone. I guess that’s small comfort for my closing thoughts, but this isn’t an easy emotional state to resolve.