A post about me on a blog about my sister

Despite the fact that I’ve posted about admitting that something is wrong and getting over being worried, I think I should say this explicitly: I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder a couple of years ago and have been working with psychologists and psychiatrists (i.e., using both talk therapy and drugs) to treat it. This diagnosis came a few years after a diagnosis of an episode of major depression; I’ve been using therapy off and on for almost 12 years now, since my second semester at college.

I’m not sure whether this is something that’s especially common among siblings – maybe readers out there in the ether can provide information? – although I know I did participate in a survey about depression and anxiety in adults with SWD several years back, and got the sense that it was common enough to merit study. (Interesting memory: there wasn’t enough room on the paper form for me to describe Lily’s conditions, so the person who was conducting the study emailed me. I think she understood why I had chosen the language I had after I listed the major points of interest…) Honestly, I think I would have struggled with anxiety and depression were I an only child or if I had had typical siblings, although I imagine it might have looked different, because, well, I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. (It’s taken me awhile to realize this, but there are anxiety and depression and related conditions on both sides of my family.)

It would be very interesting to me, as a biologist, to understand how much anxiety and depression are due to intrinsic biological attributes of a given individual, and how much they are due to things like growing up with a SWD. (Otherwise known as “nature vs. nurture.” My own take on things is that, like just about everything else in biology, there’s some role for each in just about every observable phenomenon.) Perhaps I wouldn’t struggle so much with anxiety now if I had grown up without my sister’s epilepsy as a semi-constant reminder that Things Happen Unexpectedly. Perhaps, given my penchant for worrying over things like scientific and general illiteracy in the US and how to solve them and whether I’ll be able to hire undergraduate assistants who haven’t succumbed to societal pressures not to be smart, what would happen if someone broke into my parents’ home and killed them while I was away, whether we can actually protect ourselves against opportunistic microbes that live in plants, what would happen if a comet were headed for Earth, and then some…like, every night before I go to sleep, and this has been the trend for much of my life…well, you get the picture. I pretty clearly was never going to grow up to be anything but anxious. 😉

I mention this partly out of honest curiosity about what other sibs think about their lives and mental health, and partly because right now I can tell that I’m facing some sort of psychological distress that makes it difficult for me to want to post anything here (or pretend to moderate comments with what I consider to be efficiency). I’d much prefer to discuss the former. Popular understanding holds that women are more likely to be depressed than men, and that women are more likely to be caretakers than men. Do these ideas hold true? Do they have any relationship to each other? Does the fact that my sister has neurological problems say anything at all about what genetic influences have affected my own brain’s development, or was it just unlucky chance? Do other sibs feel like they didn’t experience anxiety or depression until well beyond childhood, or were there early indicators? My personal experience, as I’ve mentioned, was that I didn’t fully internalize that Lily and I weren’t quite like other sisters until after my labeling as a worrywart by my third grade teacher. I knew she was different, but really didn’t consider that I would be shaped by her differences until I had already reached adolescence, and in some ways, not until I had reached full-on adulthood. (As much as a lifelong academic can be said to have achieved this. Yes, that was an attempt at sarcastic humor.)

In sum: Lily has a whole huge list of disabilities and medical conditions. I have an anxiety disorder. She fusses about me, I fuss about her, and I write about that here. Ta-da!

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