My sister is disabled, and my extended family are not really around

I’ve talked some about my struggles with anxiety and depression here, and my discovery that this is likely linked to fibromyalgia. I’ve been working with a therapist, and have been since a really awful depressive phase not so long ago that I needed help getting out of. This sets the scene: we were talking about Lily, and how I sometimes feel like my parents unwittingly have treated me as their primary supports. My therapist asked me whether I had extended family who could help support my parents, and I told her that they had sort of faded away years before.

Look, I know that Lily is a handful. She’s weird to look at, she’s hard to understand, she’s almost defiantly imperfect…and my family, like many people, values appearances and propriety and sophistication. (Well, the family I know. We’re/I’m estranged from a number of them.) Lily doesn’t fit into the paradigms that I see my family claiming.

Despite whatever other impressions I may convey here or the frustrations I may experience, I feel like my nuclear family really is one of the best on the planet. 🙂 When I visit them, we’re just fine without anyone else around. We have lively conversations, we laugh and fight and play, we cook and eat, we garden and go for walks and watch movies and do normal life stuff. It’s great.

But my feelings about my extended family are much more complicated. Some of them are awesome people, the sorts of personalities that I can remember knowing were kind even as a small child. Others are just not the sort of people with whom I would normally choose to spend large chunks of time. This impression has just grown over time, as I’ve grown. Look, my family are generally good people, but honestly? I think some of them have struggled with Lily, and with the general vibe my family gives off. (I think we’d be black sheep even if Lily were less obviously different. I should also probably mention that one side of the family is also more distant because they’re (a) more physically distant and (b) there’s a difference of religion.)

Allow me to give a little background: I consider myself to be the “grandchild” generation. I was the second grandkid and the first girl. The boy that came before me was born with severe disabilities. I remember spending time with his family after Lily was born (I don’t remember anything – I think – before her birth).

I can be honest: I’ve spent far too much time resenting their behavior, rather than accepting them for who they are and relating to them on their own terms. My ideal is believing that in a society like the US, we should never compel any one person to care for someone else against their will. That works out okay if other people want to help; if others don’t, though, it gets really messy, really fast. (Which I’m sure you’ve noticed as I’ve talked about my own feelings about caring for my sister!) I’m trying to let go of worrying about my nearly-absent extended family. It feels like wasted energy, now, and because I have some of the best friends a woman could want and we live in the US, which does sometimes try to take care of its own, I can let go of some of my anxiety about being there for my sister, or for my parents and they take care of Lily.

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