She Ain't Heavy... She's My Sister

                I am currently working toward re-integrating disowned and repressed parts of myself. I will use this blog to talk about my personal journey in hopes of encouraging others to start their own journey toward integration and wholeness.

                My sister, Jackie, is fifteen years older than I am. So she is now 41 years old. When she was two months old she had petit mal seizures which caused developmental delays in certain parts of her brain. So, she is moderately mentally challenged. She can do a lot of things that adults of average intelligence can do, so we’re pretty lucky. She can pretty much take care of all of her most basic needs and needs minimal supervision. She even enjoys volunteering at the local hospital’s kitchen with The Key, which is a group for the adult mentally challenged in my hometown. She is generally a very happy person. However, if I had to pin her mental age down, her mentality and tastes are like that of an eight or nine year old child.

             I remember that when I was a small child, I really looked up to my sister as an adult-like role-model. When I was three years old my sister used to walk me down the hallway while holding my arms. I would always giggle when she would say “bump on a log.” (That was world-class comedy to me, at the time.) She had a sticker collection that she kept in a giant binder with a ton of Garfield stickers which she always shared with me. She also went to high school. She would show me her yearbooks and tell me about her friends. She loved Dwight Yokem, Billy Ray Cyrus, and tons of other country music artists and she listened to them on her Walkman. I thought my sister was the coolest and looked up to her a lot.

                When I was about eight years old, I no longer saw her as a role model but as an equal. We became very good friends. We would catch lizards and butterflies in the yard. We had countless sleepovers in her room. We would always tack blankets up to ceiling to pretend that we were camping. We would pretend that we were traveling on trains to other places in the country. We played with Tamagotchis and would try to send each other messages through them… it never worked. We even had a shared imaginary friend named Eric Nezz, who was always doing something interesting. This deep camaraderie lasted for about two years.

                But as I grew, she remained the same. Even though I always knew that my sister was mentally challenged, I had never before grasped the full depth and breadth of the implications that it had for her life and even mine. So, when I was ten and my awareness of reality expanded and deepened, I had many disturbing Epiphanies.

                First off, I realized that one day, when my mother passed away, that I would have to take care of my sister for most of the rest of my life. I was afraid that I would never be able to get married or go to college because my sister would always be my responsibility. Of course, this was highly unlikely as my mother is still in her fifties and I’m already a married college graduate. But my ten year old mind didn’t consider those nuances.

                There were also a couple of other situations that really hit me hard where I realized just how vulnerable Jackie was. One incident stands out in my mind. I was talking to her about wanting to be a teacher when I grew up. She told me that she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. When she told me this, it made my stomach turn. I was aware that she was 25 years old and was already grown up… but she wasn’t. I also knew that her disability would prevent her from being in the medical profession… but she didn’t.

                I thought about how happy she is in her distorted view of reality and how devastated she would be if she truly saw things the way they ‘really’ were. The thought made me very sad, and I spent a lot of time alone trying to sort my feelings.

               I also developed a resistance to being around my sister because the emotions I associated to her were painful and uncomfortable to feel. I thought that to be so out of touch with reality was the most terrible thing in the world to be. So, I became obsessively worried about my own mental state.

How aware is my sister of her own disability?

Does she know that she’s mentally challenged?

If she does, does she know what that means?

What if I’m mentally challenged and everyone is just pretending that I’m normal?

What if I’m so crazy that I’m not aware that I’m crazy?

           Years later, I still doubt my own experience of myself. I still sometimes doubt my own perceptions, intelligence, and sanity. And I still have difficulty interacting with my sister on the level that I used to.

            However, I’m beginning to look at the situation in a new way. Maybe all these issues came about because I was the one who was seeing reality through a distorted lens. Maybe I was the one putting the cart before the horse. Maybe my primary distortion was seeing the intellect as more important than emotion. My sister is generally happy and well-adjusted despite (and perhaps because of) her lack of intellect.

            So, even if my sister doesn’t see the world like the average person does, it doesn’t mean her experiences are wrong or invalid. In fact, every human and every animal sees the world differently. There is no one-size-fits-all viewpoint. Each perspective is a world of its own and completely valid. So, as long as she is safe and happy, that’s all that really matters. Those are really the two things that everyone’s looking for in the first place.

           Perhaps, it would be wise for me to stop asking myself if I’m crazy and start asking myself if I’m happy instead. It’s the only thing I can really be sure of anyway