Scars, sisters, and scarred sisterhood

I have a sister. Although I don’t mind revealing my identity, I want to keep hers private, so let’s call her K.

K and I were never close. K and I never talked. But recently, K got engaged, and then her fiance’s dad passed away.

And, suddenly, I was receiving middle of the night texts when she couldn’t sleep, asking if I was up and wanted to talk.

For the first time ever.

Since she was having a tough time, I welcomed her into my life for a day. We hung out. It was nice. She has never been to Sydney, so in typical tourist fashion, I took her to The City, for some classic selfies with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. I think she enjoyed it, but honestly it’s hard to tell. I always thought I was the closed off one, but maybe I retreated so far within myself I never noticed the similarities between K and I.

I haven’t seen her for nearly two years. And in that time, as regular readers will know, my mental health hasn’t exactly been great. I have been self-harming since I was fifteen or sixteen, but until this year, I never self-harmed on my wrists. So K was pretty confronted today, when she saw my scars.

Some of what she said upset me, and I could tell she was upset, as she asked me why with tears in her eyes. So I told her: I hate myself, and I hate being alive a lot of the time, and I deserve to be punished for making mistakes and taking up too much space.

Those aren’t real reasons, she said.

That hurt. (It also made me want to cut… which I know is the opposite of what K would have wanted, but it just hurt so much, and I needed to make that pain apparent. I didn’t though. I binged instead. Which will probably lead into some self harm later anyway, but then at least K isn’t directly responsible.)

But I suppose, seeing your younger sister for the first time in a long time, with her mental health finally visible for all too see, would have hurt too.

Like my flesh, I suppose our sisterhood is scarred in some ways. I know we didn’t get along well when we both lived at home, and I know I was often provocative. But I also know that I felt entirely inadequate next to her. I also know that sometimes, the things she said made it seem as though she knew my struggles and was just another person bullying me about it.

A sister, scarred, and a scarred sisterhood. Hand in hand, I hope we can heal each other.

The Family Effect

To be perfectly honest, I have been under such a firm hold of dissociation that I can’t remember whether I already wrote about this or not.

Just before my nineteenth birthday, I almost killed myself. As in, the only reason I am alive today is because of one person who believes in me enough and trusts me enough to actually take every word I say seriously. Unlike countless psychiatrists in the emergency departments of various hospitals, and unlike doctors who don’t believe the severity of my mental illness(es), she understood. She knew that I was serious. That I was on the edge. I had shared my plan with her, and she listened. I shared my hope to die with her, and she saved me. I shared the ugliest parts of myself at my most vulnerable, and she still protected me from myself. This person saved my life.

It’s been about three weeks since that night. It’s been a rough three weeks of self-harming, eating disorder behaviours and dissociaton. It’s been rough visiting my family and having to keep all of this bottled up because mental health is taboo in this house, and we hold only shallow, superficial conversations. This is the problem. 

The problem is, that I can’t discuss suicide with the people who are supposed to be my biggest supports. Who are, for some / most people, their biggest supports. I don’t have that support. I cannot share anything about suicidality, self-harming, anxiety, or my eating disorder with either of my siblings, nor with my parents, nor with any other extended member of my family. The closest we ever come to a conversation about mental health is if I mention I am feeling particularly “down”. Sometimes, even this has no effect. It’s hard to be under the same roof as people who don’t understand me. It’s hard to return to an environment I deliberately isolated  myself from by moving interstate. And it’s an environment I’m not sure I can return to.

When I lived at home, I tried and tried and tried. I suppressed and suppressed and suppressed. I got sicker and sicker and sicker. All the signs were there, all the clues were laid out like the map of scars across my body, yet still, my family couldn’t acknowledge, and wouldn’t accept, my mental health.

They won’t accept that BPD exists. That I had anorexia for seven years. That I was bullied so severely during high school that I developed PTSD – and had the strength to recover from it. That I take medication for bipolar disorder and depression. That I avoid certain things like loud noises because of anxiety and panic attacks. They don’t understand.

And it affects me intensely. In every text, every phone call, every video chat and every visit. There is a subtle undertone of the unspoken, of things never seen nor heard about, and a tinge of disgust. Are they disgusted by me? By my brain, which can simultaneously think in hundreds of parallel directions, doing calculations and problem solving and applying logic, yet is inherently faulty and damaged? It’s as if my own faultiness, is my own fault.

The very fact that this is a belief deeply ingrained into my person reminds me of the family effect. Of the effect my family has on me. I wish I could say it were a positive one, but I’m not one to leave things unsaid. To my family, who are unaware even that this blog exists, I am not sorry. I am not ashamed. I am Rosie, and I am the same person before and after I reveal my struggles with mental illness to you. I am Rosie despite the scars traversing my wrists and thighs and forearms. I am Rosie despite the medication and hospitalisation and therapy. I am still me, even when that’s not good enough for you. I possess a superpower called The Rosie Effect, and it is the antidote for The Family Effect.

Triggers

Personally, most of my triggers escape me. The only ones I know for certain are the ones which produce anxiety; social situations and loud noise and public transport, among other things. But with regards to my depression, suicidality, self-harm and general life meltdowns, it’s mostly unclear. Because they’re a strange thing, triggers. Or more accurately, triggering situations. They can surprise you. They capture you, entangle you in a snare of despair. They’re traps laid by memories that are gaps in the concrete in to which I stumble, fall, and am lost. And once I’m lost, it becomes more and more difficult to return.

For the past few weeks over mid year university break, I have been with my family. First with my sister, on a small road trip, then with my parents at their property in regional south-western Australia.

It has reminded me of all the reasons why I left.

It has reminded me of the shouting. The bitterness. The sarcasm. The suppression I actively must force upon my own personality, because I am different to the rest. The words I must choose carefully, selectively, lest some intelligence leaks out to be taken as an insult. I am reminded of emotional abuse, and of neglect. I am reminded that I will never be good enough, that I will never quite be enough – thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, relaxed enough, happy enough. I am not – and I never will be – enough in their eyes.

I am reminded of the years and years of mental illness that went unnoticed. Of years of anorexia. Bulimia. Anxiety. Depression. Bullying and PTSD and BPD and bipolar disorder – in that order. I am reminded of every single moment that I regret, that I left behind for a reason. The photographs in which a gaunt face stares back at me. The traces of a depressed, skeletal being who clung to life with only tea and fruit and vegetables. There are remnants of my past scattered everywhere: in the furniture, the garden, the boxes of books that I can’t bear to sell, but are too heavy to transport to Sydney.

A wall of suppression hides painful times in my mind, but the past is being clawed out from the mortar. It is gauged from my soul as I watch, dissociating impassively, and re-live all the anguish hidden beneath the surface. This is a place of triggers: depression swamps me, anxiety overwhelms me, my eating disorder consumes me, and urges to hurt myself leap out of the shallow place where they remain tethered and threaten to change my destiny from one of life, to one of death.

This shouldn’t be what spending time with family is like. But unfortunately, this is my reality. I am simultaneously surrounded by the nature I love, and the family I can’t. That it takes all my strength to simply exist with, never mind holding a conversation, or cooking dinner with, or doing chores for. I am surrounded by a minefield of triggers, and it is proving inescapable.