I Was Annoyed: Confession of a Little Sister

Eric and I at Stonehenge. I was 15. This trip was awesome. I wasn’t annoyed at all when this picture was taken.

I saw his car turn around at the end of our parent’s long driveway. I have to admit I was annoyed. I’m not proud of that. I loved my big brother. I still do. But at that time in my life, at 16, just trying to be a teenager, he annoyed me. No, his disease annoyed me. I didn’t know how to handle his depression, his odd behavior, his lingering. He would just sit and stare for hours. Hours. Do you know how awkward that is? How much tension silent stillness can create in a house?

He turned around. Came back. He was coming to say goodbye, in his own way. A few weeks later, he would be dead. He lingered, petting the dog. I thought it was weird. My dad could tell I was frustrated, distant from my brother. “Go give him a hug,” he told me. Our family is very affectionate, but I didn’t want to go to my brother. Didn’t he know what he was doing to our family? But I crossed the sidewalk, and hugged him anyways. I can’t remember how long it lasted, but I remember my arms nearly wrapping around him twice. He was six foot eight, and anorexic. A product of the demons in his mind.

I will always be grateful to my dad for forcing that encounter. It was the last time I saw my brother alive. He killed himself a short while later. Nobody has ever asked me what it was like to live with someone who’s mentally ill, only what it was like in the aftermath of his suicide. At 16, I was selfish and scared. My brother’s condition was annoying, and I’m ashamed to admit that I felt that way. And when the awkward tension was more than I could take, I ran. Fight or flight? I chose flight. Although I slept in my home every night, I escaped in other ways.

I drank things I shouldn’t have, smoked things I shouldn’t have, and dated boys I shouldn’t have. I just wanted to feel happiness…and…I wanted to feel nothing. I checked out.

So, now you know a little about what it was like to live with someone suffering from severe mental illness, and not just what it was like to lose him. I was annoyed. It sucked. I handled it poorly, and I regret it. If I knew then what I know now, I never would have let him go.

Read more about Eric’s Story.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me


52 thoughts on “I Was Annoyed: Confession of a Little Sister

  1. Cat, Your peace is very well told, and so brave of you to tell it in such clear, concise way. I worked on a theatre project for a while that was inspired by a member of our art community committing suicide, but then NO ONE would talk about the fact that he committed suicide. The silence was agony, and so a theatre piece was created to confront that agony. It is so incredibly important that we have these conversations. Thank you for starting one here.

    (If you want to learn more about the theatre project, let me know. I don’t want to “advertise” on your blog without your consent.)

  2. Wonderfully written and heart wrenching without being too sentimental, which is what made it even more poingant. This one stuck with me.

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  4. I think the siblings are so often lost in the mix when there is a child with special needs, physical or mental illness in the family. It’s hard to compete for attention because that child *needs* so much in such visible and visceral ways. You were 16 and younger – you had completely normal adolescent feelings and, I dare say, completely normal feelings for all sorts of caretakers and family members lost in the fray of difficult relationships. Bravely told story.

  5. As someone who also has a sibling who battles mental illness, I want to tell you that you were not alone in your feelings. When my sister was admitted into the psych ward for the first time when I was 15, I felt many of the same emotions you did, among others.
    I think you are incredibly brave for sharing this story with us.
    Thank you.

  6. As someone who has seen suicide from the other side, this story is so incredibly heartbreaking to me. I am so very sorry for your loss and my heart just aches for the pain that I know your brother felt. Such a tragedy on so many levels. Your words really affected me tonight, brilliant writing.

    • Thank you so much for reading. It couldn’t have been easy for you. Some say suicide is selfish, but when you’re not yourself, how can that be? ((Hugs)) to you.

  7. Sixteen is a time when we did feel frustrated, selfish, and annoyed at everyone and everything around us. That was natural. Trying to feel our way around in an adult world. And at sixteen you were just a kid. I’m sorry you had to go through that and still do.

  8. Dear Cat, I think we all have past times that we think we should have handled differently. It helps me to handle those regrets when I remember this saying, “You did then what you knew how to do and when you knew better… you did better! ” (Maya Angelou). Another by her also seems appropriate for you: “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” (Maya Angelou) Blessings and hugs to you.

    • Thank you Christina. It’s hard to share, but I’m sure many others can relate. There are good stories, too. It’s been very helpful to unpack all of it, the good and the bad.

  9. Oh, wow. Just wow. How brave of you to put these emotions into words. And to write them so well. I am very sorry for your losses – the loss of your brother and the loss of your childhood/adolescence.

  10. I have bipolar. So did my sister. I’m not nearly in the shape she was in. By the time she killed herself, it was a relief for all of us, because it meant her daughter was safe. I can see it from both sides, both the annoyance of having to live with someone struggling like that, and from struggling with it myself. I don’t know if you could have handled it better, truth be told.

    • Can I just say, that it’s a relief to hear someone say “it was a relief?” Nobody says that. But it’s true sometimes. When someone takes their own life, they’re miserable. So miserable. Much like someone dying of cancer. Thank you for reaching out, especially since this story must have hit so close to home for you. ((Hugs))

      • Although both my parents were hysterical when it first happened, they were both dry eyed at the funeral. There were a few of her friends really distraught, and somebody asked Mom why she wasn’t crying. Mom said, “I’ve been mourning this child for twelve years. This is just the next stage of grief.” We had all been expecting it, we had all done as much as we possibly could to get her the help she needed, and if she had lived much longer, she would have killed someone else, possibly my brave extraordinary niece, who was a month shy of five years old at the time.

  11. I think depression is confusing no matter the age. I remember thinking about a friend often, “why can’t you just be happy?” in college and into adulthood. I think we’ve all had similar experiences. I’m so sorry about your brother. It’s devastating to lose someone so close at that age no matter the circumstances. I’m glad you are now able to share your story.

    • You know, it’s funny, I fight depression, and I often ask myself that same question. It’s hard to understand something we can’t see. Thank you for your support!

  12. You can’t blame yourself for being annoyed when you were so young. You were acting exactly as a teenager is apt to do, and you had no way of knowing it would end up being such a significant moment!

  13. Wow, this brought tears to my eyes. I am so glad you had that last encounter with your brother, and I’m sorry things were so hard for you afterwards. I know what it’s like to go on a downward spiral after something bad shakes you to the core. Glad age and wisdom have brought you to a better place!

  14. Wow. Your honesty hits close to home. I have a brother who is alcoholic. When he calls, I groan and roll eyes heavenward because I know I’m going to have to listen to an hour and a half of the same conversation we had last week, the week before, and the week before that. It’s not his fault this disease runs rampant in our family, but he just drives me crazy.

    At least you were a kid. I don’t have that excuse.

    • Oh Kenja, who knows whether or not my response would be any different now were he still alive. Sometimes, it takes losing someone to truly appreciate them. ((Hugs)) to you for your current struggle. Have you gone to any Al-Anon meetings?

  15. This was so moving. People get so wrapped up in the person with the disease/condition/etc. that they forget about the toll it takes on those around him or her. You were a young girl who wanted to be heard, to be seen, to feel safe. Those are all valid desires.

    I feel for you and this burden you have carried. I hope writing this has helped you move further away from it.

  16. I grew up in a home with mental illness and my stepfather committed suicide. Suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. It leaves the survivors holding the loose end of another’s existence. It’s a painful legacy and you wrote about it beautifully.

  17. My mother died of complications of multiple sclerosis when I was 29. She had been sick most of my childhood. One of the things I wish is that if she had to be sick, I wish that she had been sick later in my life, so that I could better understand what was happening and maybe, just maybe, I could have been a little more compassionate and a little more understanding. Instead, I mostly saw that she didn’t want to do things with us (now I know that she didn’t have the physical strength to take us to the park or the zoo) and that she didn’t seem happy to be with us (when what she was really fighting was depression and the isolation illness causes).

    When you’re a kid, it’s so hard to process what’s happening. You don’t have the frame of reference for it. You can only react like a kid.

    Thank you for sharing your very human experience. Even adults feel sad, disappointed, hurt, and frustrated watching someone they love self-destruct, even if they know, rationally, that mental illness is a big part of that self-destruction.

    • I’m so sorry about your mother. How horrible it must have been to watch her suffer and there was nothing you could do. I’m sure you were more compassionate on the outside than you felt on the inside. Thank you so much for sharing in this journey with me.

  18. Wow, your honesty has captured me. None of what you felt changed what happened – you must have some peace with that fact to write this piece. I love how you said you wanted to feel happiness and you wanted to feel nothing. I can relate so deeply. I am a runner too – flight is my go-to. You tell a perfect story – thank you for sharing.

    • You’re right. I do have peace with the fact that nothing I did resulted in his suicide. I know who the demons were. They have a name, a face. Thank you for your words and support.

  19. My grandmother killed herself when I was 16. It was a very painful experience as I was so close to her. I’m so sorry you lost your brother. I hope he has found peace and I hope you have too.

  20. What an incredibly powerful and moving story. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. I’m hopeful that sharing in this way is helping you to find peace. I’m hopeful you won’t spend your life being too hard on yourself. I’ve been there. I am there. And it does suck.

  21. Oh, honey… you were a kid. And it sounds like you processed all of that like a kid would. You weren’t being selfish or unreasonable — just not grown-up yet.

    I am glad your father forced your last hug. I hope that you have many unforced and loving hugs in your life now.

    • Thank you for your kind words. It was 13 years ago, and I’ve grown so much since then. And yes, I never leave a loved one without a hug and “I love you” now.

  22. You brought tears to my eyes, thinking back about that time. We had just became friends and then this tragic event happens. I kick myself for not asking you more, but I was scared that I would dig into wounds you would rather have left alone. I can’t understand what it was like to walk a mile in your shoes, especially with the circumstances. Living in a small town where everyone knows what happened, but no one wants to talk about it. If I could go back I would wrap my arms around you and simply let you tell me whatever it is that you need to say. I apologize for not being a better friend at that point (often encouraging some of that bad behavior), but I do want you to know that experience has helped me learn how to be a better friend. Knowing now what you really needed will make me think more about how I handle individuals with that disease, as well as their family. I also hope that I can instill that thought process in my children, so that as they grow they will know when to leave well enough alone and when someone is silently pleading for someone just to ask them how they feel.

    • Oh Lisa, don’t forget that you were young, too. I blame nobody but myself, and the men in black (you know who). We had good times. Most importantly, you didn’t run away from me. And even if you’d asked those questions at that time, I probably would have bolted like a spooked horse. You were there. And that’s all that matters.

  23. Catherine you are an extremely courageous woman. Praying that the process of unpacking Eric’s story will bring healing to you as well as reach others who are dealing with life’s battles.

    • Wesley, thanks for your kind words. But I am not brave. I wasn’t there when the rest of my family was being brave. Rather, I’m just not being a coward anymore.

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