Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Pitfalls of Being a Big Sister

Back in August, I wrote a blog post on the Perks of Being a Big Sister. And believe me, there are many.
But I've also discovered some serious downsides over the past week.

Just over 7 days ago my little sister flew the nest and headed off to University. She packed her bags, bought groceries and a bed spread, and spent her first week moved out of our childhood home and into adulthood.

It's been 5 years since I made that journey myself. And for me, things hadn't exactly gone to plan.

Needless to say I didn't take it well. I messaged her every day; sometimes first thing in the morning to wish her good luck, and every evening to see how her day went.

I felt like a mother whose first child had just started school. Despite not living at home for 5 years, and despite having not been there for the past month, I was experiencing separation anxiety. I spent my lunch breaks messaging her and offering her advice that she didn't need. Yes, she had already gone to the local supermarket. Yes, she knew not to spend the whole day by herself in her room. Yes, I was being overprotective.

But I didn't know how not to be.

My first week at college was a disaster. Despite my high hopes, I hadn't quite landed on my feet for the fresh start I dreamed of. I was overwhelmed. On my days off I had nowhere to be, and no one to be nowhere with. The stress caused me to break out in psoriasis, covering my entire body in an embarrassing and itchy rash. I lost all confidence in myself and my chance at a fresh start. It took me weeks to make a group of friends, and even longer to make the friends I still have today.

So when my little sister, the same little sister I had tried to stop going to nightclubs in rough towns and drinking alcohol underage based on my own negative experiences, left home I immediately went into overprotective mode.

In a strange act of transference, I put all of my experiences onto my sister. I worried that she would face the same hurdles, and ultimately the same mental breakdown I had.

I panicked at every mini-disaster she was faced with. I literally did have a mild panic attack when her bus didn't come for her on Friday afternoon.
I just wanted her to be okay. And she was.
When I saw her on Friday evening, I realised I had been totally wrong. Yes, of course anyone needs support and to know their big sis is there for them when they move away for college. But there had been no need to worry, and definitely no need to have a panic attack over something minor that was happening to someone else 100 miles away when they had the resources to cope with it themselves.

An amazing quality my mental illness has bestowed me with is my empathy. I am grateful for how much I can relate to other people when offering them support, and in wanting to offer them support. It's made me a much kinder and less self-centered person. But in this case my empathy had worked overtime to the point where it affected my physical health. I put myself, well my 18 year old self, in my sister's position and knew that I would not have coped in that situation. And it made me sick with worry.

Seeing my sister this weekend made me realise a few things. As my Mum pointed out, she is a good year older than I was when I moved away from home. And with that added year, she is a whole lot more mature than I was as well. She's worldy and well-supported; two things I definitely did not feel at the time.

It's quite amazing how the same situation of moving away from home and starting college can have completely different reactions and outcomes for different people. My sister is not me. And especially not the me of 5 years ago.

When I started college I presumed I would be okay. Better than okay; it was meant to be the best year of my life. And when I wasn't okay, I wasn't prepared to cope.

With my sister, I presumed she wouldn't be okay. In a way, maybe it was so that I felt less alone in my negative experience. I wanted her to know she was not alone, but more than that, I wanted to be there with her and get through first year right this time. No mistakes, no tears, no missed opportunities, and no mental illness. But that's not how the world works. I can't go back in time and fix my own experiences. And I certainly can't overprotect my little sister from the worst the world has to offer. I can just be there for her, and let her know that when the worst happens, when there are bad days, there is help out there. And I am there for her.

After last week all I can say is thank goodness it's another 8 years before I have to go through this with my next sister.


44 comments:

  1. Aww, don't be so hard on yourself. You sound like a wonderful big sister and I am sure that your little sister really appreciates you worrying about her. You feel empathy. Its who you are. xx

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    1. Thank you for your sweet words, it means a lot! x

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  2. I don't think it is a surprise that you were anxious about your sister moving to college. You have realised that you may have been over-protective but I think that caring is a wonderful thing so hope that you continue to have a close relationship.

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  3. She's lucky to have you Zoë. I always wished I had a sister.... I still often wish I had a sister, so I envy you. Many sisters don't get along which is a pity really!

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    1. I have so many sisters if you want to borrow one? :P No, I mean don't me wrong, we do care a lot about each other. but we still fight like only siblings can. x

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    2. Ha ha...yes I realise that. I see my own kids having their little rows but I know they would do anything for each other! Love your blog x

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  4. She's lucky to have you Zoë. I always wished I had a sister.... I still often wish I had a sister, so I envy you. Many sisters don't get along which is a pity really!

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  5. It's so sweet that you want to look out for her and make sure her experience doesn't start the same way yours did, moving to un is a big step! Hope she's enjoying it. Xx

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    1. Thank you Lee, she is really enjoying it so far :) x

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  6. Aw your sister is so lucky to have you. I sometimes wish i had an older sibling to tell bestow their experiences on me, to advise. As i am the oldest I made the mistakes. I hope your sister enjoys uni.

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    1. Making the mistakes isn't so bad though, as you do learn from them over time (I say in hindsight - haha!)

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  7. Aw, I'm sending so many hugs to you right now. I can see why this pushed so many of your buttons and it's such a shame your own experience was a difficult one. It has taught you a lot and made you into the lovely person you are today. Your sister is bound to hit some bumps in the road, but she will have the benefit of your insight to help her through it

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    1. Aww thank you, I do hope it will help her out in the long haul

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  8. I have a big sister who I LOVE to bits! Don't be hard on yourself hunny.
    I have no idea how I would be as a big sister its actually a massive job.
    You seem to me like a lovely big sister
    *cuddles*

    Charlotte x

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    1. Oh thank you Charlotte, you're so kind! x

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  9. Don't be too hard on yourself hun, it is ok to want to protect your sister and she loves you for it. I am just sorry that your experience made you lose your self-esteem because you sound like a truly caring soul. Your sister is lucky to have you!

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    1. Aww Ana, that comment made me a little teary eyed. I appreciate all the support x

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  10. I think you sound like a great big sister and only hope my sister thinks of me, how I think of you x

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  11. I don't have any siblings so I don't know what it's like having a small sister or vorher it I can only imagine how you feel when your small sister is off to university. It's like being a mum but you should definitely not very too hard on your self.

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  12. I's sorry to hear you had a bad start at university but happy it went well for your sister. I am a big sister also, its funny how our bad experiences can lead us to being so overprotective of others incase they go though the same, you were probably more stressed for her than she was for herself

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    1. Absolutely Sandra! I saw her at the weekend, and she was barely phased by the experience whereas I was a wreck - haha! x

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  13. I'm sorry that your university experience didn't begin on a positive note, it's always so sad when that happens. It's so sweet and quite endearing that you worry about your little sister.

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  14. Your sister is lucky to have a big sister like you too look out for her and worry. I am sorry that your own experience did not start off so well . I bet my daughter is the same when her little sister flys the nest as there is a ten year gap between them xx

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    1. Oh I'd say she will be. Having a gap has many benefits when it comes to support and advice x

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  15. Really well written piece. I'm the eldest too and there's a big gap between me and my little sister. You do feel overprotective, and always wanting to give advice, sometimes i have to stop myself and say - just cos you're older doesnt mean you have the same / feelings experiences as them. But i think you know that already. well done for sharing.

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    1. Thank you Nicci, and I'm glad to know I'm not the only one being all overprotective! x

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  16. I think your sister is lucky to have you, lovely! You are definitely being too hard on yourself because I imagine anyone who writes a loving piece such as this, is a wonderful human being xx

    Sam // Samantha Betteridge

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  17. I think regardless of having depression being a big sister is difficult, the depression makes it even harder. Im so bad at worrying about my little bro like a mam there is times when I just want to fix it all for him. Thank you for sharing your story x

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    1. Thank you Gemma, at least I feel like I'm not the only one now :) x

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  18. I'm a younger sister and I think it'd be nice to have someone look out for me as much as you do for your sister! x

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    1. Aww shucks Tessa, I'm sure your siblings do look out for you in their own way x

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  19. I think it's lovely that you care so much about your little sister. It's also completely understandable that you want to protect her after having such an awful time yourself. She's very lucky to have you xx

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  20. Oh bless you, that must have been so difficult for you but what a lovely caring sister you sound like. I have these worries but with my children, my son is 2 and already I panic about him having the same terrible experiences of high school that I had...its a horrible helpless feeling xx

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    1. Aww Hayley, well hopefully you can take something from my post then. I think we have to let people make their own ways and make their own mistakes, but just be there for them when that happens. I know I feel like my university experience shaped who I am now and I wouldn't be me without it. x

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  21. What a wonderful sister you are. And how lucky you are to have each other. It can be so stressful entering a new chapter can't it? But I'm sure your sister will be just fine :)

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    1. She definitely seems to be Kate. Thanks a mill x

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  22. You are a wonderful sister, don't be too down on yourself. I too am the eldest. I have a sister 9 years younger than me and I do find myself drawing on my own experiences with her and I often find myself biting my tongue, we are very different my sister and I and something that affected me one way will always be the complete opposite for her! :)
    Nicola xx

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    1. You're so right Nicola, I feel the same with my sister - we are opposites in some ways. It's quite tough when you feel like a second Mammy! x

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