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.