MENTAL HEALTH | May 24

How it Feels to Have a Sibling with Mental Illness

Ashmi pathela

I have a sibling dealing with mental illness. And she has given me so much…

Pain. Joy. And strength.

My sister struggles with OCD, high anxiety, anger outbursts, and relatively high functioning autism.

Every family is unique, but for me, here’s how it feels to have a sibling dealing with mental illness:

  • It’s feeling annoyed at the world for not seeing her in the same light I do, and for judging her instead. From years of shared memories and experiences, I’ve seen so many sides of her - her kind heart, brilliant mind, and quiet resilience. She has so much depth, and beneath it all, a beautiful soul.
  • It’s extreme guilt. I'm lucky to have a happy life that seems to just keep getting better, while she struggles so much on a daily basis. I try not to talk to her too much about my romantic relationships or solo travels because those are freedoms she dreams of having someday.
  • It’s doing everything I can to not be a burden to my family. From childhood, my sister got all the attention, and I didn't want to cause my parents additional worry. Even today, I usually don't tell them when I’m struggling in my life. Often, I only share what happened retrospectively after I find a solution or take care of things myself. 
  • It’s frustration at society. I want my sister to live in a world where she is loved and respected, where she finds dignity and passion in her work, and where there is less stigma around mental health... A world where she can be accepted for all of her gifts and feel like she belongs.
  • It keeps me up at night. Sometimes, I feel like the future for our family is a black hole. Will she find a way to manage her OCD and anxiety? How much longer will she live at home with our parents? When will she be able to feel more happy, grounded, and worthy?
  • It’s irrational anger at my sister for causing my parents so much stress. This is hard to admit, and I really don’t blame her because she is the one who suffers the most. When this comes up during challenging times at home, I feel guilty for feeling this way.
  • It’s helplessness. Sometimes, I wonder how I can possibly help others in my life, or greater society through my business, if I cannot help her.
  • Pride. Over the years, I’ve watched her overcome thousands of obstacles, challenge herself, find jobs, build a great friend group, and so much more. Through all of the pain and adversity, she has grown into a kind, smart, and loving woman I am proud to call my sister.
  • Deep down, I feel blessed. She is the greatest gift that has happened to our family. Supporting each other through the struggles have helped us grow both individually and as a family. My sister has taught us about unconditional love, patience, laughter through hard times, and resilience.

As a sister, I have a responsibility and role to play in her life. I get to keep working on this throughout my life. I’m here to support, love, and remind her that she belongs. I want the world for her: to be able to better manage her mood, fight her OCD, make more friends, find a stable job, and live independently the way she wants. At the same time, she is perfect the way she is – a beautiful, strong human who has nothing she has to prove or justify to the world.