Just like that, another year has flown by. After the nasty that was 2022, 2023 floated by peacefully for the first six months of the year. “Peaceful” is relative; there were things happening but because I had shut down after 2022, and had built my boundaries pretty high, I think I was just trying to live in my own world for a while.
The respite didn’t last that long, though. The second half of the year threatened to be a repeat of last year.
My mother’s worsening health, my brother’s issues, and the one I dread the most—her helper issues. Same shit, different year. Déjà bloody vu.
Except it wasn’t. I made sure of that. How?
Post-2022, I have become somewhat of a zombie when it comes to dealing with them. In fact, it was the day after my husband’s birthday in July this year when I was sharing with him that I was like a computer that had shut down; I was wondering if I would ever wake up.
It wasn’t something I consciously built, I had just become numb. It’s the feeling of “I am done.” I think it was my brain’s way of protecting me, giving me time to recuperate from 2022.
I mused that I would probably get out of hibernation if there was something really big that happened. And I did. When my mother had her heart attack the very next day after my musing session.
It woke me up, sure, but I also did what I could to not remain in that heightened powered up mode. Okay, so what did I do?
Giving space to my thoughts and feelings.
My mind was constantly on them. Most times, they were the first thing I thought of when I woke up. If I had managed to sleep, in the first place.
Depending on the day and the situation, I dealt with it using two directly opposing techniques—processing and ignoring.
When I felt I needed to go through the same narrative, I let myself do it. Even if it felt like I was ruminating and looking like a waste of energy, sometimes I chose this because it helps to just give the thoughts and feelings that space to be. But I would give it a time limit. Think about it, then move on.
The polar opposite was simply stopping. Either pinching myself, mindfully observing my surroundings and being present, or just telling myself I would think about it later. That helped with getting on with life, too.
Choosing battles, wisely.
Believe me when I say that if I let it, every day can be a battle, small or large. If I allowed myself to be 100% available to her, I could spend 100% of my time helping with her needs.
There is always something or other to deal with. So, I choose. I cannot help with everything. If there are emergencies concerning her health, I am there. The regular management, she is doing it all by herself, and for that, I am proud of her capabilities and independence, despite how ill she is.
Of course, I amp up my support during times of need, whether helping with meals or transport or admin work.
Anything else, I skip or take my time, and do it when I feel like it. Otherwise, I run the risk of becoming a one-woman crisis centre.
Knowing what will give me peace (as much as possible).
The fact that my mother has not planned for my brother’s future is a huge source of stress and worry for me. I have tried, with no luck, over the years to have a calm discussion with her about this difficult topic. This is what has given me years of insomnia and feelings of being trapped in a never-ending swirl of burden.
Well-meaning friends would suggest I take the reins and find a solution for the sake of my own peace.
But I always felt that it was her responsibility and that it was a terribly unfair burden to place on me. Someone who had grown up the invisible child in the face of his illness, someone who has had to swallow her feelings and push aside her needs, someone who has had her fair share of depression and anxiety, all because of this.
When she was in better health, she could have planned. Now, she is so sick, as predicted, it appears to be landing on me. The resentment is there.
So, I carried the anger. I felt that if she didn’t sort things out, when she passes on, I would simply call an ambulance to admit him to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and that’s that. I would ensure that I am estranged and not be the next-of-kin. I would disappear overseas.
At times, I feel that this sounds like a vengeful response to her lack of action and empathy towards me.
But I have recently realised that this approach will not sit well with me. Yes, he hates me, and we have no relationship but I cannot punish him for her inaction. I cannot look after him, that is for sure. But if I just “dumped” him in IMH and didn’t know what would happen to him, I know that I would not be able to just forget everything and live a peaceful life.
After all, how do you forget a brother, especially one who is suffering from an illness, so debilitating, so devastating, through no fault of his own?
So, in December, I picked up the pieces from the last conversation with the social workers from the beginning of this year and am playing a more proactive role in making sure things progress.
I am not accepting the responsibility of looking after him, but in choosing to accept the responsibility to help with the planning, I can reduce my constant state of anxiety and uncertainty regarding this topic.
Celebrating Little, Big Joys.
Of course, I made sure that I had my fair share of joyful moments this year. I finally saw live Grand Slam action, not just one but two—the Australian and the French Opens. I am an avid tennis fan, and I am glad I finally made it there.
Revenge travel was a thing, too. Hubby and I had four big trips in the past 14 months, discovering the coastal beauty of Southwest Australia and Amalfi Coast, the charming little towns of Puglia and Brittany, and wine-tripping in Bordeaux and Yarra Valley / Mornington Peninsula.
We also released new music this year, inspired by the nasty that was 2022! While I didn’t write the lyrics this time, too busy with my book below, I was very proud of the supremely talented musician and producer and songwriter husband who pretty much did everything but sing for the EP.
I also had more frequent catch-ups with good friends, in-person and overseas via regular calls. In the shadow of Covid19 the past three years, I had become a little hermit and socially lazy. But with my good friends, it was like no time was lost… just picking up from where we left off. My good friends are of prime importance to my future happiness.
And now, what I have been working on the whole year, the Book.
I said in my 2022 recap that I would concentrate on writing “that book”. Well, I have been. It has been and still is, a difficult one to write. So much so that I started off writing another book—a fun and frothy “counterbalance” novel during the first few months, but after some time, I was able to (mostly) distance myself enough to complete more than a few paragraphs each time without drowning in the pain.
I am writing about what it is like being the Sibling of a special needs person; the Glass child, the Invisible child, the Well Sibling, whatever we want to call it, it is about being the unseen, often-forgotten other child in the face of a sibling’s disability or illness.
What the sibling has doesn’t matter, it can be anything from mental illness to autism to addiction to physical disability, it’s not about that. This is childhood trauma from the well child’s point-of-view and all the implications it has on their own well-being in the future.
I have completed over 350 pages. There’s some ways to go but I am happy with the progress, so far.
People like to ask me if it’s cathartic writing the book. It is not. It’s painful. Because this isn’t just something that happened in the past and I am working on “getting over it”. No, there is no end to being the Sibling of a special needs person. The concerns, the fears, the conflicting feelings, they will last as long as we live because you can never cut yourself off, can you? There will always be things to deal with, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.
But, in the process, I have discovered new attitudes, new feelings, new ideas and inspiration, so I would say enriching is a better word.
The big 5-0!
As per tradition, I will end the post with the plan for next year. I am not feeling overly excited or naively hopeful. That is something to be said for a natural optimist. If the past couple of years have shown me anything, it is that emergencies and problems will continue to happen, and I just need to be prepared to manage them and my well-being.
Still, it is a significant year because I am turning 50. The year will start (hopefully) with a smooth Australian open visit in January to finally watch my idol, Nadal, play live, and I have my birthday plans in March sorted already.
Seeing as it’s a 50, I’ll aim to treat the whole year as a birthday, which is what I know my fellow 1974s are doing! I’ll meet friends, I’ll have some holidays, I’ll drink more good wine and I’ll continue on my work as an author.
I have an idea about starting something connected with the topic that is close to my heart, but I will update if that idea actually germinates.
In the midst of all the above, I am fully aware and concerned about the other shoe dropping, it is always in the back of my mind. I will have to work on pushing forward with helping my mother with regards to the future plans for my brother.
All I can say is, I just hope most of what I hope for in the new year can happen smoothly, and if nasties crop up, that I will be able to manage them without regressing on my journey towards better mental and emotional health. That will be a good 50.