Growing up with a little sister, there was constantly an undertone of sibling rivalry in everything we did. It was often lighthearted, but at times could get downright vicious and ugly. It still can be. As the older one, I’ve grown up with this set of expectations to succeed, and to eventually be responsible for taking care of my parents – and yet I get little help from them.
Plus, growing up with a large extended family full of smart and talented people only added to the pressure I felt to succeed.
Family gatherings were always full of my aunts and uncles bragging about my cousins’ many accomplishments, presenting the best possible versions of themselves and occasionally gossiping about our missteps.
I found myself slowly craving that validation from family. And as unhealthy as I eventually realized that was, it felt great as long as I was achieving things and doing well. But as soon as that changed, I was suddenly made aware of just how damaging a situation it was.
When I suddenly found myself unemployed, it took me two weeks before I plucked up the courage to tell my family. I left my mom a painfully monotone voicemail and then proceeded to avoid her calls for the next week.
I was already embarrassed and disappointed enough in myself, I didn’t want to feel those coming from my family too.
Then in the middle of summer, a death in the family brought me back home, surrounded by my happy and successful cousins. Before we gathered, my mom advised me to keep the news of my unemployment to myself.
So I spent that whole weekend lying about my situation, smiling and vaguely replying to questions about work.
There are few times in my life where I felt more disgusting than in those moments.
Part of me thinks my mom was looking out for me, she knew my relatives would swarm me with questions and advice and lying was an easy way to avoid that. But it also made me feel like the big family disappointment, being hidden away, the black sheep. I felt like a fraud for lying.
I’ve always talked about how close my family is, because we constantly have family gatherings celebrating birthdays or anniversaries or holidays where we have a blast. But this experience made me realize that perhaps that closeness is just a front because I was too scared to speak the truth about my situation.
So of course my family has no idea about my mental health struggles. It’s both a curse and a blessing; I don’t get their nagging but they are also so painfully unaware of just how damaging their actions can be.
There are days, like today, where things go poorly and I think about leaving home and going off on my own again. But I’m scared. Because I know I’m not quite ready. Because I know if I go out on my own and try to go after my dreams again, if I go out alone and take on all that pressure, I’m scared I won’t survive it on my own. So I’m staying home. Because it keeps me alive even if little pieces of me are torn down somedays.
And I’m still scared today. While I’m excited to be working on this blog project, I’m scared to share it with the people who know me because I do plan on talking deeply and openly about my struggles and that is a scary thing to share with the people in your real life, especially the people I have tried so hard to keep this perfect facade around… and the people who have done so much damage to me.
I’ve only shared this with a handful of close friends, but I hope to eventually get the courage to share my experiences and my work with everyone and have no fear of their judgement.