‘The Meaning of Normal’: Living with a sibling with mental illness : Guest post by Shira

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(image: Thought Clothing)

It hasn’t been normal for so long that sometimes I forget what normal should feel like. When I try to think about it, it feels like a glimpse into someone else’s life, and I am an invasive stranger, trying to reach something that doesn’t belong to me.

What is normal?

Sometimes I think I remember it.

Sometimes I think that normal is that time when I was six and you were three and we didn’t fight. When we played hand in hand like every other child, and our entire world was pink and purple, and the most important thing to us was that our dolls had shiny blonde hair.

And we would play every game under the sun, from barbies to dollhouse to the convoluted imaginary ones that only we knew the rules to, and even then did we ever really know the rules?

I was a witch and you were the princess. We were both witches. We were both princesses. I stole your magic time machine but you found another one, and our living room became the entire universe as we ran through it, believing wholly in the pictures we created, the way that only children can.

But did we ever really exist like that? Were we ever those idyllic children, the children that every parent wishes to have?

Maybe our normal is all the times when I was ten and you were seven and we would push and shove and slap. You were my younger sister who could do no wrong and I was the older one, always blamed for both our shares of misdemeanours.

“You should know better!” They would shout

“But she started it!” I would pout.

“It’s not true!” your bottom lip would stick out.

I think we all know that I probably did start it.

We would fight and yell and cry and shout, never giving in, never admitting that we were wrong. Because we weren’t wrong. We were both right, all the time, every time, and the other was always painfully mistaken. And we roared and yelled and scratched each other, but knew only to cry when a parent was looking. And if nobody was looking, well then nobody would see if we punched back just one more time.

But were we ever really like this? Two demonic screaming children who were never silent and never content with just each other? Were we really the children that every parent dreads to have?

Maybe our normal is the way we grew apart as we grew older. When I was 15 and you were 12 and I would pretend not to know you as I walked past you in school. And maybe our normal is the way we would come home from the same school at the same time separately, both of us walking different routes from the bus because being seen with one another would be unacceptable. Maybe that’s what all teenagers do. Maybe that really was our normal.

Maybe our normal was what came next.

Maybe the years we didn’t talk to each other was what we were always heading towards. Because one day we would put down the dolls, and one day we would run out of things to fight about and we would just…exist.

One next to the other.

Sitting in silence.

Neither speaking.

Neither bothering to reach out first.

Because now I’m 18 and you’re 15 and I don’t remember the last time I spoke to you. The house is thick with anger, so thick that it poisons every interaction, and I couldn’t even tell you what I’m angry about. Because the sister I played with, the sister I happily fought with but would jump on anyone else who dared fight with her is in pain. So much palpable pain, and for the first time I couldn’t just make it go away.

Was I angry with you?

Yes.

Was I angry with myself?

Yes.

And so I let this become our normal. A normal where two siblings exist side by side, but don’t even know how to speak without offending. Where everything I say hurts you and everything you say angers me.

So we made this our new normal.

And I don’t care.

I don’t care.

I don’t.

I care.

And now I’m 20 and you’re 17 and I’m 3000 miles away. But this is our normal now. We don’t speak. We can’t speak. But it doesn’t even matter because there’s nothing to speak about anymore. How can I ask how you are when I already know the answer, and I know it’s not an answer I want to hear. How can you ask how I am when you’re too focused on making it through your own day without worrying about mine?

And anyway, it’s been a long time since we told each other how our day was. Not since I was 14 and you were 11 and we would awkwardly walk home from the bus stop together, backpacks moving up and down and up and down as we compared notes about school, neither of us loving it, neither of us willing to admit that out loud.

But we are not those children anymore, and we don’t have any shared experiences to talk about anymore.

I wonder if you miss me like I miss you. I wonder if you count down the days to my birthday too, hoping that we will both make it past 17 and 20, willing time to hurry up even though maybe all I really want to do is turn back the clock.

And then you are 18, and it’s been 18 years since I sat by your tiny cradle in the hospital and cried when we left, maybe because I wanted another chocolate bar from the hospital vending machine, or maybe because secretly I don’t want to leave my baby sister in a cold hospital far far away.

But now you are 18 and I’ve still left you in a hospital far away and it’s still just as hard to leave you there as it was all those years ago. But a 21 year old can’t lie down on the floor and have a tantrum so I keep going and keep going and this is our normal now.

A normal where you’re there and I’m here. A normal where we won’t speak for months on end but then I text you and tell you I miss you and now you answer me too, and I think you miss me too. A normal where we joke and laugh at stupid posts we see on Instagram,  tentatively, both of us till remembering when you were 14 and I was 17 and we ripped each other apart with words until neither of us said anything at all. Is this our normal now?

What is normal?

I looked it up for you.

 

NORMAL:

  • Conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected

 

But who gets to decide what that standard is? How do we know when something that once wasn’t normal now is, and if what was once normal is now anything but? Do we decide that? Or do others who stand by and watch get to decide that for us?

I’m sure someone could tell you the scientific answer. I’m sure there is a video out there with a detailed and meticulous answer laid out for us to study.

I’m sure somebody could tell us the answer. Maybe we haven’t even been normal, maybe we always were.

Maybe the imaginary games of our childhood were always meant to turn into imagined grievances causing real rifts. Maybe we were meant to grow apart and then come back together again, a little rougher but a little kinder. Maybe none of it was normal, or maybe all of it was.

Sometimes I wish I could change all of it. If I hadn’t said what I said that one day, or if I hadn’t slammed my door that one time, or if you hadn’t called me that name under your breath, things would all be different now.

But sometimes I know I can change none of it. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe if we hadn’t played all those games as children, if we had never walked down the road together from school, if I had never sent the texts you eventually answered, things would all be different now.

Normal isn’t for us to decide, it isn’t for me to determine. All I know is our normal is all we have, and I wouldn’t change us for the world.

About:

Shira is a writer living in Israel, drawing on every day life experiences. Her sibling lives with a diagnosed mental illness and she has bravely shared their story here.

 

 

 

Expressing Social Anxiety through Songwriting: Alive: Guest blog by Rachel Leycroft

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(image: Rachel Leycroft)

Rachel experienced severe social anxiety in many forms for the majority of her life. Like many others, she felt it was crucial to hide this at all costs, despite the paralysing pain it often caused. Her therapeutic form of expression was always through songwriting, & she wrote “Alive” at 19-years-old while in college.

It was a time when she went to extremes to uphold an image of fearless confidence, regardless of the toll it took on her well-being. Rachel didn’t realize how many others suffered from similar experiences until a number of years later. With this realisation, she started a project called #lovethroughlyrics where she shares her songs in hopes of reminding others that they are not alone in their struggles.

“Alive” is a metaphorical view of the wish to escape social anxiety. In the song, Rachel relates social anxiety to the feeling of being weighted down and asks to give up aspects of herself that are not being represented with authenticity. Ultimately, she asks to give enough away to free herself & escape the burdensome fear of others’ judgments. “Falling into the horizon” represents the weights of our insecurities being lifted; it’s a moment that lights our souls alive, reminding us that our authentic selves are timeless. They have always been within us, but are often masked by our fears and our desire to be accepted.

Rachel hopes to encourage others to reconnect with their true selves again, no matter how many years they have been hidden. Her greatest wish is to evoke compassion toward ourselves & one another by giving mental health a voice through music.

You can read the lyrics to “Alive” below & listen to the song (original & acoustic) on any music platform by going here: https://fanlink.to/rachelleycroft_alive-acoustic 

Rachel would be happy to connect with you via Instagram as well: https://www.instagram.com/rachelleycroft/

 

The Girl who Lost her Shadow: Guest blog by Author, Emily Ilett.

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The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow is a story about sisterhood. It’s about being there for each other when everything feels like it is falling apart.

Gail and Kay used to swim every week, but everything had changed after their dad left. Now, Kay never left her room if she could help it. She hardly ate, and if she looked at Gail, it was like she was looking all the way through her, as if she was invisible.

When Gail’s older sister, Kay, becomes depressed, Gail doesn’t understand what is happening. The two sisters used to do everything together – they dreamed of being marine biologists and swam in the sea whenever they could. So when Kay becomes tired, sad and distant and won’t swim with Gail anymore, Gail feels abandoned and is furious with her sister.

But after Gail’s own shadow disappears on her twelfth birthday, Gail kicks at her sister’s shadow in frustration and it’s then that she begins to understand how Kay really feels.

Her feet prickled as Kay’s shadow gathered around them, silken between her toes. She gasped at the force of it. She felt emptied of everything she cared about, hollow like a clam shell cast up on a beach. Was this how Kay felt?

Kay’s shadow ripples under the bedroom door and out of the house, leaving Gail alone with this new understanding. And so Gail becomes determined to get her sister’s shadow back. She’s sure that if she brings it back, everything will go back to the way it was before Kay became depressed. But the journey she does go on turns out to be quite different.

As she follows Kay’s shadow across the island, she meets Mhirran, a girl who can do Morse code, a storm, and two bird shadows. With her new friends, Gail learns that she is stronger than she thought, and that even though Kay feels so far away, Gail can always find a way to reach her again.

This is a story about the impact of Kay’s depression on Gail, and how Gail finds the courage to be there for her sister, just as Kay has looked out for her so many times before. I think children’s stories about mental health are so important; at a time when everything can be painful and confusing, stories are a way of seeing ourselves and understanding how we can ask for support and give it to those we care about.

Kay said too many people try to do things by themselves – she couldn’t understand it. It’s a brave thing to ask for help, she said. The bravest thing.

When I was a child I struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and at the time I didn’t understand what was happening or that it was a shared experience. As an adult I recently read The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, a beautiful and sensitively written children’s book about a boy called Matthew who has OCD who solves a mystery in his local neighbourhood. It was such a poignant experience reading this book and I am so happy it exists for the next generation of young readers, so that they feel less alone and can find the words to put to their experience or the experience of friends or family.

I hope that The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow will help young people and families talk about depression and mental health, and this tale of magic and adventure provides companionship to young people and supports them to ask for, and give help, themselves.

In this extract, Gail is trapped inside a tree’s shadow and she is looking at a photograph of Kay in the hope that it will give her the strength to escape the shadow.

Gail ran a forefinger down the photo, following the curve of Kay’s cheek. Kay had always been the strong one, not her. She remembered the time when she’d broken her arm and Kay had drawn

twenty-three octopi on her cast so that she had all the arms she needed, and when Kay had spent hours explaining the tides because Gail was afraid of not knowing when the ocean would shift or shrink. She remembered when her sister had taken the blame the day Gail had turned their mum’s umbrella into a jellyfish with pink tissue paper and superglue, and when she’d squeezed Gail’s hand and distracted her with stories of marine biologist Asha de Vos while Gail had her first terrifying injection.

And she remembered one day after Kay had started sinking, when she had turned to Gail in the sticky silence, and said softly, “Do you remember the time we went swimming last October? We stayed in for ages and when we came out our lips and fingers were blue. You squeezed my hand and I couldn’t feel anything at all.” Gail had nodded and Kay stared at her own hand, flexing her fingers. “I feel like that now, Gail. Everything is numb. It’s like I’ve been swimming for hours. But I don’t know how to get out. I can’t get out.”

Gail had stiffened at Kay’s words then. Kay was the strong one. She needed Kay to be the strong one. And so she had tightened her mouth and tapped at the window and shrugged and said nothing at all.

Twigs broke behind her. They crunched in a creature-like way. Gail held her breath; she slipped the photo back in her bag and tried once more to wrestle her feet from the tree’s shadow. It was beginning to convince her that there were leaves growing from her nostrils and in between her teeth: Gail had to touch her face to check that there weren’t. She tugged her hair behind her ears, and shifted her rucksack higher on her back.

Leaves crackled to her right, followed by the scuttling of insects disturbed.

“Hello?” Gail whispered. “Who’s there?”” 

(The Girl who Lost her Shadow)

 

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This blog was written by author Emily Ilett. ‘The Girl Who Lost her Shadow’ is out now with Floris books and on Amazon. 

Loving Yourself: 4 Tips for Living a Body Positive Life: Guest blog by Emma Sturgis

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(image: Emma Sturgis)

Starting to live a body-positive life all begins with you, the individual. It can be challenging with so much pressure from society trying to dictate our lives. It becomes easier when you block out all negative forces and decide to start loving yourself and your body no matter what others have to say.

Loving yourself no matter what will increase your happiness and your overall peace in life. Here are four tips to help you down the body-positive life and feel total peace of mind about your body and physical appearance.

Work on Self-love

A significant number of girls have been through the trauma associated with body shaming, especially in high school. Some have taken the weight of the shame to our adult life where we lose our confidence and tend not to love ourselves as we should.

Many women and girls suffer from poor body image for years, or even through their entire life. The first step into living a body-positive life is by loving yourself first. We all come in different shapes and sizes, and no one is perfect. You just have to own your flaws and flaunt your strengths.

This can often be easier said than done, especially with years of social conditioning. You can achieve self-love through daily practices that make you feel your best physically and emotionally. Tell yourself every day that you appreciate your body and all it does for you.

Eat Instinctively and Respectfully

You don’t have to starve yourself to fit into that wedding dress within an unrealistic time-frame. Diets don’t work and neither does overfeeding any time you are stressed, sad or angry. Stop for a moment and ask yourself what your body desires to look great.

If you feel that you are struggling to keep an eating routine and your mental health is worsening, accept the problem and seek inpatient eating disorder treatment. under a psychiatry team or your local doctor.  

 

Change Your Perspective on Exercising

Most of us quit taking exercise and going to the gym because we hate working out. Exercise can be fun when we redirect the focus from it being a weight loss challenge to treating your body correctly and healthily.

You don’t have to attach any pressure or targets to your daily workout routines. Do exercises that are fun to you and even make it a social event with your friends. Once you start viewing exercise as healthy for your body , you will begin to love it. You will enjoy exercising because of how it makes you feel, endorphins from it will make us feel happy. You may even feel proud after a work out!

 

Pamper Your Body

After all the stress and pressure that your body endures, it deserves to be pampered and treated right. Get some good fitting outfits, wear the best lotions, go for therapeutic massages and take frequent hot tub baths. Fall in love with every curve while you look straight into the mirror.

This will allow you to connect with your body instead of feeling detached and negative toward it. You can make these things part of each day. Carve out some time from your busy schedule to pamper yourself, even if it includes simply putting on your favorite perfume. It will give you a simple confidence boost to carry through your day. Always take time for yourself and don’t let your daily tasks take priority over caring for your physical and mental health.

Once you change your mindset, the journey to living a body-positive life will be so much easier. You don’t have to lose 20 pounds to start loving yourself and your body. You are much more than your physical body.

Knowing your worth is a gift to yourself and your body. Eventually, it helps you rediscover your true self. You will be able to go forward in the world with confidence and give your amazing gifts and what you have to offer, to the universe.

This blog was written by freelance writer Emma Sturgis from the USA