This person is the adult sibling of an individual with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. In the interview, they discuss how their relationship with their brother has evolved from childhood to adulthood, the advice they wish their parents and themselves could have known to support them, and how their parent's Hispanic lens impacted their approach to their brother's challenges.
Background: I live in LA, and I’m 34. I’m married, and I have a kid. I have a younger brother who is four years younger than me, and he lives close by. He has bipolar disorder, anxiety, and, we think, other conditions, but he has never been formally diagnosed. And he has been given anxiety meds that he sometimes takes whenever he feels like he needs to. And there was one time, maybe five or six years ago when he started having pseudo-seizures caused by stress. And so that kind of caused his body to convulse as if he was having a real seizure. And we didn't know what was happening. He was in the ICU for a week until they finally diagnosed him with having those pseudo seizures. And since then, he has had a few episodes which have been really scary.
What were some of your day-to-day experiences while growing up with your brother?
The way I kind of describe my childhood was like walking on eggshells, like you didn't know what mood he was going to wake up in. Like he could seem fine and normal and be a really kind person. Or if, like most days, he could wake up in a weird mood. And so I just never knew how the day was gonna go until I saw him. And then I would know if I had to stay away from him or if it was going to be a good day. And then, even if it was a good day, it could change into a bad day at the drop of a hat. So I always felt like I was bracing for impact.
What was your relationship like with your brother when you were growing up? And how is it evolved?
So we fought a lot growing up. You know, he was my little brother, so he wanted to do everything that I wanted to do. And then, as we both got older, it was definitely a lot of fighting. And we're four and a half years apart, so we weren't like the closest in age, and we were often at different stages in life as kids. There may have been a gender thing where we just didn't like a lot of the same things. And then I would say we're friendlier now, but it’s still hard because some days he’s a good friend, and I can talk to him about things then there are times when we don't talk for a few months because of his mental health. So I think the fact that we don't live together has helped our relationship.
Is there anything that you have done to help support yourself and cope with these challenging experiences?
Over the years, if he's in one of those moods, I have learned just to stay away. I remember one instance where I had a lampshade that I had gotten. And one day, while I was away at college, my brother decided he wanted it. And so he switched our lamps. So when I came back, I noticed the switch, and my boyfriend at the time was like, well, why don't you just ask him to switch it back? I was like, absolutely not, because upsetting him was just not worth it for a lampshade. So I learned to let things go and keep out of his way. I would basically give him anything to keep the peace. I also am careful about the words that I use around him, even to this day. If he's in a weird mood, I try to be extra nice if I do have to interact with him. So I just cater to him, which maybe isn't helping him at all, but it's just kind of the easiest way to keep the peace.
Do you have any advice that you wish you or your parents could have known that would have helped to support you growing up?
I think what's key is having parents that understand the problem. My parents had me at an older age. And then they're also Hispanic. And so, for me, like being Hispanic, there are certain things that are taboo, including mental health. So for many years, mental health has been something that you kind of just pretend is not there or don't talk about. So I think my parents didn't know what to do. And it’s not like they didn’t care or anything. I think they were doing the best they could with what they knew. But I feel like they didn't get my brother the help that he probably needed. I also felt like I couldn't go and like talk to them because their response would have told me to ignore it. And actually, it's still their response to this day, and yeah, they vent about the situation, but their ultimate action plan is just to ignore it and get over it. I wish I would have had a different response from my parents, and I wish I could have been able to go and confide in them. I actually have a cousin with a younger sister who has similar challenges as my brother. And my cousin and I have a similar personality. And our parents have addressed the situation with their younger siblings in a similar way. So we didn't find out about this until we were adults, and so now we confide in each other. When one of us is struggling with our sibling, we let the other person know, and we offer support. Because I couldn't find it in my parents, I wish had known that my cousin was going through something similar. Right now, it makes a world of difference just having someone to talk to and actually relate to. So I would highly recommend finding someone that you can talk to and that you can feel supported by. And it may be difficult to find, but it’s never too late to find someone.