My Sister Rachel (Part 5): Challenges

I’ve never written a series this long before, but I’m planning to wrap this series up in a 6th post to come soon. If you missed any of the other posts and you’d like to read them, just do a search at the top for “My Sister Rachel” and they should all pop up.

I’m going to try to keep it real in this post, and today’s topic is “challenging times.” Coincidentally this is also the longest post in the series, so bear with me if you attempt to read through it. I’m sure it’s no surprise that there were times with Rachel that were really difficult and stressful. Honestly, there were many times that just really sucked. I don’t say that to blame my sister or my family for how things were, it is just a true statement due to the circumstances we found ourselves in.

Rachel had limited abilities to communicate with us how she was feeling or what she was thinking, and I’m sure much of the time she felt frustrated that we didn’t understand her. She probably felt frustrated when things didn’t seem “right” to her and none of the rest of us were doing anything to fix it. She wasn’t aware of all the social rules that most of us follow (like giving others personal space, or knowing to stay quiet during a movie so as not to bother anyone) and so inevitably she would commit many social taboos that would draw attention, very often negative attention.

Anger

I was probably only in Kindergarten or elementary school, but by that time I had already learned to associate Rachel with negative feelings and outcomes. Without even realizing it at the time, I strategically began to avoid being around her or interacting with her. I had learned that I needed to keep myself and my things away from Rachel if I wanted them to be out of harm’s way. As I said in an earlier post, we really didn’t play together much anyway (due to being on different developmental levels), and so we each kind of did our own thing and had our own interests. We had our own rooms and our own toys, and my toys and belongings were very different from Rachel’s (again, due to our differences in abilities). I’m not sure if that was the reason Rachel seemed so intrigued with my room and my things, but there were many times that she would take something of mine, and essentially destroy it. Sometimes she might find a tag on one of my stuffed animals and rip it off (tearing a hole in it) or she’d crumple up a drawing I was really proud of. I don’t think it was done intentionally against me, but it made me so upset. (I’m sure older siblings have experienced similar situations where a younger brother or sister broke something of theirs.)

One time in particular when Rachel broke something of mine stands out to me. Earlier we had gone to a science museum, and I had gotten a wooden stegosaurus skeleton that you could put together piece by piece, kind of like a 3D puzzle. (It was so cool!) I had assembled it and had it on display in my room. I think the door to my room was open and I was in another part of the house, but I remember hearing a crash and running back to my room to find Rachel standing there and the stegosaurus smashed to pieces on the floor. I’m not sure why this event, out of all the times Rachel broke something of mine, sticks out in my memory, but I remember being devastated. That event might have been the catalyst to cause us to put a lock on my door.

I mentioned that I had learned to keep not only my things, but myself, away from Rachel in order to avoid harm. Another not-so-fun thing about Rachel was that around this same time (Kindergarten or elementary school) Rachel started having violent tendencies. If she got mad, her way to express it was through hurting herself or someone else. And if you were the person nearby, you might find yourself hurt. Rachel was always bigger and stronger than I was, despite us being the exact same age, so fighting back wasn’t a great strategy for me. I learned instead that I was much faster than her, so I could outrun her if she was trying to attack me. There were still plenty of times though when she would get me by surprise, and being the good girl I was, I knew I shouldn’t try to hurt her back. That was SO frustrating to me – it never felt like justice was served. (Probably was the start of a lot of repressed anger for me to be honest.)

On one occasion, however, I did retaliate back at Rachel, and I didn’t hold anything back. We were older, maybe junior high age, and Rachel had hit me or hurt me somehow. I remember being so mad, and I decided I was going to hit her as hard as I could. And I did. I slapped her on her back so hard that it left a hand print, and I remember Rachel started to cry. (Sorry Mom, I don’t think I ever told you that before!) Of course then I felt terrible, but it was a mixture of feelings – I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but at the same time it felt like I was standing up for myself. (I’m sure there could have been a better way to do that…)

Fear

Besides being fearful for my physical wellbeing sometimes (her violent outbursts did get better over time), I began to have a lot of fear about what other people would think – whether or not they were judging me or my family for how my sister behaved.

I’m not a person who generally likes to be the center of attention, unless I’m around close friends or family. I’m an introvert and was definitely pretty shy growing up. So it was very unnerving to suddenly become the center of attention at a restaurant or a store if my sister decided to get mad and throw a tantrum. And when I say throw a tantrum, I mean the falling down on the floor, kicking and screaming kind of tantrum.

I’m sure this is something every parent has experienced with their toddlers. You can’t get your child to stop screaming or crying in the middle of a crowded place, they might get to the point where they start hitting or kicking, and you may even have to take them out of the area to calm them down. Now imagine that happening, but it’s not a toddler – it’s my sister who is 10, or 12, or even 15 years old doing it. She’s a lot bigger, and it’s a lot harder to discreetly escort her out of a building.

I think the worst part was the sense of helplessness I felt – I would stand there and watch my mom or dad try to regain control of the situation, and many times I didn’t know how else to help. All I could do was watch mortified as hundreds of pairs of eyes turned to stare at us while we tried to calm my sister down. As I said, I wasn’t really a match for my sister physically, and sometimes it was all we could do to remove my sister from a situation before she really hurt herself or another person.

I also experienced fear anytime I wanted to invite friends over to my house. In general, my parents did a good job at trying to allow my friends and I a normal experience at our home. We’d try to have Rachel presentable and settled before people came over. But as much as we tried, we just couldn’t be totally prepared for the unexpected, and with Rachel there was always unexpected.

Sometimes Rachel would just take all of her clothes off for no reason at all, other than she didn’t want to wear clothes. (My four-year-old is usually just clad in his underwear at our home, so I can understand this.) But it’s a lot different for a four-year-old to come out of their room naked when you have a guest, versus having my 10-year-old twin sister decide to come out of her room naked. Most of my friends were very gracious when things like this would happen, but I was always so worried that they wouldn’t ever come back – that maybe being my friend would be too much for them because of my sister.

Looking back, maybe I was way more worried about this than any of my friends ever were. Maybe I could have relaxed more and not let the fear and worry get to me so much. I’m so grateful for the friends I had who came over many times to hang out with me in spite of the chance of something unexpected happening. (Heidi, Amy, and Eric – I’m thinking specifically right now of all the times we played Sonic Shuffle together!) And I’m grateful to my parents who worked really hard to do the best they could to let me have friends over like a normal kid, despite things not always being perfect.

Sadness

In regards to my sister, sadness was not a feeling I really started experiencing until about high school and beyond. Anger? Yes! Fear? Absolutely! But not until my sister and I got a bit older did I began to feel a certain level of sadness – sometimes it was closer to a feeling of longing or loneliness, or even grief, but I’m putting all of those under the umbrella “sadness.”

One day it suddenly occurred to me that I would never have a sister I was really close to. It seems silly that it took that long for me to really comprehend this fact, but I guess I had never really thought about it before. Rachel had just always been in my life, and I never questioned it.

Probably what first got me thinking this way was seeing one of my best friends start to become super close to her older sister. I got jealous seeing how close they were, and thinking about how they were going to be in each other’s weddings some day, maybe eventually watching their kids play together one day… It suddenly hit me that I wasn’t going to have that. Rachel and I wouldn’t ever reminisce about the good old days growing up together, we wouldn’t be able to be there for each other to talk about our problems or see our kids grow up together. Our relationship felt practically nonexistent.

In a lot of ways I feel like my experience growing up was similar to that of an only child. My family and I knew very early on that I would be the only daughter to go to college, have a job, live on my own, potentially get married and have kids… in some ways I felt like the “star” child – I wanted to make my parents proud of me by following the rules and getting good grades and being generally successful at life. (Perhaps there was also some oldest-child syndrome going on here?)

In a lot of ways though, I was absolutely NOT an only child. There was another person who took up quite a bit of my parents’ time and energy (I mean, they literally had to help her get dressed and brush her teeth every morning!) Sometimes we had to be careful to do things a certain way to make sure Rachel wasn’t upset or overwhelmed. Part of why we vacationed in Anaheim, California (aka. Disneyland) so often was that it was a place Rachel liked and could handle – and we went so much that it eventually became routine for her. It was a strange feeling to one day be an adult and realize that I could travel anywhere, not just a place with “Disney” in the first part of the name. (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Disney – I just feel like in some ways our family was limited by doing this.)  

For a long time as an adult (meaning 18 and older), I had this deep desire for a lifelong best friend. I have been blessed with many friends over the years, many of them having been deep and extremely meaningful relationships. But they always seemed to just be for a season. Friends would move away and we’d lose touch, or eventually we’d just grow apart naturally. I found myself being torn up about this. When was I going to find a person who I could count on to be close friends with for life?

For a long time I didn’t know why that was so important to me, but that longing was there and I felt it intensely. It finally hit me one day (thank you therapy!) that most likely I was essentially trying to fill this longing I had for a sister with a best friend. I wanted a guaranteed connection with someone, someone that even if we hadn’t talked for months, I could call up one day and it would be totally normal.

Obviously my “bestest” best friend is my husband Dean. And I’m so grateful that we were put in each other’s lives. But I needed to allow myself time to be sad about this, to essentially grieve the fact that having a sister, and a twin sister at that, did not mean for me what it meant for a lot of other people. And I think this is healthy and okay. I think it’s natural to feel sadness at a loss, even if it’s something you never really had, but just expected you would have.

Thanks for reading this – I know this was a LONG post.

I’m appreciative of you for making it this far, and I hope, as always, that by sharing my experience, you’ve benefitted in some way. If you could relate to a lot of what I was saying, I hope you know your feelings are valid. If this was brand new territory for you, I hope it brought some understanding (and empathy) for people in similar situations.

If you’d like to continue the conversation, or want a safe person to talk to about this, feel free to contact me at any time. And stay tuned for my final post in this series – coming soon!

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