Guest blogger bio: From the Greater Boston area, this week’s guest blogger is a college student with a passion for family, the arts, and social equity. When she is not grappling with the question of what it means to be a positive contributor in society, you can probably find her sitting with a cup of coffee (she can’t live without it), knitting needles in her hands, binge watching Netflix. This week’s guest blogger is selecting to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of her brother.
Title: A Sister’s Take on Anxiety: What it Means to Support
My account is not a first-hand experience with mental health; instead, I hope to share what I, personally, have learned second-hand through having a family member that was diagnosed with anxiety.
The height of my family’s struggle with my brother’s anxiety came at a time when I was extremely focused on myself. I was in my junior year of high school, and the looming pressure of college applications and my future beyond high school was getting to me. In my head, the world revolved around me.
I’ll admit that my reaction to the onset of my brother’s symptoms was harsh, unsupportive, and unaccepting. Most days of the week, my brother would stay at home after complaining about stomachaches and head pains. It was rare to see him out of his bed without an expression of contorted pain on his face. My parents would try everything they could to get him out of bed and to school, but their efforts were almost always to no avail.
I resented my brother for spending months in bed, frustrated that he couldn’t just go to school like every other normal person. The thoughts that entered my head were heinous and selfish: I wouldn’t let a stomachache prevent me from going to school. I made it through the stress of middle school, why can’t he? I have to deal with heavy coursework and stress of junior year - he’s so selfish, why does it always have to be about him?
As my egocentric mentality continued, my brother’s struggle with anxiety not only wreaked havoc on my poor brother’s stomach, but also on my relationship with my brother. My exchanges with him were curt and my comments towards him were snarky and divisive. Bit by bit, our interactions became fewer and fewer, and I became able to relate to him less and less.
About another half a school year missed, many visits to specialists, and frustration with his inability to get better, my brother was finally diagnosed with a culturally specific form of social anxiety disorder that had resulted in physical symptoms of stomach infection and subsequent pain. My brother has a form of social anxiety where he is so concerned with offending or getting in the way of other people, that he in turn becomes unable to function due to emotional distress. Ironically, he had been so concerned about the well-being of other people that he had in turn created a struggle within our family because of his concern for getting in people’s way.
Upon reflection, coming in to terms with my brother’s anxiety was a lesson in acceptance. Firstly, acceptance meant understanding that my brother was dealing with anxiety, and that his bouts of inability to get out of bed were not his fault. Secondly, acceptance also meant understanding my brother is his own person and will have to deal with things in his own way. All that I can do is try to be the best support system that I can be – (and after getting it wrong and dealing with my brother’s anxiety in the wrong way for months) I discovered that being a support system meant to accept him as he is. Dealing with his anxiety is his fight. And it is my role to try my best to be there, accepting him, every step of the way.
Since then, my relationship with my brother has improved drastically. We talk about and share music with each other, share projects (we both love creating things; I love crafting, and he loves building computers, speakers, etc.) and share anecdotes from our lives. Recently, I’ve been experiencing reoccurring stomach pains, and he has reacted with extreme understanding and support - while I sat brooding at our kitchen counter trying to block out both the pain in my stomach and the world around me with Friends on Netflix, he approached me (very cautiously - I wouldn’t have even approached myself, I was such a grump) and consoled me. I hope that instead of reacting as I would have done in the past, I have been able to return, and continue to return, the same kindness that he showed me.
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About 7 Dresses 4 Health (7D4H): 7D4H is a year-long arts and health education campaign lead by visual artist, Marian Brown, in conjunction with Arts Connect International. The objective of the campaign is to promote inclusive community practices through adDRESSing health artistically and collaboratively. To learn more about the genesis of the project, read Marian’s New Year Blog.
About this week's look & location: All of the dresses for 7 Dresses 4 Health were designed and sewn by Kim's Fashion Design. Love the look? Visit Kim at 100 Huntington Ave, Boston MA 02116, call her at (617) 267-9299 or email her: email@example.com. Mention 7 Dresses 4 Health for a special discount!