Minefields

Martina - Washington, District of Columbia
Entered on April 13, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50

I graduated College at 26, an age at which friends were getting careers underway, defining relationships, and seeking commitment, both personally and professionally. In my family, ironically, I am the success story. My biggest successes aren’t measured by diplomas, financial gains, positions held, awards granted or material things in general. My greatest successes lie within each day that I’m able to navigate through the little minefields planted in my family home. Both my siblings—older sister and younger brother–are afflicted with a mental illness that affect their lives in different ways. I’m considered the “normal” one. There’s nothing worse than being seen as a success, and feeling the opposite inside. The idea that I’m doing fine, have no problems, feel no anxiety and live a worry-free life, is a distorted view of who I really am, and it’s also this belief that upholds my family’s sense of stability. When my siblings are afflicted, and the palpable feeling of unraveling permeates our household, is the time when I become invisible, and yet of paramount importance at the same time. Once, my mother gave me her honest account of an incident in which my brother attacked my sister. She witnessed her own son have a violent breakdown, and watched her oldest and youngest children unravel. My mother threatened to call the police. My brother pleaded her not to, given that he knew, as well as my sister and mother, what the tragic outcome would be. My mother, as she was recounting the sordid events, ever the impenetrable, steadfast, rock, broke down in tears. We were in the car, driving, so I told her to stop the car and have a good cry, but before I knew it, she wiped the tears from her cheek. She said, “I’m OK. I needed that; that was the first time that I cried” and, just kept on driving. Her reaction made me feel deeply uncomfortable, and all through lunch I didn’t speak from the shock. I wept quietly, not wanting any attention in the busy café, thinking of my own invisible tears and my mother’s restrained crying. In my anger towards her and all her restrained composure, I noticed that we were so alike. My mother, overcome with worry and anxiety, sees me as a reminder of how her other two children could have been, the healthy version, an unspoken comparison which my siblings and I painfully resent. What this precarious position I straddle has taught me, is that anonymity carries with it much responsibility. As the “normal” one, I’m ironically constantly fighting to be “seen”, fighting for attention and yet wanting none at the same time. I feel that my purpose is to be able to navigate a minefield armed with love, compassion, forgiveness, courage, hope and the knowledge that my position begs me—no—it demands of me—to be a “successful” human being. This, I believe…