Names have been changed.
During the summer of 6th grade, my friend invited me on a cruise around Manhattan. We laughed and enjoyed the starry night. But the calm vanished when I got home and saw fluorescent blue and red lights blinking from two police cars, their doors wide open. All I could hear were the sirens blaring. I rushed up the stairs.
“Thank God you’re home! Dylan was arrested for shoplifting and possession of drugs!” my mom said when she saw me. A camera at the local grocery store had caught my brother on video. When the police arrested him, they also found weed on him. They took him to the precinct, which was a few blocks away.
My Brother’s Troubles
Until recently my older brother was a good kid. Before, he was a lively guy who loved to be around family. He was an honors student who was well liked by his teachers. But then, in 9th grade, he stopped going to school and started smoking marijuana. He stopped spending time with his family. He often refused to come out of his room.
This was all hard on me. My parents were upset a lot and my brother and I hardly talked to each other anymore. Before, we’d been close.
When we were younger, we’d play hide and seek with my cousins and he helped me find the best hiding places. Whenever the person seeking was near me, he’d get caught so I wouldn’t. It was little things like this that made me feel fortunate to have such a loving older brother. He looked out for me.
The morning after the police incident, I came into the kitchen. My mom had her head down on the kitchen table. This worried me. I put my arms around her. She was crying.
“Mom, please don’t cry,” I said, as tears fell down my face.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a forced smile. “At least they let him off and we just had to pay a fine.”
It was hard for me to see my mother like this because I thought of her as an invincible superhero who could fix everything. She was the person I went to when I was sad or hurt, and now she was the sad and hurt one.
After my brother’s trouble with the police, my mom tried to talk to him many times. But he refused to listen. Although he lost all of his privileges, he still managed to sneak out of the house, smoke weed, and get in minor trouble with the police. He spent a short time in jail for drug possession.
From Feeling Loved to Feeling Invisible
My parents became caught up with my brother, and because I seemed fine, they started neglecting me.
They no longer came to my band performances or praised me for my good grades or academic awards.
They even stopped simply asking me how I was. I went from feeling loved to feeling invisible.
When I started high school, I thought by being the best, my parents would pay attention to me. I hoped to balance out the suffering my parents went through with my brother.
But the schoolwork was harder than middle school and my grades weren’t as high. I became stressed. And of course I wasn’t going to talk to my parents about this.
I didn’t talk to my friends either, because I didn’t want to be a burden. I began to feel isolated.
I did not know how to control my stressful thoughts. For example, when I was assigned a big school project, I felt like giving up and I started crying. I lay on my bedroom floor over-thinking everything and ended up not doing the work until the last minute.
My critical inner voice would repeat over and over, Without this assignment you will not make it into college. Why do you even try? You’ll never amount to anything!
I felt unmotivated to do much. Deep inside I knew what I needed to do, but my mind prevented me from doing it. I felt stuck. It was like my body was deliberately sabotaging me, keeping me from doing the things I wanted.
I would often feel nothing and I wanted to be alone during these times. I would turn the lights off in my room and hide under the covers.
I also had constant feelings of uncertainty and self-consciousness. Whenever I entered a mall or a store, I thought, What if the cashier laughs at me? I’d worry so much about making myself look foolish that I’d start to tremble.
At the same time, although my brother was a daily pot user, he was functioning. He ended up graduating high school. He started attending community college and working for a caterer.
Although I was struggling, I was left to fend for myself while my parents were on top of him to make sure that he wasn’t doing anything to get himself kicked out of college.
My parents found him a therapist, but my brother stormed out of her office on the first day.
That night my dad asked me, “Since you’ve dealt a lot with your brother, do you want to visit a therapist?”
“Why would you think I need a therapist?”
“You don’t seem the same. You don’t smile as much. All you do is stay inside, locked in your room, and you don’t talk with your mom and me like you used to.”
So my parents hadn’t forgotten me! I was surprised. I also knew I needed help. I wanted to change. I needed clarity. I wanted for things to get better.
“Sure,” I replied.
Putting My Emotions Into Words
My dad made an appointment for me. At first I was anxious because I didn’t want to talk to a stranger. The first session was awkward because I didn’t know what to say. She asked me questions like why I was there and how I felt about school. After talking to her for a while, I became more comfortable. She was easy to talk to.
She diagnosed me with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. She explained to me what the illnesses were and it helped me understand how they were making me feel like I was stuck in a rut with no way out.
She described my feelings of uncertainty as anxiety, and she prescribed medication for it. Learning about all of this encouraged me to keep seeing her.
I was now able to put into words the emotions that ran through my head. For years, I went to therapy twice a week and took Xanax, a medication that treats symptoms of anxiety.
Rather than wandering around confused and lost in my mind, I understood that my feelings were linked to an illness. Knowing this helped me feel better.
My therapist also helped made me realize that my brother’s hardships were his, not mine, and that I should work hard for myself and not for him or my parents.
She also made me see that while my parents may have been distracted, they weren’t neglecting me as much as I thought. They weren’t aware of my difficulties, and since I was doing OK in school it didn’t seem as if anything was wrong. My parents were focused on the bigger issues with my brother. I accepted that it wasn’t that they did not care about me, they were just preoccupied with him.
Now that I feel better and motivated again, I’m able to push myself to do well in school. But I’m doing it for me.
I want to go to a good college. I joined book club, jazz club, and the writing center in my school. I became less afraid to talk to different people and I made more friends.
When I feel stressed out or under the weather, I go into my parents’ room and talk to my mom.
I guess opening up to my therapist also helped me open up to my parents. I didn’t blame them anymore, and instead I tried to improve my relationship with them.
My brother hasn’t changed. But I understand that I can’t change him.
I recently stopped therapy and medication because I feel I’ve gotten enough strategies from therapy. Plus, life is better.
I remind myself that I have to be intelligent about how I care for myself.
When I feel stressed I watch favorite TV shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” which make me laugh. I’ll also watch my all-time favorite movie, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” The movie is about Charlie, an introverted, anxious teen who finds a way to express what he carries inside him and to experience life instead of living on the sidelines.
Whether it’s hip hop, R&B, alternative rock, or even old school bachata, listening to my favorite songs also helps me feel more alive. Music relaxes and distracts me.
And finally, exercising reduces my anxiety. I usually run outside or I take a spin class with my dad. Working out helps me find energy and motivates me to keep trying. It makes me feel good about myself.
I’ve also learned that life changes. For instance, soon my brother turns 20 and he will be moving out. Nothing, even the good times, is permanent. Now when things get bad, it is easier for me to find the strength to continue because I know things eventually get better.