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by Giselle

My sister was small. The thin space between her top and bottom eyelids and the way she limply rubbed her nose; the movement of her body, wilting with the imperfect grace of a natural-born human rather than a sculpted and aware one. The outside world had forced her to fold inward, but told her that she would not be noticed until she was bold. So afraid of the perceptions of others, the largeness that she so fiercely knew was inside of her was suffocated by a plain, kind exterior. A small girl with insignificant actions, an unnoticed importance, and a big sister.Preceding her nine days at the mental health unit, when the stress became too much and her undiscovered Bipolar disorder was triggered, she was forced into a new state of small. This time, her inhibitions were lost to an impulsive grandiosity in an unconscious effort to override the insignificance. She told me that no one fuckin’ sees what goes on in her head - “I’m crazy and I matter, but no one sees that”.A day before Christmas break, after72 hours without sleep, she was the Queen of Versaille who could escape our mom by jumping out of a window. We found her in the home of two strangers down the street, a sports bra on, crisscrossed around her neck beneath another bra and a shawl. One frost-bitten foot was missing a shoe, while the other was strangled by a ripped ballet slipper wrapped too tightly. She stared at me with terrified eyes and I stared back with pleading ones, because it hurt knowing I was the only one she trusted to lead her out. The couple stared at us with horror as we managed a laugh and wished them a Merry Christmas, checking the carpet for a stigma before driving her to the hospital.  During my sister’s stay, I felt undeservingly big. I had blatantly disregarded her recent impulses to talk, knowing that these conversations were pivotal in creating within her a sense of larger identity but refusing to give up my time. Immediate gratifiers like friends and homework took precedence over the girl whom I knew saw me as her best friend and lacked the confidence to say it. To me, she had failed in part because of my tangible successes; the older sister with the bigger personality and list ofaccomplishments. Although not the cause of my sister’s hospitalization, I became a major perpetuator of her small esteem and my own internal failure.Her painful hospitalization brought me undeserved connection with the same people that had caused her tired eyes and frantic mind. I cried in the arms of those who pitied me while my sister danced in isolation. My mom and I bonded over late night Thai food runs as she tried to bite off her hospital band. The relationships my sister had craved for so long, I had received through her suffering. Her failed story had become mine of success - guilt coated my stolen connections and I felt hollow.Finding out later that my sister has Bipolar disorder was surprisingly a relief. I’m still coming to terms with the idea that her susceptibility to smallness is genetic, but know now that regardless of my actions she will continue to experience episodes of manic-depression. There was an odd comfort that came with the vulnerability of that understanding, as I realized my largeness had shadowed her instabilities, rather than created them. I see now that my sister’s time brought us both the connection we may not have realized we needed, and me the perspective I lacked. Through my sister’s story, I have learned that the smallest people, emotions, personalities, successes, and failures may initially go unnoticed, however manifest themselves to create the largest, most incredible impact in the end.

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