The 'Big Sister'

When I was seven years old my life changed significantly, I became a ‘ Big Sister’, a step-sister but a big  sister nonetheless. It was a big change despite not living with my younger step-brother it took a lot of getting used to and to be honest I'm not really sure I ever got used to it. Two years later at the age of nine I welcomed yet another younger step brother into my life and again while it was great not to be the baby amongst my siblings the novelty of having to younger siblings, step siblings soon wore off. Not having fully gotten used to the first new addition the second new addition didn’t make it any easier. I believe that as a result of not living with my younger step-brothers, having two parents constantly fighting and a parent being diagnosed with cancer I wasn’t necessarily in the position to take on the ‘ Big Sister’ role and well because I didn’t live with my younger step-brothers I was still considered the baby of the family.


If I'm honest when my mum got really sick, after she died and indeed into my teen years the fact that I had two younger brothers became less important to me. Yes I acknowledged them, yes at times I told people I had four brothers and often when in school I would identify myself as having two step- brothers specifically in Irish and Spanish classes as it allowed me to improve my vocabulary in that particular language. Up until the past number of months when my younger step-brothers became a greater part of my life I never really considered myself as a ‘ Big Sister’.

Over the past number of months, maybe even the past year my younger step-brothers have been spending every Tuesday or Wednesday with my dad and up until then my interaction with them was limited, Christmas time, some birthdays, seldom weekends and family holidays to Florida were the only times I had much interaction with them since about the age of 13. Now maybe due to my age or maybe because I have that weekly interaction with them I feel as if I am a ‘ Big Sister’, I feel as if I have a role to fill and to be honest it is a role I'm not entirely sure how to fill or even if I'm all that comfortable filling it.

An important aspect of having an older sibling is knowing that you can talk to them when you need to, I know that because of my older brothers and I know how important it is to have that because being honest if it wasn’t for my two older brothers I would have succeeded years ago with my suicide attempts. Ive told my younger step-brothers numerous times that they can talk to me if they need to, but how can I reinforce that if I don’t have a relationship with them? How can I ensure they know I am here for them if I can barley have a conversation with them? How can I be their ‘ Big Sister’ if I only see them once a week and even that interaction is filled with tension?

For most of my life I have struggled with building relationships with people, at times I can have great relationships with people that are build over very short periods of time because it was meant to be while with other relationships I struggle even to build one over time. I guess I have been lucky that people have been so patient with me when it comes to developing relationships and my interpersonal skills are something I hope to develop should I continue with DBT therapy but If I cant even build a relationship with my younger step-brothers how can I be there ‘ Big Sister’.

Before I decided to write this post I did some googling, I googled how to be a good sister and something the popped up time and time again was that it is important to set a good example. Having come to the conclusion that I need to be a good example for my young step-brothers I thought about whether or not I have been a good example. To be honest I didn’t come to a conclusion and still now as I am writing this post I am trying to figure It out but honestly deep down I don’t feel as if I have set a good example, I mean how can someone who is covered in scars from cutting herself be a good example for two young and impressionable boys, how can a self harming ‘ Big Sister’ be setting a good example. It might be different if I could say I no longer self-harm but the reality is it is a daily struggle o fight the urges to self –harm and often there have been times where I have given in to those urges.

Its been almost 3 years now since my time in a psychiatric until and I have been sharing my story ever since I got discharged so I worry that being so public with my mental health issues given that there is still a stigma attached to mental illness  and mental health health in general could have a negative affect on my brothers, younger and older. I cant imagine what it is like to grow up with your ‘ Big Sister’, or little sister being borderline. I worry everyday that my oldest step-brother who is now 13 could be getting bullied in school because of having a borderline sister, having a sister who in the eyes of most young people is crazy. So how can I be a ‘ Big Sister’ if me being a sister could cause him pain and hurt?

Is it possible to be a good ‘ Big Sister’ when you cant even be good to yourself?


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