I’m four years older than my sister and it meant we weren’t all that close as kids. Four years is a long time when you don’t have a lot of years to spare. In highschool, I felt worlds apart from my kid sister. I would come home from breaks in college and meet the teenager she had become in random bursts. It never went well, she was moody and aggressive. She would stay in bed all day long and not come out of her room. I remember coming home and just not being able to understand her attitude and then responding angrily to her poutiness. I was mean back because I didn’t know any better.
Now I know she was dealing with depression and anxiety. Now I know she had an eating disorder, on top of every other little insecurity that comes with being a teenager. And now I know that sometimes mental health presents differently than the classic imagery of sad, grey, unresponsiveness. It’s not always sadness, but aggression and lack of cooperation. Sometimes blowing people off is about social anxiety, not disliking other people.
We are closer now that we’re both adults and we can reflect on our adolescence. Hearing her perspective of that time breaks my heart. I didn’t understand or try to figure out if there was something deeper going on with her, I just got angry. I don’t necessarily blame myself, I was young too. I had no idea and very little emotional intelligence to apply to the situation. But I would encourage siblings to second guess your reaction to a rude comment or shortness from your brother or sister.
Parents are thinking about their kids’ mental wellbeing more than siblings, but I think we can all play an important role in the wellness of our families. You’re always going to fight and have moments of anger with your siblings. It’s not all bad. But sometimes it’s more than a fight in that moment and more than the idea that they’re just a jerk. They could be hurting, and we should try to think about how to react appropriately and how we can help. Growing up is a scary time with lots of emotion and it can never hurt to have more empathy than anger.