Family Life Stories Life

This is my open letter of apology to my sister

Growing up, I had only a few friends. From the ages of twelve to sixteen, I had a grand total of three people I would talk to and even then, I only felt comfortable messaging one out of these three friends. But, the one consistent person in my life has always been my older sister, someone I owe a big apology to. 

When we were younger, my older sister and I were often called twins – we were so in-sync all the time whether it was sentences, responses, or even emotions. My sister is in fact just under two years older than I am and although she can be a bit up herself for being the older sibling at times, I can’t say I’ve never connected with her even though my sister was always a little more sympathetic to things than I was or even still am; if I shed a tear, she shed a waterfall. 

Exhibit A; I slipped headfirst into the side of the building and got a concussion at school one time in year three and she cried more than I did as she went off to get a teacher who basically told her to calm down because not a single coherent word was coming out of her mouth. Though I had to stay home battling a throbbing headache for the upcoming weeks, my sister would spend her time at school making get well soon cards for me and coming home to just sit with me. 

I remember when she was leaving primary school and on her last day, I was filled with dread because I realized that if I now had a spat with my friends, I couldn’t run off to my sister. She was now going to be somewhere that would require me to climb out of the school gates undetected, crossroads safely and not get kidnapped by the white van that appears to be everywhere. Far too much effort for the kid who barely got off the sofa once she sat down.

I got through that year anyhow and remember my sister giving me a pep talk before my first day of secondary school with the same sentence over and over: “I’m there if you need me.” It got really sour, really fast. 

Although undiagnosed at the time, social anxiety has always been a lifelong struggle of mine and I always took comfort in familiarity in my surroundings. I expressed to my sister how nervous I was about starting school on our walk there and she agreed for both of us to meet during break time in the school canteen. The first day had already been awful for me with the highlight of it realizing that I would be picked on by this one girl for the next five years. Her reason? She thought I was ugly. 

As I sat at a table waiting for my sister, a group of girls from my class walked past me making comments about how ‘ugly’ I was. I became the focal point of their laughter when my sister walked up to me and gave me a hug asking how my first few lessons were. I was suddenly torn between being in my safe space and fitting in – would I have been spared the embarrassment if I didn’t talk to my sister? I didn’t know it wouldn’t matter either way; the class bullies ran with it, teasing me relentlessly for the next five years. 

I got teased for a myriad of things during my time at secondary school, but it was all largely in comparison to me and my sister. She was tall, fairer-skinned (colorism at its finest), pretty, and above all, skinny. It didn’t help that she was also smart so whenever we had the same teachers, I would have to face comparisons by the teachers which would just become more ammunition for the class bullies. One girl in my class spread the rumor that I was adopted because there was no way one sister could be so beautiful and the other one so ugly. Another girl told me that my sister should be embarrassed to have such a fat sibling. The comments only got more demeaning from there.

I took it all out on my sister. I started arguing with her every morning so she would leave for school without me and purposefully get out of class really late so I wouldn’t have to walk home with her. Everything anyone has ever bought me down for, I would blame on her and I made sure she knew it. I bullied my own sister for my insecurities and that is a regret that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I regret my actions especially because my sister is a kind soul who has only ever encouraged me and waited patiently for me to work through any issues I was having.

It wasn’t until I got out of secondary school that I realized how awful I had been to someone who had never been mean to me – we came out of school with an overwrought relationship on my behalf. The road to healing has been long but my sister deserves to know that none of it was her fault and if I could undo it, I would.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Love Life Stories

I lost my best friend the moment our lives fell apart – and it still breaks my heart

Mental health struggles have formed the backdrop of my life, whether I was coping with my own mental unwellness or was watching my loved ones go through their own struggles.

I put my mental well-being on the back burner because I sincerely believed the well-being of the people I care about mattered more. In ways, I conflated my self-worth with my ability to provide emotional labor the people I love.

This pattern spilled into my friendships, but not always in the most healthy ways. One of the most intimate friendships in my life so far, although rewarding, ended up being the wake-up call I didn’t realize I needed.

The beginning of this friendship happened rapidly.

She felt like a soul sister. The next thing I knew, we were spending tons of time together, texting every day, and a couple months down the road, we were sharing all the emotional baggage we’d been carrying with no inhibitions. I felt a profound connection to her. I would do literally anything for this person. She is one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met, but she carried deep trauma. Our profound friendship made me want to help her carry it.

I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone.

I did my best to be her go-to confidant, and she did the same for me. I was there for the good times, the bad times, the break-ups, and the existential crises. But months later, when she had been experiencing an abnormal amount of emotional distress, I received an unsettling message.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she texted.

I called her immediately, and she told me that she felt worthless and invaluable for so many reasons. She then alluded to taking her life. I was trembling. I tried to stay strong because I felt responsible for being her voice of reason, but after hours of pleading with her to change her mind and go home, I broke down in ways I never had with her.

She was stunned, but she promised me she would hear me out.

She disappeared the next day but when I eventually found her, she told me again that she wanted to take her life. I told myself that I had to get it together and assure that she was safe. I made sure she got home that night, but the following day my mental health was in shambles — more than I admitted at the time and more than I ever revealed to her.

I couldn’t eat, I had to skip classes and work, and a friend eventually took me in to take care of me because I was such a mess. I kept repeating to myself “get it together” because I thought that if I were an unwavering pillar for her, I could take away her anguish.

I wasn’t ready to accept that I nearly lost someone I loved not just once, but twice.

I carried on like everything was fine, but I didn’t know how to articulate that I needed space to heal. I was supposed to be her confidant after all — how could I possibly abandon her?

As time went on, I subconsciously found myself putting space between us. The last time I saw her, it felt like we were strangers. The air between us was cold and distant, and in many ways I accepted it. Just like that, this friendship we cultivated ended as fast as it began.

I convinced myself that I was an awful friend because of the fate of our friendship. I felt like I failed her and didn’t deserve her friendship because I couldn’t give her unlimited emotional labor. I was scared to reach out to her again, but at the same time she also never reached out to me.

It was heartbreaking.

But after years of soul-searching, I learned that I couldn’t possibly be there for her in the ways she needed because I needed so desperately to heal.  I couldn’t be strong for her because I couldn’t even be strong for myself. I appreciate the adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” because it best captures the act of giving emotional labor to others.

If you have nothing left in your metaphorical “cup,” then what can you give to others?

My value as a human being and friend is not intrinsically linked to my ability or inability to take care of others. Unlimited, one-sided emotional labor isn’t healthy. It’s okay to take a step back and give yourself space to heal. It’s okay to practice self-care and acknowledge your mental health. Self-care and boundaries matter when supporting loved ones.

Some days I wish we established these boundaries at the beginning of our friendship because I like to think we would still be friends today if we had. But I know now that I’m not a bad friend if I don’t have the capacity to support someone.

Needing to heal is completely human, and I’m learning not to feel shame from it.