Written by Christine Scott
Everyone is familiar with the pop song, Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson. I’ve heard the quote, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” repeated a lot over the past few years. I don’t know if the popularity of the quote came from the song, but I’ve decided to make it my mantra as I approach the very difficult topic of sharing my adolescent and teen years with you. Since the fact I’m here writing this, I’m living, breathing proof that those years didn’t kill me—so I must be stronger.
In many ways I was a normal adolescent girl. My hang-ups were typical. I fought with my mom. I felt awkward. I wanted to make friends and find a boyfriend. I liked all the popular music and wanted to dress in the current brands. I wished I was prettier, funnier, and more popular. I didn’t know my talents. In a lot of ways I was lost—similar to many other kids my age.
However, I had a mentally disabled sister I didn’t want others to know about. I’d moved past the point where she was my sister and I’d stick up for her—my reputation was on the line. I was afraid if someone found out about her they’d think something was wrong with me too.
I remember my sister chasing me down the aisle at Harmon’s grocery store and pulling my hair. I remember the humiliation. I remember feeling that maybe it was my fault for not standing up for myself. My brother was bigger than her and she didn’t pick on him like she did me. Should I have been more of a fighter? I’ve always felt like I should be more of a fighter. That I’m too weak, that I let others take advantage of me. And maybe I have.
But I suffered a unique form of abuse—one you don’t hear about. One that doesn’t have a name or a definition.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I realized I was an abuse victim. I suffered abuse at my sister’s hands and neglect from my mom’s failure to act in a way that protected me. I realize my mom was overwhelmed with Laura’s behavior problems, but it wasn’t until later she sought help by medicating Laura—and I don’t understand why she waited. I do remember her saying that Laura was so sweet mannered at school that the teachers and whoever else she sought help from, didn’t believe her about the behavior problems at home. Maybe if my mom had a support system, maybe things would have been different.
Laura ruled the roost at our house. Mom did everything to appease Laura. From letting her watch the shows she wanted to Mom staying home from work or whatever outing we’d planned when Laura was having an “off” day. She didn’t expect her to do chores or respect the needs of others. Mom’s coping strategies allowed Laura to have terrible tantrums, which were often focused at me.
To keep the peace, my mom told me to go to my room. If I was out of sight, Laura didn’t torment me as much. From my alone time, I learned to love reading and I read a lot of romance books. I became an introvert, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The worst part was the important interactions I missed. Family time. Time spent with my mom teaching me and believing in me and my abilities. I wish my mom would have made more time for me instead of taking the easy road with disciplining Laura. I wish she would have made time for herself, for friendships, for exploring her own talents and interests. Maybe if she had, she would have expected more from Laura. Maybe she would have disciplined her so our family could have been more functional.
But these are only wishes for a different outcome. To be healthy in this life you have to take what you’ve been given and make the best of it. In retrospect, I wouldn’t trade growing up with Laura. The experience gave me insights I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s led me down the path to become an occupational therapy assistant so I can make a difference in situations such as these.
And there’s the proof that I am stronger, but what’s even better—I found a way to thrive despite the challenges I’ve faced.
Thank you, Christine, for being a guest author. I enjoy reading your insights on the challenges and rewards of growing up in a caregiving household where another family member requires so much of the care due to mental and physical health disability. I imagine there’s others who can relate and have been neglected due to the main caregiver’s extreme demands. I’m sorry you were one of them.
For me, as a caregiver, this article spotlights the importance of respite care. Time away from the problems can clear the vision. However, it’s hard to find people who qualify or are willing to take care of the needs of our loved one while the caregiver gets that much needed break.
For our Tip next week, we will brainstorm and list some ways a caregiver can find the help needed for some time to refuel, recharge and be revived.
In February, Christine Scott started sharing childhood segments of her life with her mentally disabled sister, Laura. It’s been inspiring to get a child’s perspective on her family’s caregiving journey and the trials they had to withstand. The first segment of Laura’s Story, recounts her birth and slow development. In Part 2, Christine recalls the impact of Laura’s seizures and in Part 3, details of Laura’s fight with cancer. Part 4, reveals how Christine, at age ten, learned about the accident which lead to her father’s death and Part 5, recognizes the community of angels who helped her family get through their darkest days. Part 6, illustrates the importance of building fun memories with our loved ones, which can ease the grief of losing them.