Have you listened to the Coldplay song ‘Atlas’ before? When I first heard it I thought of my dear sister Emma. She is the single most precious person in my life, and I am very protective of her story and our shared experiences. But I also think it is important to be open and discuss the impact anxiety and depression have not only on the sufferer but their loved ones as well. I hate that there still is a stigma attached to the disease, so I hope that my thoughts can have some sort of impact on how people respond in the future.
I was in year 11 when I got a call from Emma saying she had to leave class at uni early because she was feeling very unwell. I can’t remember the finer details but she sounded very anxious and freaked out. This was the tipping point in a series of events over several months where I noticed Emma’s health deteriorate and behaviour alter. She got home, got into bed, and I guess that was the start of an 18 month period where getting out of bed became a big challenge for her. I’m not sure at what point anxiety wrestled its way into my sisters life (during or after having Glandular Fever), but from then until now life has changed dramatically. Most obviously, Emma’s life has been very turbulent at times, and she has courageously fought her battle and overcome so many trials. My life has also been shaped and moulded by this. My personality, habits, and ambitions are just some of things that have been tested and strengthened by Emma’s experience with anxiety and depression.
I can honestly say that my understanding of anxiety and depression was pretty crap prior to Emma’s diagnosis. It’s an ongoing education, and Emma has been very patient with myself and our parents, as we learn how to best support her. I guess it’s only been the last couple of years that the extent of Emma’s struggles have been made known to her friends and extended family. Not for this reason, but maybe it played a part, for a lot of the time I did feel quite isolated. No one besides Mum and Dad knew what we were going through daily, or knew how it felt to see the person that glued the four of us together collapse into a near constant state of anxiety. I still don’t really know how to explain my emotions of that time, a lot of it is a blur. I remember those seriously scary moments – anxious phone calls, car trips filed with tears, the constant reassurances that everything will be ok. Sitting in the emergency department wondering whether your sister will ever be able to experience life without such pain and exhaustion. It can take its toll on you. Our whole family dynamic changed. My life was centred around the wellbeing of Emma and ensuring she was cared for. You just have to be there for them. I wouldn’t change how we dealt with it, what we did was right for her and our family, but it’s important to know that those who watch a loved one suffer from anxiety and/or depression have their own set of struggles and issues to overcome.
It’s been six years since I go that call from Emma and life is definitely a lot brighter and hopeful now than it seemed throughout many days past. There have been a lot of blessings to come from Emma’s experience – not a day goes by without me knowing how much she loves me and I her. Our family is stronger, wiser, and more open. We share our struggles unlike any other time in our lives. But there are still moments, not daily but often enough, that a wave of panic runs through me. I do get scared that Emma isn’t going to be ok again, and that maybe this time it will knock her down so much that I can’t help bring her back. But she is strong, and I am so thankful that she has professional support and medications readily available that help her manage her triggers and overcome this illness. It’s important not to dwell on the what ifs, but I draw strength from the fact that we got through those struggles together and I’m so glad that I have her to go through all the hurdles of life, side by side.
This beautiful piece was written by my equally beautiful sister, Molly.
Molly and I.