As previously mentioned in my last post, I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was young. 16 or so and in high school. Recently, however, my twin sister has started to fight her own battles with anxiety. I am providing a little bit more of my background and then I am going to share her story. She’s strong and brave and deserves recognition.
Even thought I see all of her amazing qualities, she struggles with them, she has always had some very negative self image problems, which made it hard for me, because we’re twins and we look A LOT alike. Hearing her talk so negatively about her body and her self image was incredibly damaging to me. Especially since she was at least 20 pounds smaller than I was and had a steady boyfriend (who she actually went on to marry just a couple of years ago in May). I tried working through my issues in therapy but it was really hard at first because I was essentially being constantly reminded that even if I lost 20 pounds and had a steady boyfriend who loved me, I would still probably hate myself and my life. I got through high school though and I even found my own boyfriend right before my freshman year in college started. Little did I know, that was not going to be a good thing.
A little more background on me, I did have a boyfriend, he did say he loved me, he also lived 3 hours away where he was going to school. I couldn’t have any friends, male or female, that he didn’t approve of, and at the time I thought it was just because he loved me that much! He was worried surely, not jealous. Why would he be jealous? I was overweight, and enamored with him. Surely he knew I wasn’t going anywhere. Only, it got worse. He started berating me. We fought all the time. There were no more “good” days where we were both “happy” together. I got even bigger and started sleeping less. I was terrified to go to sleep in case he texted or called when he got home from partying and I didn’t answer. My classwork struggled right along with me because even though I was up, I was worried and didn’t want to focus any energy on my homework. I wanted to make sure every ounce of my being was alert and ready for whatever he needed.
Finally, 18 months and 13 days later, he left me. He said I had gotten too fat, too needy, and too emotional for him. He had never loved me and I was a terrible woman as far as women go. Talk about devastating. I cried and moped for a full semester. And I put on even more weight.
This whole time, my family could see what was happening. They tried talking to me, but I was so stubborn and so convinced that I had nothing to offer anyone else. He ruined my mindset. He killed my courage, my self expression and my confidence, while never really high, was now nonexistent. It has taken me almost 7 years to get my life back and be in a place I can smile and mean it, and feel better about myself. Do I exude confidence? Not at all. I never will again, because that innocence is gone. I now see and focus on every single flaw that has ever been mentioned to me and it is a daily battle to get up, put clothes on, and go to work with a smile and do my best to feel confident I don’t look like a cow. Now, in those 7 years since the epic breakup of mass destruction, I gained another 40 pounds (bringing my total weight gain since high school up to a whopping 100 pounds) and have since lost all 100, plus a few more. I don’t look at fit as I was in high school, but the clothes I buy are smaller.
Now, enough about me. Back to the matter at hand. All of that background was simply to say, when I struggle, I seem to struggle out loud. I can’t always internalize and keep it locked inside. I am an extremist with my emotions and it’s easy for people to see when I am upset. My sister, on the other hand, is not. She hides everything. Rewind just a couple of years to when she got married. She was stunning. Thin and tan and gorgeous. She looked like a runway model walking down to meet her husband and he cried so I finally felt at peace with things. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know he has been around for quite awhile, almost 9 years to be exact. Not once have they ever had any problems or fights of epic proportions. They seem very happy. But she IS my twin after all..
About a year after they got married they decided to try for a baby. Now, I told them they should slow things down and enjoy being together, but my sister is very much a make a plan and get it done kind of person. And I respect that attitude. She stopped taking her birth control and that’s when her own battle with anxiety started.
She wasn’t getting pregnant. After just a couple of months, my sister had put on nearly 40 pounds, and was having a lot of pain in her abdomen, we knew it wasn’t her appendix, she’d had that removed when we were 11, so she made an emergency visit with her doctor. That’s when her life slowly started to change. She was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Its when cysts, or little fluid filled sacks, a lot like blisters, form on the ovaries and essentially encase the eggs so you can’t ovulate. It’s VERY hard to have a child when you have PCOS. Her plans were unraveling, and so was she.
While they were doing the testing to confirm the original PCOS diagnosis, they also found some other… complications. When her appendix ruptured way back when, she had gotten an infection. Her stomach had gone septic and they’d done their best to get it all cleaned out, but they hadn’t, and they had to reopen the wound and clean it again. All of the yuck that had been in her body cavity had caused abscesses to form on her ovaries and uterus. She now had intense scarring. They warned her that even if she did start ovulating, her uterus may not be able to hold the baby due to scar tissue. And her world crumbled a little more.
She was trying to diet, they weren’t willing to put her on hormone therapy until she lost a little bit of the weight she had gained, but with PCOS you can’t just “lose weight”. Your body hoards the fat and becomes insulin resistant and no longer works properly. She was struggling and she was down. That’s when she started to lose her mind.
With her hormones all out of whack and not getting any better she was cranky, crying a lot. Her husband was trying his best, but here just a year and a half into things, his wife was not the same person he had known for 8 years. She was morphing into a weepy eyed monster right before his eyes. (She admits to this, and that description is hers and not mine).
Finally she decided to switch doctors and ask to see the nutritionalist on staff about a more serious plan to get some weight off. That’s when the new doctor told her, she was fighting anxiety and that was causing the weight gain. He suggested therapy and a form on antidepressant to help her cope with the struggles she was going through and her sense of inadequacy that she had fought since childhood. (Which, as an aside, really made no sense to me, my sister is brilliant and beautiful and was always our parents favorite of the two of us. Sad, but true. I caused all the trouble, didn’t make the grades, and struggled with a bad temper and depression. But I know as well as anyone, that sometimes our minds just don’t make sense, and hers was definitely working against her.)
She agreed to do the medication, but was unsure about the therapy. That’s when she opened up about her struggles to me. I had been there. Did it help me? Did I think it would help her? What was wrong with her that she was so messed up she needed therapy? I told her in as serious a conversation as I could.. There is nothing wrong with you. She laughed and started to cry telling me there was something seriously wrong is she was so crazy she needed “therapy”. She said it like it was a dirty word.. and I finally had to open up. I had to share things I hadn’t wanted to share. I had been hiding them, trying to protect her from my mistakes and my past. I asked her what she would do if she had messed her knee up. She gave me a confused look and said, well I would go to the doctor. I said what about if your heart was acting funny? Again, she said she would visit the doctor. I said then why are you so upset about seeing a doctor to help you get your emotions back under your control? Your brain is a muscle. Sometimes it gets worn out, sometimes it needs help. There’s nothing wrong with it or you. And that was the turning point for us both.
We are now closer than we’ve been in a long time, and she’s working through things in a wonderful way. Growing stronger, gaining a new perspective on life. She’s happy again, Smiling and meaning it. I am just glad she has made it back. Back to the sister I know and love. The sister I have missed dearly. We’re now fighting our battles together. Out loud. We’re a unit.