My sister is beautiful

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and since I missed writing/publishing a post during National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I think it’s time to do this. It was originally planned as something much longer, with more backstory and talk about how cultural pride that suffocates open discussion of such darkness is so harmful. Instead, I think I’ll keep it relatively brief.

I have one full sister and we grew up together, at least until I left for college. We are what I imagine sisters who are 3.5 years apart in age (6 years apart in school) are like: fiercely loving and protective of each other, despite fights and fallings out (especially when each of us hit the teenage years, ouch). I’ve always been quite aggressive, sometimes in her favor, sometimes not. She’s always been a people pleaser, which makes her both amazing and extraordinarily frustrating.

In October of 2009, I had just quit a job that was making me extremely unhappy, to the point where I myself was feeling near depression again, having battled “mild” periods of such in the past. One night, I got the phone call that I never wanted but had been dimly aware of as a possibility for some time: my sister was in the hospital, unresponsive in the ICU, having apparently tried to overdose on pills.

I did the obvious: I drove overnight to be at the hospital, where she understandably pushed me away, and began a journey that I simultaneously wish hadn’t happened and am thankful that it did. She spent time in the psych ward, which (again understandably) was not pleasant, and we had a very revealing and difficult conversation with the staff psychiatrist and our mother that continued into much more difficult explorations and a semi-collapse of the remainder of my relationship with my mother. The hospital stay ended with me as the person my sister was released to and in care of, and she was not pleased. I can’t say that I was necessarily pleased, either. After all, what 24 year old dreams of becoming a guardian to a suicidal 20 year old? And what 20 year old wants to hear that somebody else is in charge?

She was made to take a leave of absence from school for the year. As a student within a small program at a highly competitive university, this was a particular blow to her. I know that the rest of the academic year was both tough and revelatory for her, though I made myself watch it from the sidelines – I witnessed her make choices that I’m not sure I could have made at that point in my life, and really grow into knowing herself. She went back to school the next year, worked through a very intense internship, and won herself a job offer, right out of college, doing just what she currently wants to be doing.

Today, I see a beautiful and confident woman, traveling for work and owning her life. She still has anxious moments, some of which she shares with me, and some of which I’m sure she doesn’t. That’s okay. As her big sister, and as a part of our not-particularly-talkative Chinese family, I’m just glad that she knows she can share at all. She gave me permission long ago to tell her story from my perspective, and I think this is all I can do without feeling like I’ve overshared or gone into unnecessary detail.

If you’re feeling trapped, or sleep all the time, or don’t sleep because you can’t climb out of the spiral of THOSE thoughts, or any of those things that indicate the possibility of depression, I beg you: talk to somebody. Be open with yourself and find people you can trust and who can recognize your low points and know the right thing to do about them. My sister is special and special to me, but I know she is not alone in these struggles.


A really small aside that feels kind of selfish to throw in here: I’ve both heard and read comments indicating a belief that things like overcoming gender and/or race issues are the toughest things I’ve faced in life. They’re not even close. This here isn’t even a full story – it’s just a part of the long and ongoing story of a family life that has never been what anybody expected it to be.

2 responses to “My sister is beautiful”

  1. Syamil MJ Avatar

    Thank you for this beautiful article. Depression is such an intricate subject, often stigmatised, that very few people can empathise on without having been through one themselves.

  2. tammyhart Avatar

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your sister is now beautiful to me. As one that has a chronic mental health illness, it is always helpful to hear positive stories. I also just like hearing it from your perspective. It’s not easy to trust our loved ones because we fear we are a burden and struggle to allow ourselves to be helped.

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