We're bonded by blood, but also disorder. Hers is the visible, physical kind, while mine—adult ADHD—is a mental health condition that's often misunderstood. The reality is both disorders are chronic and disruptive.
by Jane D.
I finally agreed to see “My Sister's Keeper” with the sister.
I knew that it would be a tearjerker. I’d seen the trailers and previews. I hate tearjerkers because they leave me feeling emotionally naked, and this flick was too close to home.
I was diagnosed with adult attention deficit disorder at age 30, and, to this day, loved ones sometimes slip into a familiar lecture that it’s not ADHD, that I simply need to shape up and grow up. My sister, who is seven years my junior, was born with renal failure. By the age of 12 she’d had two kidney transplants and at least a dozen other operations. For years she was hooked up to a dialysis machine, and our very existence centered on her survival.
Looking back, it is ironic that we are two sisters who are bonded by blood, but also disorder. And the reality is that both disorders have interrupted our lives and are chronic.
My sister’s suffering is as visible as the scars she bears. My earliest memories are of her being rushed to the hospital. If it happened at night, I was told by the parents to go back to sleep and later someone would come home. There were no babysitters or family members to watch over me. I had to fend for myself so I stayed awake. I let my mind run like wild mustangs, imagined all kinds of scenarios, a trip to Disneyworld, the search for a rainbow or a four-leaf clover. I was an underage insomniac, as alert as a watch dog for fear that someone would snatch me if I dozed off.
The seriousness of the sister’s illness did not hit me as a child. As a child I just knew she received many gifts and the sort of attention that I could only dream of. The severity of the situation should have crossed my mind earlier. She did not walk until she was three, and for many years my family chased after Sherpas, shamans, priests, and healers to take away her albatross. We were groupies at the Grace ‘N Vessels healing concerts, and my parents once scrapped a much-anticipated trip to Disney World to visit Billy Graham’s Crystal Cathedral instead. If the great Billy Graham couldn’t heal her, then who could?
Having a sick child in the family impacts everyone. There is more than one victim. To this day I fear the phone calls that I occasionally receive from the father or stepmother saying, “We have to bring your sister to the hospital,” and then click. After that I can’t reach a soul. The speed dialing goes into my sister’s voicemail. My heart skips a beat and my first thought is always that she is dead. Usually it is an infection, a muscle spasm, something not life threatening—and yet for her loved ones, it is an emotional roller coaster. For me it makes fighting with her hard. Our disagreements end quickly, as I usually apologize and say, “Life is too short, let’s just enjoy the moment.”
I look at the sister and sometimes wonder if I would swap illnesses with her. She is healthy now, but one never knows if she will need a third transplant. She is mentally and emotionally sound. She’s well organized and owns a pleasant, bubbly personality. She exudes confidence.
The sister is able to survive and thrive at a single job and company. She is not ashamed of who she is, while I hide behind the veil of an image: the colorful clothes, the jewelry, conversations that remain stilted and shallow, and, ultimately, fear of intimacy. The life that I’ve lived is, to a great extent, one that I’ve fashioned. It is checkered, a zig zag, but I’ve managed to survive on my own. Actually the sister and I are both survivors. There are no small feats.