Back at it

Hello Sibs’ Journey Followers!

It has been quite a long time since we posted about anything, let alone an interview, but today I would like to reintroduce you to the foundation of Sibs’ Journey: Broadening the Narrative. Renee, Claire, and I have reopened the interviewing process and have been scheduling phone interviews with sibs from all over the country for the next few weeks. It’s a little bit different than driving to each interview together, but we’re having a lot of fun hearing and recording more sib stories.        

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with the lovely, Julie. Julie is 32, lives near Boston, MA, and recently received her doctorate in Psychology. Interestingly enough, the fact that I’m a psychology student myself was the smallest of our similarities. But, before I let this be about me, here is Julie’s story:

Julie grew up with an older brother, Jason. Jason is three years older than she is and functioned typically until the age of 9. At 9 years old, Jason had his first seizure. Soon, he began having twenty to thirty seizures a day. At 13, he went through brain surgery, which resulted in lasting personality and cognitive changes that began taking place over the years after the surgery. This shift –shifting from a typically-developing 13-year-old boy to one with cognitive impairments – posed an interesting role dynamic in Julie’s life. Because her brother had been three years her senior, he had reveled in the role of acting as her older brother. However, once she continued to develop and thrive, while he did not, their relationship became strained. Jealousy became a key player once Julie learned how to drive, and then, moved out of the house. Julie told me how difficult this was because Jason remembers what it’s like to be normal, to exist in a typically-developing world. That’s one of the hardest parts, she says, because he knows what he’s missing.

Because of this change in roles, and because of the engrained other diverse factors relating to growing up with a sibling with disabilities, Julie and her brother haven’t always had a smooth relationship. Julie told me how hard it was for her to “surpass” him in life achievements, and how challenging it was to bring her friends over and risk having to explain her home life – his seizures, his special diet, his behavior – to them. When I asked Julie what she thought her role was in her family growing up, she told that she was the one who “kept things going.” She was the responsible, problem-free child who didn’t break any rules. She talked about her conscious effort not to be seen too much.

However, growing up in her household has truly shaped Julie, especially in her career choices. Julie is a clinical psychologist who focuses on health psychology. She hopes to develop her own practice that “will focus on treating those affected by illness/disability in some way.” In fact, Julie’s dissertation centered around siblings of individuals who suffer from epilepsy, so she’s well-versed in the sibling experience. Even though when I asked Julie about whether or not she had interacted with other siblings growing up, or if she knew about many sibling supports available to siblings now, she answered that sadly, she did not, it was wonderful to hear about her own journey into the sibling world through her experience and her interesting research. She told me that she is going into this kind of work because she wishes that she had had more support in her growing understand of her relationship with her brother. She comes from an incredibly deep place of understanding and I can only imagine how much empathy and affirmation she provides to those with whom she works. An analyst at heart, her final question that she told me she would like to ask any sib, given the opportunity, was: What would you tell your child/teenager self knowing what you know now? Any advice for your young self?

If any of this is sounding familiar, it should! Julie’s story is very similar to mine, especially in her complicated relationship with her brother and her academic and career pursuits.  In the small – but growing larger in size and in power – sib world, it is always wonderful to speak with someone who can understand your story from a deeply personal level, and for that, I am so grateful to have spoken with Julie.