Adjacent Love: A Story of resentment and learning to accept my whole self
Whatever my big sister did, I wanted to do the exact same. Isn't that it how goes though, the youngest always tries to emulate the older siblings. I had two amazing older siblings. We all shared a room growing up. Not only did we share a room; we shared close to hand-me-downs and hand me ups, we shared books, we shared toys, we shared laughs, we shared movies, and we shared dolls. But as we grew older, we slowly wanted to become our own people.
But our independence was not the only thing that was brewing under the surface. Something that was never addressed. That grew in the deep boroughs of our souls was resentment. Why, you may ask, did this resentment grow? Well, I am about to tell you.
As I mentioned before I am the youngest of three siblings. We all share the same mother. And we all share the same father. But we do not all share the same experience of being raised by that mother. My mother died when I was born. I left my father without a wife and my two sisters without a mother. I can only begin to imagine how my two sisters felt upon my arrival home. The mother was gone. Their lives were changed. And here I was.
In all of that sharing of toys, laughs, jokes and books, the one thing that we cannot share is a memory of our mother, and that is what I wanted most.
I am now twenty-three years old and the only thing that I have been told constantly about my mother is that she was smart and that when I sing, I sound just like her; however, these things are merely crumbs when I have been longing for the whole loaf of bread. These crumbs barely sustained me this long.
When I was in high school and even for a short time during my college days, I was searching for this sustenance from everyone else around me. I was taking the crumbs that people were throwing me, and trying to put them together to make a whole, but this just made me hungrier.
It made me hungrier for attention, affirmation, and even love.
Now, I am sure that some readers are wondering: what about your sisters? What about your family? They love you! And this is true, but I have yet to address the resentment that was brewing under the surface of all of our relationships.
In my head, my sisters were perfect. And in my dad’s head, they could do no wrong. They got perfect grades, which was the most important thing that we could do for our dad—he taught us that grades equal money. And even though this mantra got us scholarships to college, the one thing this mantra did not do was create an environment of true support outside of academia. And because my two sisters were better at school than me, I was always compared to them and their progress.
If you were to ask my dad, he would tell you that he never once compared us or even pitted us against each other. And to be quite honest, if you asked my sisters they would say the same thing. But when your father starts a sentence off with “well your sisters did this…” I really do not know what else to categorize that statement as other than a comparison.
I know that my father pushed us so hard because we are Black women and we have to be twice as good to go half as far. He just wanted us to be successful in a world that was not set up for us to be successful nor accepted. So, I understand his aim, but he chose the wrong method, at least Aristotle would agree to that.
I give this back story because it is very important to my current state of mind. The depression that I formed because I was unable to dethatch my worth from my academic success. I give this back story because I want to illustrate the gravity of the comparisons had on my mental health then and currently.
This is where the resentment comes in. This is where I slowly began to resent myself because I resented the fact I could never be as good as my two perfect sisters. For some reason, my ability to love myself was always adjacent with the appraisal I received (or lack thereof) from my father and my sisters. I began to resent my sisters because they experienced unconditional love from our mother, that love I never got to experience. I began to believe that that was the secret ingredient to their constant success.
I really could not figure out what the difference was between them and me and what made them receive more praise from our father. I did not know the answer, but I knew that whatever the problem was it had to do something with me. Something was wrong with me. I was the model that somehow made it out of the factory without being properly inspected. The one that should be recalled. I began to internalize these thoughts but I did not know how to express my feelings coherently. And even when I tried, I was always met with the sentiment that I had nothing to be sad about—because I lived and my mom did not so I was here for a purpose.
That was quite a bit of weight on my small shoulders. The fact that I had a purpose in all of this madness. Here I was trying to find this said purpose by placating everyone around me so that they would love me. I thought that was my purpose; however, I was only met with disappointment when I was never loved back. I was never appreciated.
I did not know how to grieve the loss of a mother I never knew, much less find a purpose in that. I am an adult now and I still do not have the answers, so I definitely look back and know that my teenage-self didn’t have the answers either. While I was searching for this purpose, the resentment only grew stronger towards the idea that I was never going to be enough. I reached the conclusion my sophomore or junior year in high school that dying was going to be my purpose.
I can remember texting my cousin that I wanted to die. They then called my father in the middle of the night. And instead of my father asking me what was going on he responded:” So you are just going to act like you don’t receive enough love around here?! I don’t give you enough attention? So, you go and do this to get attention?”
I was a teenager; I had written poems that had been displayed on the walls of my high school that expressed the pain that was hiding deep within me. My father had read those poems. And in that moment, I froze up. I couldn’t articulate why I wanted to die but I did begin to realize that my father had a magical way of making this about him. So, I began to resent that, too.
I know that I was supposed to be strong. I was supposed to be the girl that took over the world and never messed up. My sisters had laid out a perfect path for me to succeed in school. They had set an example that was foolproof; however, it wasn’t resentment proof. It wasn’t grief proof. It was not depression proof.
I wasn’t diagnosed with depression until I was twenty-two and that was only because I took it upon myself to figure out what was going on with me. After going to many hours of counseling and taking anti-depressants, it was determined that this weight of depression had been present for many years and it had gone unnoticed.
It was at this moment that I realized that this resentment that I had carried with me was rooted in deep grief and sadness of the fact that I lost my mother. I never properly grieved and I even felt guilty mentioning this sadness to my sisters because I felt that they hated me. I felt that way because I projected the thoughts I had about myself on to my sisters. Now, this is not to say that my sisters and other family members didn’t go through their own periods of feeling some type of way towards me; however, it may not have been as bad as I perceived it to be.
It did not help that I was always held to a standard that seemed unreachable. And again, I know my father meant well, but it does not excuse the pain that these actions inflicted upon me. People outside our family always lumped me and my sisters together as one unit and I had no idea who I was without being adjacent to my sisters.
I did not know who I was without being adjacently placed to grades, success, my mother, my father, and my sisters. I did not know who I was without harboring resentment in my spirit.
I am now about to turn twenty-four, and every year my birthday does not get any easier. I shed a few tears because I know this is the same day that my mom died. I then gear up for the phone calls from my Nana who will wish me a happy birthday and tell me how happy my mom would be for me and how proud she would be of me. Once again, I am approximal?? to someone else.
I have tried to take control of my own narrative and my own mental health. I know that this resentment that I felt a good portion of my life will only hold me back if I continue to carry it with me any longer. I have tried to find who I am without abutting with someone else.
I have taken control of the amount of time I spend talking to my family because I know that some conversations can send me down a long path of deep, dark depression, leaving me in my bed tucked away like a hermit.
The biggest thing that I have done is that I have detached myself from any failure that may happen. I am more than just a good grade. I more than just a “like” on Instagram. I am more than just the degrees that I will tout behind my name. I have divorced myself (or trying to) of all notions that I can only love myself if there is something else attached to me.
Some days are harder than others, especially being a Black woman. I am always expected to be strong and never show weakness. But I am learning that weakness is not interchangeable with vulnerability. And I do not mind being vulnerable and expressing my emotions. I am happy and proud of my sisters. I have learned to not resent myself because of their success, thanks to the help of my amazing counselor
I hope that everyone who may read this personal account of my journey will somehow find a way to be whole in who you are.