There were four daughters born to my parents. The eldest died of lung cancer at the age of 52. The second eldest took her own life at the age of 39. Then there is me. And then comes my youngest sister who, although very much alive, has always seemed fragile and unreliable.

I was the strong one, the confident, unshakeable, unafraid, independent middle child and the fixer of all things unacceptable or unjustified. And I proudly wore that label for most of my life.

Until it caught up with me.

Until all of that self-imposed responsibility chipped away at my boulder-like core and I began to diminish . . . one small piece at a time, until finally crumbling, when I was needed most.

I am great in a crisis. No kidding. Point me towards an explosion and within minutes, I will assess the situation, determine the damages, and map out a plan of action. Because that is what I do. I fix things.

And I expected no less from myself when my Mom recently suffered some sudden and very serious health issues.

The moment she arrived at the hospital, I went into work mode. I made inquiries, recited the millions of memorized bits detailing her medical history, confirmed information, and ensured that the greatly appreciated hospital staff was doing their jobs.

I did not know it, but that was the easy part.

What I did not anticipate was the change in Mom’s behavior. It was due to hospital psychosis, a temporary psychiatric condition that affects many older patients who become hospitalized. I learned that it is an elderly patient’s involuntary negative reaction to the overstimulation, confusion, and unfamiliarity of a new and hectic environment, coupled with the debilitating effects of their physical ailments. Its symptoms present in irrational and sometimes violent behavior such as hallucinations, depression, attempts to climb out of bed, removal of intravenous tubing or other devices, paranoia, fear, or a demand to return home.

And Mom delivered it all . . . full blast. And man, was I unprepared. And ill equipped. Even though I knew that this new condition was not her fault, I reacted badly.

I suffer from bipolar disorder. (Read, “Being Bipolar” at: ). I am hypersensitive to sounds, my brain obsesses, races, and rarely stops, I’m over-emotional and often prickly and annoyed. Hospitals, grocery stores, and nightclubs are three of my most difficult environments, in terms of sounds and the frustrations and difficulties of interacting with the public.

Now, take the unique ingredient of hospital ambiance: the bright, harsh lights, the steady barrage of sounds – like beeping machines, sounding alarms, blasting intercoms, and the boisterous staff who assume that everyone has a hearing deficiency, and add to that the challenges of having bipolar disorder, and then add to that the stress of a critically ill family member who now suddenly seems out of her mind . . . and what you have is the perfect recipe for a mental breakdown.


I am not kidding. I am terrified that I will awaken one morning in unfamiliar and padded accommodations and not know how I got there. I’m pretty sure that’s how it happens – you just awaken in that room. I don’t think you feel it coming on. And if so, it probably feels something like this.

I remember standing, trembling, in the doorway of Mom’s hospital room. She was on a ventilator and could not be sedated because of her dangerously low blood pressure. She was highly agitated and was trying to remove the vent. She was still irrational the day after its removal and was demanding to leave.

Everything negative and bipolar triggered in me. Even though I knew that Mom could NOT help it, I was angry with her for being difficult and for struggling. I was horrified at the tubing, the fluids, and the sound of the ventilator and her gurgling. I felt tortured by the alarms that went off each time she tried to sit up. I resented that she had not taken better care of herself. Hell, I even resented her for being old. And then I really saw her . . . looking so thin, frail, and helpless, and I hated myself for feeling as I had. The guilt was overwhelming. I wanted to run away and hide. Or to just die.

I watched Brenda, my remaining sister, the younger less competent one, as she stood at Mom’s bedside and gently held her shoulders down while explaining to her why she could not leave. She stroked her hair and lovingly whispered her reassurances. And Mom quieted.

Hysterical and unable to bear it, I went home and cried myself to sleep.

But Brenda stayed at Mom’s side and calmed her down, over and over again, throughout the entire long night.

The next morning, I arrived early to find my sister exhausted, but still there.

I hugged her and began to cry.

“All this time . . . I thought I was the strong one. But I was wrong. You are. I have never given you any credit for anything. I have always criticized you and judged your choices. I am so sorry. I was wrong. I didn’t know.” I said.

In the days since then, Brenda and I have talked more and have become closer. We know that when it comes to the medical care and daily living assistance now required by my reluctant, stubborn, and sometimes selfish parents, we both have different strengths. I am the one who remembers every single medical detail, handles the quick decisions, and ensures a plan of action; and Brenda is the one who is patient and compassionate. She is the understanding and calming force, the one that gets my parents to listen and to accept. After all, none of my action serves any good if they will not listen or receive our help.

I was the fixer for way too long. It was impossible for me to learn anything new because I already knew it all; I had the answers to everything. My ears were not listening and my mind was not open. Nor was my heart.

But I have corrected that.

Mom is currently, somewhat stable. But she is not well and she is not out of the woods yet. We have a long journey of unknowns before us.

And I am suspecting that along with bipolar disorder that I may be suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. I have seen first-hand, too many dead bodies, sat with too many dying ones, and witnessed too many collapses and injuries. The images flash through my mind. I jump out of my seat if someone twitches. My heart races if the phone rings. And I cry the moment I open my eyes in the morning. I do not know how long this level of anxiety can be sustained or this constant stream of adrenaline can be tolerated before something in me just . . . goes.

But I am trying to take care of myself. I have an upcoming appointment with my therapist, and meanwhile, I have learned to say a few things I have never said before:

  • “I have a mental illness. I am bipolar. I can’t handle someone else’s instability.”
  • “No, I am sorry, but I can’t do that”.
  • “Please, help me”.

And I am not alone anymore.

I have some really terrific friends who love and accept me, keep me in check, and sometimes can even make me laugh; they are good medicine .

And I have a really wonderful and compassionate little sister who steps up to the plate and accomplishes what I cannot.

Her name is Brenda.

She is the strong one.

Categories: Bipolar/Depression, Family, Inspiration/Motivation, Kindness & Compassion, Mental Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

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41 thoughts on “THE OTHER SISTER

  1. i read your stuff every time you write but this one really moved me in a terrific way. much love, much love!

    • Gerri

      Thank you Julia, I can relate to so much of what you wrote. Brought some tears to my eyes and my problem is I don’t cry and need to. Wish I could, would be very theraputic. I am like you in so many ways, I take charge when, feel it’s my job to do so in times of trouble. My sister is one year older and my mother would always say I was a leader, not a follower (puts a smile on my face btw). I definately can relate to PTSD, which I am sure people and medical docs don’t understand. I count my blessings to have many siblings and my father, but also the friends who have always been there for me. You are one of them for sure. ❤

    • Thank you so much, Arlynn. Love and blessings to you always, my friend. xoJulia

  2. Betsy Aiello

    Beautiful, Honest, Straight-forward, Brutal, Agonizing, Loving, the list goes on. I am not bi-polar, and have felt the things you felt and are feeling with your Mom. And being the caregiver-and the co-ordinator, and the getting to know my younger sister better—–you’re not sounding to me like you’re too far off base,. I pray for your strength to carry on, be strong, and do what needs to be done–for others, but most importantly–yourself.

    Lots of Love and Loads of Understanding———Betsy

    • Thank you, Bets. There was a moment during this writing when I thought of you and others that I know who have experienced very very difficult times. You always leave a kind word….and a part of your warm heart. What a gift you are. Thank you, my friend. xoJulia

  3. Dear Julia,
    I am so glad that you and your sister have a new and deeper connection and appreciation for each other. It will help you through this tough time, and you will find strength and comfort from each other when it is a part of your shared past. I am so glad that you can recognize Brenda’s strength. But there can be more than one strong one. I hope you will acknowledge your own strength and contributions enough to say, Brenda and I are both strong, and we take turns doing what we do best. Best wishes to you all, Julia.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Naomi. Funny, because I just told Brenda last night on the phone that we make a good team…..what I can’t handle, she can. And what overwhelms her, doesn’t overwhelm me. So it works. I know my strengths. I just didn’t recognize my weaknesses or care enough about myself to preserve me. I have had to learn to put myself first….that’s been difficult, but I’m doing it. Your input and warm thoughts….your warm heart…..such a treasure. Thank you, Naomi, for taking the time…for me. Wow. You amaze me. Take good care of your precious self. xoJulia

  4. I love your point that it is ok to rely on other people’s strengths, and not beat ourselves up because we may be lacking in a particular area. It is ok to say “I can’t handle this right now, can you?” The fact is that in any difficult situation where we may have to be there for others, we are also having to deal with our own reactions to it. It is a difficult balancing act.

    I just had a bit of a scare myself in that my dad went to the E.R. today with fluid in his lungs, however they managed it okay with meds so he is back at home now. We had previous scare a couple of years ago and he had a lengthy stay in the hospital and nursing home but we managed to head it off at the pass this time before it became serious. Still I absolutely dread when it will be time for him to go because he is my best friend and i don’t know how I will handle it when he is gone.

    Is it okay to send you my prayers at this difficult time? Know that you are strong and that even when you don’t feel like you can handle things you will find a way to do so. Love to you. Mary

    • Thank you, Mary. Thank you so much for this hearfelt and thoughtful note and for sharing your experiences with your dad. My Mom’s entire ordeal began with pneumonia. I’m glad that your Dad is good for now…….and that you are enjoying your time with him. None of us knows how long we have with any of our loved ones. I have lost 3 siblings, a niece, an infant son….all waaaay before their time. You are right, it is okay to say, “I can’t”, but it has taken me a long time to do that. Call it pride. Or maybe just stubbornness; something to prove to someone. And YES, I gratefully accept any prayers that you are gracious enough to send my way. Thank you. Love and blessings to you, my friend. xoJulia

  5. Your mother is fortunate to have you and Brenda … and you and Brenda are fortunate to have rediscovered one another. You also made new discoveries in yourself, Julia. All of this will help you through the difficult illness with your mother. And with your own problems.

    It warms my heart that you and Brenda have found this new closeness. Can lean on one another. I wish you the best in moving forward in life.
    blessings ~ maxi

    • Maxi…..thank you. I’m sure you have paid dearly for that insight and wisdom of yours and I thank you for sharing it with me. You say the kindest things….I hope someday that I can express to you how much it means to me. Thank you seems so small, but it’s all I have right now, so…..thank you, Maxi. Love and blessings to you always, my friend. xoJulia

  6. jeff heck

    Loved this! Great writing, and I am happy that you and Brenda are getting along better especially in these tough times. I hope nothing but the best for your mom, and I am elated at your new discoveries about yourself—you are continually learning. You are a terrific lady and I have missed your writings and you being on FB! Tell Brenda I said “hello”…wonder if she even remembers to hear from you! 🙂 

    • Thank you, Jeff. I treasure your comments and look forward to them after each of my postings. Thanks for your generous words and for noting my absence….part of me wondered if it would even be noticed. I will pass along a “hello” to Brenda for you. I would bet my last dollar that she does remember you. How could she not remember someone as special as you? Come on… Wonderful to hear from you and I hope to catch lunch or dinner the next time you’re up this way. Be well, my friend. And take good care. xoJulia


    Thank you Julia!!! You write so beautifully! Thank god for sisters, prayers for your Mom also, prayers and many many hugs for you! Amy

    • Thank you so much, Amy, for reading, leaving a note, sending all your prayers and a wonderful hug! I appreciate your kindness so much! Love and blessings to you and those you love. xoJulia

  8. Carol

    By sharing these raw and painful truths so beautifully, you teach us all to seek a deeper level of love, acceptance, and understanding in our relationships with others. Thoughts and prayers for you and your family in the days ahead. ❤

    • Thank you so much, Carol. Your words reflect your generosity of heart… lucky for me to know you! Thank you also for your prayers and warm wishes. I hold them dear. Love and blessings to you and yours. xoJulia

  9. Julia, don’t discount your strength… between Brenda and yourself you’ll get it done. Prayers for the right people to come along side your family during these trials. Blessings your way friend… Becky.

    • Thank you, Becky! I won’t discount my strength (good advice!), but I will try to remember that it does have a limit, and that others also have it and need to express it during such difficult times. Love and blessings to you, my friend. Now and always. Thank you. xoJulia

  10. Lynn

    Whether you belive it or not you are the loving, compasionate one, I have witnessed it first hand. You are way too hard on yourself, though I understand. I’m so glad you and your sister have grown closer, it is times like this we need family. You are always in my thoughts and as soon as I’m healthy and you’re up to it would love to get together. xoxo, Lynn

    • Thank you for your super sweet words, Lynn. You always shine the best light on me…..Thank you also for taking the time to read, to comment, and to SHARE this – it means the world to me. You’re a dear and wonderful friend (Happy Pill) and I’m blessed to know you. I would LOVE to get together as soon as you’re feeling well! (maybe our girls group for cards?). Take care, my friend. xoxo

  11. Caryn

    Wow, Julia, that just really struck a chord with me. I know first hand how lucky I am to have a wonderful and loving sister. We are very different, but together we are a good complement. We relied heavily on each other when we lost our mom, and frankly, I don’t know what I would have done without her. I pray for your mom and your well being. Take care of yourself and take one day at a time. You will get through this!

    • Thank you so much for this lovely and heartfelt note, Caryn. I thought of you and Lynn throughout the writing of this. I have quietly envied your relationship as sisters…..Thank you for your prayers and good wishes. I hope we get a chance to see each other sometime soon. I would love a good chat and some laughs with you! Take care. Love and blessings to you and those you love! xoJulia

  12. Julia I can so relate to you and everything you described about what it’s like for people like us to be in crowded, noisy, chaotic places….sensory overload! It’s so hard to be “the strong one” in such circumstances…I too have been many peoples rock that finally cracked. In my blog yesterday I talked about something I’m figuring out in my own life…sometimes the poop really has to hit the fan before we can smell the roses. Things got real bad for you but in the light beyond it….a renewed relationship and new found respect for your sister! That’s so awesome! For the PTSD something that worked for me (my therapist did a session for me to help with the grief of losing my Sammy) is Remap therapy. I don’t know if you are seeing a therapist but if you are….think about persuing this:

    Big hugs to you dear, brave girl and also to your sis and your mom. You three are going to get through this…together.

    • Thank you with all my heart, Saymber…..I know that my relationship with my sister won’t change overnight, but at least we have a place to start…and that’s with the care of my parents. I’m trying not to expect too much because I don’t want to be hurt again. I have never heard of Remap therapy but will definitely look into it. I see my therapist on Tuesday. It feels like it’ll never get here! lol Thanks again for sharing yourself, your thoughts, your experiences, and your heart with me. From my heart to yours, dear friend. Maybe love and blessings, be yours always. xoxoJulia

  13. Sally Phelps

    Glad you are better. Isn’t it weird how things flip-flop. My mom had Altzhiemers and I was the same way. My siblings really must resent my avoidance. I really like your stories. Makes me think of the Beatles song ” Oh I get by with a little help from my friends “. Sincerely, Sally


    • Thanks for reading and leaving a note, Sally. I’m so sorry about your mom and the difficulties you must have experienced. It’s truly amazing what a few real good friends can add to your life, isn’t it? Take care and be well, my friend. xoJulia

  14. I have been the caregiver, the hospital advocate,the oldest child, the doctors worst nitemare, the sidekick always by the bedside, the nurses pain in the ads, the one who is in charge, the mourning daughter, the …as hard as it was and is…my mom was WORTH IT..I miss her eah nd every day…I want to tell you that ur.loving special care and gifts that you are giving to your mom will always be a great comfort to you. while she needs your constant care and when she is well again..all that you and your sister will do for her will be your healing balm, your mental medicine, and and your heart are a GOOD DAUGHTER, A COURAGEOUS ADVOCATE, AND A WONDERFUL SISTER to Brenda May God bless you both and May the Holy Spirit stand by your Mother’s Bedside with you and bring all three of you ,Her Gentle Total Healing….my prayers.

    • Thank you, Patty. I know better than to expect everything between my sister and me to change overnight, I do see her differently, see myself in all of this differently, and at least we are both working towards the care of our parents. And, as I’ve said before, I do these things not because I owe anyone anything, and not because I expect thanks, appreciation, or recognition, but just because it is the right thing to do…..I do these things for….goodness sake. That is less than honorable, but honest. I love my parents and will help them as much as I can, but not at my own expense. Not at the expense of my mental well-being. So, I don’t view myself as the “good daughter”…..if you knew some of the things that go through my mind……..Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughtfulness. Love and blessings to you always. xoJulia

  15. Julia – I am so happy to see that you could sit down an write about this. I have been so worried about you. I know you are going through a very tough time and this is very difficult for you. My heart hurts for you that you have to go through all of this. I am happy to hear that you have found help with your sister. It really does help to know that you are not going through this alone. I am also glad that you know to take care of you. Looking forward to our next card night and lots of laughs.

    • Thank you so much, Kim. Your thoughts, words, support, and prayers have helped me more times than I could ever say. Thank you just doesn’t seem big enough….but thank you. So much. My heart to yours, girlfriend. xoxoJulia

  16. I’m glad you and Brenda are finding common ground. It’s even harder when it’s the parents, who always took care of everything, no longer can. Thanks for sharing about hospital psychosis. I’d never heard of it. My father-in-law has been shuffled from hospitals to nursing homes and back again for the last 3-4 months. Every time he’s moved, he becomes more confused. He had a great roommate the first time, but where he is now is rather stressful for him, and hard on the rest of the family. Hugs!

    • Thank you so much for the note, Pattisj. I neglected to say that the hospital psychosis, confusion, and fogginess can also be caused by UTI infections and intravenous antibiotic medications. My mom had a picline (sp?) in her arm and was in a complete dysfunctional fog until it was removed. The hospitals really don’t educate us about these things. It just helps to know. Information is power….or at the very least, a reason when nothing else makes sense. I’m so sorry about your father-in-law….and for his stress…and for yours and your family’s. It can take a terrible toll on everyone. The best advice that I received was to take care of myself. So, PLEASE, take care of yourself. Even if it feels selfish to do so, and even if you feel guilt over it. You have to preserve your own well being. My best wishes for all of you in the days to come. I wish you peace….and love…..and good health. Please know how much you are thought of and appreciated. Thank you. xoJulia

  17. Annette

    Very nice, made me cry ! I am the strong one too. Until lately I do know what you are going thru – If I need someone to talk to I am going to call you
    Annette L Vargo

    • Thank you for your kind words, Annette. I understand that you’ve experienced many many hardships and that you know my words all too well. Please take good care of yourself and know that you have friends who love you. I look forward to seeing you soon. xoxoJulia

  18. Praying for you Julia. May God’s peace abound in your life. So glad that you and Brenda have a closer relationship as a result of this trial. Hugs to you sweet lady.

    • Thanks, Lis. I may have been a bit premature in thinking that my relationship with my sister would change THAT much. Disappointingly, it really hasn’t. But it has just, and most importantly, in regards to my parents and their care. And that’s good enough for me. As far as sisterhood…or even friendship goes……I won’t look ahead or venture to guess. But that’s okay. I’m used to being alone most of the time. Thank you for reading this really really too long piece of mine (lol), and for taking the time to leave such a sweet and thoughtful note. Take care. And thanks for the much needed hug. xoxoxoJulia

  19. codedjeannie

    You’re lovely despite that illness. Beautiful — inside and out! I’m so happy to follow your journey.

    P.S. One of my loved ones is also suffering from that kind of illness yet I love him.. I love him so.. Stay blessed and happy!

    • IHi Jeannie, Thank you so much for reading my blog and for joining me on my journey. I’m assuming that you’re talking about my bipolar disorder…..I wrote a piece, “Being Bipolar” that is posted in October’s archives. Please check it out. Thanks again and take good care of yourself! xoJulia

      • codedjeannie

        You’re welcome, Julia.. I hope you’re fine.. Yeah, sure I will! 🙂 Keep fighting. Stay strong! God bless!

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