I was young. I was naïve. Life moved fast while darkness hovered, albeit failing to catch up. The idea of sadness seemed unfathomable, until one day it was not. My oasis of oblivion was soon wiped away by the hurricane of reality. The day my sister expressed suicidal ideations revealed a scary truth about mental illness — that it stops for no one — but that it can be acknowledged and managed. This experience with mental health has influenced me to be more mindful and kind. Furthermore, it has inspired me to become a clinical psychologist.
That night felt darker than ever, like there were no stars in the sky. The air felt thick in our shoebox apartment. I could practically smell my mom’s tears as she paced around our living room the millionth time. She was doing her best to stay strong and to move logically. But this was something she did not know how to navigate. Her eyes were filled with fear and exhaustion. I watched from the couch. The laughter from the television muffled, as thoughts blared through my mind. Those thoughts were muted once my mom ordered me to go be with my sister.
My sister and I were inseparable. Our friendship was born the moment I took my first breath. I did not know a life without her. Our sisterhood looked like her wiping my tears and us laughing endlessly in church. She taught me what forever meant. I studied her like choreography — mimicking every minute movement and perfecting every detail. She was my first icon, she was my queen. Her beauty was not mediocre or vapid. It was a charm rooted in humility which bloomed through its candor. But I quickly realized that even queens cried.
That night, my sister and I sat at our small kitchen table while my mom made many calls. My mother told me to talk to her, but I didn’t know what to say. I felt that something was wrong, but I could not comprehend what. My eyes were dilated, as I tried to absorb every moment in hopes of understanding. Questions would only add to the confusion. I would have looked at my sister for an explanation, but she was nowhere to be found. Her pupils transcended into nothingness. The girl who had been my mirror, my ride or die, my partner in crime, now sat before me as a hologram of her former self, in search of herself. Her body floated like a shadow and was empty like a drum. I tried talking to her. I tried making her laugh, but my attempt to bring levity only paralyzed her with an unending stream of tears. I wiped those tears until she was taken away.
I slept in my mother’s bed that night. I needed something familiar to ease the pain of unknowing. The pillowcase absorbed my lake of tears. In that lake lived colorful cold-blooded creatures — tiny koi fish that were trinkets of my imagination, each holding a promise, a prize. I tried catching one, but I always failed. I wanted this night to be a dream. I thought that maybe once I fell asleep I’d be met with reality. So I cried myself to sleep, only to be met by a dreamless slumber.
My sister was taken to a mental hospital, which I visited once. I would have visited her more, but she did not want me to. We stood on two islands, separated by a great sea. I saw her fully: weak, vulnerable, and embarrassed. Still she was a queen, rooted in humility and blooming through candor. The bare room had nowhere to hide. It was intensely cold and blindingly white, as everyone skated on thin ice. For an institution that’s supposed to uplift its patients, it did not seem uplifting. Nevertheless, she was released within a few weeks with clipped wings. From that moment on everything changed. Now I wiped her tears. Now I made sure she was still breathing. Now I watched over her.
Although that night was scary, the morning finally came. Now, my sister is out of the dark and living a bright life. This fall, about eight years after that scary event, I will be attending post-secondary school as a psychology major. I do this in honor of her and anyone else who feels unappreciated, unimportant, or unseen. She helped me realize that part of my purpose is to be a vision of love. For a long time, I did not know how to see beyond myself, I mastered thinking with my mind but not with my heart. She taught me empathy, something the world needs and I plan on giving.
This personal narrative was originally written for a national mental health awareness scholarship. It’s funded by Calvin Rosser, a start-up operator and writer, who experienced tragedy after his mother committed suicide. Her journey with mental health inspired him to create this scholarship. Candidates were not required to be in a specific grade or field of study, however I’m entering post-secondary school for psychology so I found this opportunity perfect.
This scholarship required an essay accentuating the candidates connection with mental health and possible strides taken to influence awareness or change. My relation and introduction to mental health is due to my sister. So, I told my perspective of an impactful experience that shaped both of our lives. This life-altering event influenced my career path and perspective towards humanity. It showed me that there’s always a deeper story behind every pair of eyes. Hopefully, this piece inspires others to remain curious and empathetic towards everyone because you never know what they may be battling.