It probably has occurred to you at this point that my sister and I, relying and spending time with each other as much as we did, were not in exactly the most healthy of places. This thought was brought home in no uncertain terms by Florence, who told me just how much we were enmeshed and that we had to stop right now. The cosplays that we did together really brought it home. Meimei and I relied on each other overmuch and got totally entangled in each other’s issues.
For example, she hung on to my every word like it was the gospel truth. If I said one day that I didn’t like waiting for her, she would take it upon herself to never be late in any given situation, even if that meant depriving herself of sleep. People are allowed to change their minds, but in my household I was taken to task for the smallest of things. It wasn’t her fault – she needed some form of safety and stability – but it was difficult to be consistent and reliable in every situation.
This manifested in cosplay in the form of Meimei thinking that everything I said and thought about it was Right and True, and everything that she said and thought about was Horrible and Bad. As an artistic and creative endeavor, there is no one “right” way to cosplay – just like that is no one “right” way to cook, or paint, or write, or sing. But that wasn’t how my sister saw it when she was sixteen and I was twenty-two. She felt that she wasn’t allowed to have her own opinions – no matter how many times I told her that she was more than entitled to them. If her analysis of a certain character or game didn’t match mine, then she was at automatically at fault and Wrong to the highest degree possible.
I wasn’t blameless in these matters either. I talked to her way too much about everything – life, games, music, anime. Though we enjoyed each others’ company, there were many instances in which she probably just wanted to spend some time alone but was unable to say so. It can be pretty exhausting to be forced to discuss what you normally like, just because someone else wants to. She also felt that she had to prop up my shattered self-esteem by liking the same things I liked, and hating the same things I hated. She said more often than once that since no one understood or sympathized with me that she would take my side in any situation, no matter the cost. A noble enough sentiment, but when it stemmed from decades of pathology, probably not the healthiest.
Not like I wasn’t enmeshed with my Mum enough, but at least in the case of Meimei and I, we could do something about it. I was initially worried about how she would take the news when I broke it but she agreed, and she also agreed that we needed a drastic change in the way we related to each other.
We agreed to a form of trial separation. We would not spend as much time with each other as we normally did. No more talking after dinner! No more discussing games and anime! (well at least not so much) Minimal contact, and definitely cut down on going out together.
It was the two most painful years of my life. The depression was the worst, but when you are so full of despair, it actually blocks out most of the pain. I’m not sure whether that is a blessing or a curse, but that’s the way it worked for me. This was more painful than anything else. We was so used to talking to Meimei about fun stuff, about books, about anything I was going through – about anything!
We had become so fused that we were practically one unit, especially emotionally. She was the only one who could express my weakness and my pain, because than I could be strong and care for her. Like most dysfunctional families everyone fell into roles. I was the Strong One, the Hero, the Person In Charge who could Take Care of Things.
I would in turn express everything she could not or was not allowed to let out, such as anger or frustration. She could be weak where I could not be and I could be strong when she could not be.
That dynamic had to go, but it was hard work. I had to literally turn around when talking to her for about a year, because of the very real chance that if I looked her in the eye, my fixer persona would activate and I would try to solve all her problems. It didn’t help that I was expert at reading her emotions and I would instinctively react to whatever she was experiencing. Our trigger points were raw and open and despite caring for each other a great deal, they would flare, pathologies would set in and self-control and conscious thought would disappear.
I’m not sure who it was more painful for, but it hurt. Nevertheless it was bitter medicine that had to be swallowed. We had rules and guidelines and we followed them almost to the letter.
Not to say this all went off without a hitch, of course. My mom was still around, throwing a spanner into the works anytime anything went well. The fear of relapse was still there (for them if not me) and whenever one went off, the whole world went off the rails. The 45 minute wait before my Dad would come and do absolutely nothing, except sit around looking helpless.
But we made it. We made it together and separately at the same time. We stuck to our guns and the rules. After about two years things were much, much better. We still got too close in a variety of ways (unavoidable considering our circumstances) But we had boundaries now and respected them. Certain topics were off-limits. When things got too hairy we went our separate ways temporarily and cooled off.
I think what helped a LOT was Meimei finally breaking through all my Mum’s BS (only sick people go to see therapists, it’s a waste of money, you’re going to be like your brother etc) and going to see a therapist. I heaved a sigh of relief which I’m sure you could hear all the way to Everest. After so many years I would be able to stop being the custodian of her emotions. She would get help (besides mine) of the professional and objective variety.
Sometimes you really need an outside perspective on your issues to see how to fix them, and this is one area in which therapy really shines. My Mum’s often-repeated statement about how we were “three peas in a pod” was actually quite true – when you are bouncing off each other about the same issues all the time, a kind of tunnel vision sets in which can be exceedingly difficult to break out of. And let’s not forget that therapists aren’t just third-party observers…they go through a great deal of training before they are actually allowed to practice.
This is not to say that it was plain sailing from the get-go. Like me, Meimei went through a couple of therapists before finding one that fit – and even when she did, there were scheduling conflicts and some issues of miscommunication to resolve. Plus, it takes time to get used to anything new, and therapy is no exception – even when you don’t take into account the amount of emotional baggage she had to shed to even GET to that point. At least in her case she had a more experienced person (namely, yours truly) to guide her part of the way and let her know what to expect.
I was now old enough to know that therapy would not Fix Everything but I was sure it would be a great help. And it was. Just being able to talk to someone else took a huge strain off me. Meimei didn’t have that many friends of her own, and those that she did have she wasn’t quite comfortable in confiding in. Understandable – remember, we were living in a country in which some people equated going to see a mental health specialist with being insane. Had come clean with her family issues with her school friends, there was no guarantee that they would have responded to her in a positive way.
Her therapist was able to guide her through the thorny patches of her psyche, and as Meimei has said to me more than once – it helped to hear all this from someone else. It’s hard to separate from someone when that someone is also providing you with strength, positive reinforcement and good advice. Having someone else to trust and speak to honestly and plainly made it easier for my sister to make the much-needed leap of faith to being her own person.