As I lowered the phone from my face, already sticky with tears, I broke down and allowed myself to be immersed by the overwhelming feeling of sadness and helplessness. I began sobbing as confusion and intense fear crept in.
Being a twin comes with distinct joys and challenges. One of its greatest joys can also turn into the deepest of pains. Your twin is the person who understands you the most and knows exactly how you feel in any situation. At least, that’s what I always thought.
The first time I ever found this to be untrue was when my sister and I went off to college at separate universities. We had grown up together and lived almost the same life for so long, that we had no concept of what it would be like to have completely different experiences. So when I talked with my sister about her college experience, I was surprised to hear that college life for her was not going well, as mine was. She explained that things were difficult there for her and that the community was almost non-existent. Everyone left campus on weekends which meant that she was often alone in a large, five-person dorm room. She never seemed too worried about it, and being that our only communication was via phone or Skype, it made it very easy to miss the signs that this was a much bigger problem than I realized at the time.
One Sunday night, when I was Skyping my mom, as was my habit on Sunday nights, she informed me that my sister had developed mild depression. She wasn’t formally diagnosed or anything, but my mom is a clinical psychologist, so she has had plenty of experience in recognizing mental illness. I was stunned. What? I know she’s having a hard time, but she didn’t seem that upset.
At first, I was numb. The sheer weight of the news had paralyzed my emotions. Then, a deep sadness took over, followed by the most overwhelming sense of helplessness I have ever felt. I wanted so badly to be able to do something. To give her a hug. To sit with her and talk about it. To cry with her. But I could do nothing. I had already failed as I had been completely oblivious to the severity of my sister’s situation in all our previous conversations.
But what followed was infinitely worse. It was a thought that slithered into my subconscious uninvited. What if she’s considered suicide?
Scientists agree that there is a strong correlation between depression and suicide and I had a vague understanding at the time that depression could lead to suicidal thoughts.
Here are just a few statistics from the American Association of Suicidology:
I kept telling myself I was overreacting, that she would never consider it, but I had no control over this fear. This was the first time in my life where I felt like I had no remote idea of what my twin might have been thinking or feeling. I felt so distant. This was uncharted territory. What was I supposed to do? What could I do? I think I decided to call her and let her know that I knew. I wanted her to hear that I loved her and that I would always be just a phone call away if she ever needed someone to talk to. I can’t remember now exactly how the conversation went.
Since then however, I have learned how to better address that feeling of helplessness. In doing this, it is necessary to keep in mind that although I might be struggling to work through the pain of seeing someone I love suffer, I do not want to in any way diminish her pain by focusing on my own. My goal is not to blame her for causing me pain; she didn’t choose to have depression. No one does.
But, I have found some practical ways to provide help to my beloved sister, which, in turn helps me to overcome the feeling of helplessness.
Two of the key ways are:
- Having greater awareness and,
- Being present.
You have to recognize when you are needed (after a hard day, during a stressful week) and respond accordingly by showing that you are there for them and that they are not alone.This applies to any relationship you might be in, but especially in cases where your friend, family member, or classmate is struggling with depression or anxiety. It is important for them to know that they are loved, cared for, and not alone.
There are plenty of resources available to people seeking to help their depressive neighbors, and I would recommend that anyone seeking to help a loved one who is depressed should do a bit of research on how to be most helpful. Even a quick Google search can teach you what kinds of practical steps you can take to help. In my effort to be a better support system to my sister as well as my friends who have depression, I have learned that spending time with these people is a crucial instrument for showing them love. Visiting them without having any sort of time constraint allows you to be fully present when talking with and caring for that person. Like I said, this is important for any relationship you might be in, but you might need to be more intentional about it in your relationships with friends who are depressed.
My sister ended up transferring to my school and it has been one of the greatest joys for me to have her here. Granted, it took some transitioning, but it has been so good for us both, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, she is free from her season of depression, and I discovered later that she had never actually considered suicide. Thank God!
I honestly don’t know how I managed to even imagine that I would be fine without her here. She is my best friend and I am beyond thankful that I get to do life with her at Wheaton College for at least another year and a half. I have no idea what God has in store for us after Wheaton, but whatever it is, I know that we will always be close and I have more confidence in that now than ever before.