My family is the factor and challenge that has most shaped my life and aspirations and caused me to grow as an individual. My family consists of four people: me, my father, mother, and my brother. My mother is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and my brother also suffers from bipolar disorder in addition to ADD, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, and mental retardation. Living with two handicapped family members proved to be somewhat of a challenge. All my life I had never known exactly why my mother did certain things that seemed to make no sense to me, yet I never questioned her behavior. I always simply dismissed it as her personality.
It wasn’t until I was in ninth grade that life with her became utterly unbearable. It was right after my parents had gotten divorced and my brother and I were living with my mom, who was also enrolled in school at the time. The divorce took a heavy toll on my mother, and she began to sink into a melancholic depression isolating herself from her two kids. Initially, I was blinded by hurt, loneliness, and anger. All I could see my mom doing was worrying about herself, her school, and her needs leaving me to raise a special needs child and run a household. Nevertheless, I knew that things had to be done, and even if my mom was choosing to be “selfish,” I rose to the occasion cooking for the family, cleaning the house, getting my brother dressed, fed, and bathed, helping him with his homework, doing my own homework, finding rides to and from school, and managing my extracurricular activities.
When my father learned what was taking place, he immediately filed for full custody. I knew that things could only get worse for my mom if her two most important possessions were taken away from her. I was consumed with guilt as we were forced to leave my mother behind. Living with my father turned out to be much the same however, except now I shouldered the guilt of leaving my mom, who was now in and out of hospitalization for her cyclic depression and mania. My father was constantly working to make ends meet, so my brother and I were home alone majority of the time, leaving me once again the sole caretaker of my brother, as well the house, and academics to maintain.
My father also relied on me quite heavily, and turned to me for guidance and support, so I always had to put on a smile or a brave face. It became impossible for me to “lean” on anyone else, since so many depended on me for strength and support. I became a mother, daughter, wife, sister, and caretaker. After spending two years with my father, who eventually remarried, I was able to return to my mother’s house. It was then that I was able to fully become cognizant of the illness that my mother suffered from.
A combination of not seeing her for so long, as well as being older and more knowledgeable about mental illnesses, allowed me to notice these changes for the first time. I was able to differentiate what was really her, and what was her illness taking over. All these factors have shaped who I have grown to be as a person, and I would not take back any of them. Oftentimes people see challenges as hardships or unfortunate events. I however, view everything that has happened to me as blessings, even if it did mean that I had to grow up faster than most kids.
Being able to take care of my brother, who requires more care than the average child, taught me firsthand responsibility and conscientiousness. There was no room for error when it came to taking care of my brother; one slip-up such as giving him the wrong dosage of medications, could end his life. Emotionally supporting both my mother and my father taught me strength, perseverance, and optimism. I refused to let the pressures of life upset me, and whenever I was tempted to give in I found refuge in God. It was necessary for me to be strong and know that things would turn out for the better when everyone else in my family appeared to have given up, because there is always darkness before there is light.
It is because of my family, that I aspire to become either a social worker or a psychiatrist. I want to provide aide to those who are economically, physically, socially or mentally disadvantaged, including helping their families learn how to deal with them and their specific needs. I also know that I want to spend my life’s entirety helping out other kids, whose circumstances prevent them from being able to help themselves.