Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sister as, “a female who has one or both parents in common with another.” Biologically, I have two sisters: Bridgette, a senior in high school, and Mary, a freshman in high school. Growing up, we were all relatively close. But sometimes, the symptoms that go along with mental illness can end up making you feel isolated and alone.
When the symptoms first started rearing their heads, I refused to tell my biological sisters anything. Hell, I even refused to tell my parents anything. I didn’t want them to rat me out to Mom and Dad, but most of all, I didn’t want to frighten them. I had seen what the worst case scenario (suicide) did to families. A student who was in my high school graduating class committed suicide a while after I left home. Bridgette described to me the horrified and pained look on her friend’s face (who just so happened to be the younger sister of the boy) as she came to school for the first time since her brother’s passing. I didn’t want my sisters to be afraid that this would be their fate.
However, my relationships with my sisters have been harder since I moved away. I don’t get to talk to them often. Bridgette and I have a lot of moments where we don’t get along. Mary and I get along just fine, but the only time I really communicate with her is when I’m at home, and being a college student, that’s not very often. So when I first left home for college, I was left alone to the mercy of my loneliness and mental illness.
But as I started school, I found myself in good company with the women in the music department (and with friends who were outside the program). Many of the women were members of the school’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota. They were all very supportive of me, especially since I was a freshman in a very rough and rigorous music program. And once my panic attacks started happening on a regular basis, every person there was willing to help.
As most of my readers know, I changed my major at the beginning of my second semester. The panic attacks were getting so bad that I would never be able to practice properly. I was so afraid of not being perfect (a.k.a. being chewed out by my superiors) that every time I walked into a practice room, I would sit in the corner in fetal position and start crying like a crazy person. I couldn’t live like that. I thought that maybe a fresh start was what I needed. So, the day after yet another visit to the hospital, I walked with my friend Julie to the English department and officially changed my major. The change in scenery worked for a while, but things would get only worse over time.
As for Sigma Alpha Iota? I had wanted to join the organization as a music major. But as I switched out of the music program, I didn’t know whether or not they would still accept me. I still loved music, but what if I still felt alone amongst other music majors, twiddling my thumbs as I listened to the discussions of music major problems that I couldn’t claim to understand? Julie, one of the members of SAI (a different Julie than the one who helped me switch into the English program), helped make me feel very welcome amongst the sisters. My friend Brittany (who would eventually become my Big) invited me to their informationals. It was there that I learned that many members of the fraternity (yes, it’s a fraternity) weren’t even music majors. Even though I wasn’t a music major, I could feel the bonds of sisterhood between them, and for the first time in forever, I didn’t feel alone. So I submitted my interest forms, and I was given a bid to join Sigma Alpha Iota. I was so happy. I had finally found a place where I belonged.
But my condition took a nosedive shortly after pledging. Many times I would be too depressed to engage in many of the functions that the rest of my pledge class did. I felt like that some didn’t trust me, and were having second thoughts over handing me that bid. It wasn’t that I didn’t care; this period of time was just very difficult for me. I needed time to get better. But even through all of that, there was one moment that stuck out to me. The night my ex-boyfriend dumped me, I received a call literally moments after the break-up from one of the members of the pledge class to let me know that I was late for a meeting with the rest of them. I tried to hold back the tears, but to no avail. I bawled my eyes out explaining the events of the evening. Before I knew it, we were all heading to Dairy Queen to get ice cream. They walked with me and sat with me to cheer me up. I will never forget that.
Yet, I still never breathed a word to any of the other girls about my mental condition, the attempted suicide, none of it, even after I was initiated. I insisted that I was sick, nothing more. They seemed to accept it, and I just left things at that. But even after everything that happened, they were my sisters. I owed them a better explanation than just being sick. I sat down with my big and the other members of the Executive Board and explained to them all that happened. They were more than understanding, and their hugs and warm wishes helped alleviate the loneliness that came with my mental illness. There are some that still don’t know about what happened; in fact, I’m pretty sure that several members will only find out about what happened that spring through this blog post. I didn’t want them to hate me, to think that I was crazy. I love SAI, and I want to do everything in my power to make my chapter—and this fraternity—better. I just have a few blocks in the road.
I wish I had more faith in the power of sisterhood back then. Sisters don’t have to be biological. They can be your best friends, united in bonds stronger than blood. Sisters are there for you no matter what. There’s a saying that I found on Pinterest that says, “Your letters are in front of you, and your sisters are behind you.” Sisters look out for each other. Instead of hiding my weaknesses from my sisters, I should ask them for help and guidance. Sigma Alpha Iota has helped me become a better woman despite the setbacks that bipolar disorder puts upon me. Sisterhood is a healing experience. I will never regret the decision I made to sign that bid.
Love and Coffee cups,