Sibling rivalry can be unfair when one of you has a learning disability. It feels as if the one with the learning disability is a giant occupying all the space.The problem is that when your brother is a giant, sometimes you shrink and disappear from view.
I have learned that when your brother is a giant you can’t afford to be a mouse because you have to grow and escape the shadow.
However, having to outgrow a shadow can make you exert so much pressure on yourself that it can become a self-created huge burden on your back.
My brother, Ethan, is on the autism spectrum. But, no, that does not mean he is retarded or emotionally cold, it just means his mind functions differently from neurotypicals. I don’t exactly remember the first time I heard the word ‘autism’, all I know is before I even knew what autism was I loved someone with autism.
After my first few years waddling on this Earth, I knew autism in a deep personal way more than most people ever will. However, at times I resented autism because it seemed like everything surrounding Ethan would necessarily shrink until there was barely any room for me or anyone else.
I learned to stop asking for help on my homework by the time I was in first grade because I knew my mother and father would have to help Ethan with his work. I knew my report card would be received with a smile and a pat on the back but not as celebrated as my brother's achievements which always generated fanfare.
I grew accustomed to always being the responsible one despite being the younger child. I started acting like the big sister more than the little one by the time I turned age 10. My mother would tell me things like ‘help Ethan buy a metro ticket’ or ‘tutor Ethan in Algebra, you know you are ahead in math’. While this vastly boosted my self-esteem, I was not proud of having to serve as a guide to my older brother despite he being the older sibling.
I came to learn an important lesson, that I had to work harder to shine and escape my giant’s shadow. But having to outgrow a shadow made me exert so much pressure on myself.
I attempted to try and overcompensate for the ‘normal’ son my parents didn’t have, pushing myself to provide them with success every minute of my life.
I was always desperately motivated to be the smartest and most successful daughter my father could brag about and the most mature and practical woman my mother could vent to and share her emotions with. Being perfect became my goal, but it was as unreachable as trying to touch the sun resting on the horizon. However, as when I was a child I am still grasping to reach the sun but now I know the closer I get the more it will burn.
Soon my feelings and problems began to feel like a burden, especially when Ethan’s problems and obstacles seemed so much more important than mine. So I just buried my feelings and frustrations deep within me. By contrast, my brother was always an open book, blurting out the embarrassingly forward and awkward things he was feeling all the time, while I tried to keep everything inside. Ethan’s ability to be so open with his emotions confounds me to this day. When he flaps his hands and bites his finger, I wonder how he can let out so much emotion out through his body when I can only speak through ink and paper.
However, expressing everything you're feeling can be a double-edged sword.
When my brother was being bullied in school, everyone in my family felt the bullying in their own skin. His pain was our pain, and I would become so angry that anybody on the outside had the power to slash through the heart of our family.
What made me even angrier was the fact that I couldn’t protect him. I will always be four years younger than Ethan and have most of my life been smaller than his bullies. It’s hard to fight an enemy you never see, I never met any of Ethan’s bullies, but I still have placed them in the most vicious parts of my heart and mind.
Most of all I am angry and ashamed that I have been my brother’s bully. Throughout our life, I have been the one telling him he can’t do something or am at times embarrassed to be seen with him. Every time he meets my friends I can still hear the alarms blaring in my head. I always catch myself looking for the obvious signs and gauging my friend's reactions to his actions to see if they notice. Sometimes I still feel embarrassment climb up my spine like ice over some of his actions. I never say anything, all I do is curl up next to Ethan at night and watch the Avengers with a silent apology on my lips.
My brother is a giant but he’s also my best friend and the person who has helped shape me into who I am. I no longer fear standing in his shadow, not when we can help each other shine.
I am an incoming senior at MAST Academy, a writer, and an activist. Besides binge watching Netflix shows and anime, I try to make my writing a catalyst for change and hope to continue helping others through my volunteer work.