When Christmas gets heavy:
I skyped with my brother's kids late Christmas night. They're cute kids, 15 and 8, but they're a little overemotional. My nephew is funny and biting but can be sensitive, and so can his sister. My niece is a junior in high school, after she skipped a grade in middle school, and she's been dealt some heavy cards lately: her best friend died from cancer last year, and her other best friend went to jail for molesting younger boys after he himself was abused. Her life has sucked the past few years.
She wanted to talk to me about it this summer, but couldn't find the words, and being raised in a family where we don't push to communicate, I held her as she cried and told her she could come to me when she was ready. Last night's call was tense, grumpy, and awkward, and finally she kicked her little brother out of the room and broke down.
She's been anorexic for the last year. She has emotions she can't understand - feeling happy and normal one day, grumpy and depressed and introverted for no reason the next. She feels anxious, paranoid, stressed, and she doesn't want to tell her parents because she doesn't want to be a fuck up.
I'm pretty good at being calm and reasonable and compassionate when people come to me, but after the fact, when I'm writing about this, I can't help but start to cry. Should I have told her about my anorexia years ago? My depression as an early teenager? The year when I'd been lost and confused and tricked into thinking I'd fatally hurt one of my best friends? Should I be talking about these things to my other nieces and nephews who might be feeling the same way?
Luckily, her mom, K, is the sibling I talk to most, and she knows, briefly, about my struggles with anorexia. After ascertaining and making sure that my niece is not suicidal, I convinced her to talk to her mom. She's struggling, she's drowning, and she needs help and understanding. Maybe it's a conversation I will be part of, maybe I will end up flying out there to help, or maybe she'll find the courage to say something and then call me later. And I understand her hesitation, because she can be emotional and now her parents tend to brush her emotions off. But now I'm worried about her. Because this is what leads to drugs and sex and suicide.
I know there's a stigma against getting help, especially in our family - I mean, hell, I never got help or talked to my mom about any of my issues for that very reason. But I'd rather get her help than see her all over the papers. I'd rather she learn that help is okay than to lose her forever. She's my baby girl who is sarcastic and funny, who lights up at Disneyland, and wants to be a singer and has so much talent, who plays the guitar with me and can sing Katy Perry better than Katy Perry can. I refuse to see her light go out because she won't tell her parents or a doctor that something is wrong.