Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Sister Hates Me”

khloe-kardashian-says-kim-kardashian-and-daughter-are-healthy-and-resting

I’m 25 and my sister, “Julie,” is almost 20. Julie has always been difficult, but after our dad left five years ago, she started skipping school and getting underage piercings without permission. Around the time she stopped going to school and started sitting around doing nothing every day, she was prescribed anti-depressants. She eventually went back to school for the final few months of the year, but didn’t do well on her final exams. She did, however, get a year-long makeup artistry course in another city, and we all hoped she would find it rewarding and would be keen to get a job in the field. Mum supported her through the course, paying her rent and giving her money to live.

Julie has now finished her course and has moved back in with our Mum who is supporting her and giving her a weekly allowance. In return she barely speaks to her. She has said she doesn’t want to get any job at all and has no interest in being a makeup artist. I moved out several years ago to pursue a PhD in another country and only had contact with my mother through Skype. I thought Julie’s behavior was bad enough when I first heard of it, but mostly I was just sad that she had stopped replying to me on Facebook and was upsetting Mum. Then things became more complicated when our Mum was diagnosed with cancer; I came back for her first round of chemotherapy and Julie didn’t even visit the hospital for the entire two weeks. I had to go back to work to sort out a leave of absence, and after a few weeks I came back home again to take care of Mum. I was appalled to find out that Julie now lives in Mum’s room, speaks in aggressive mumbles to my mother and ignores me point blank, except for when she tells me I’m “really mean,” and “such a bitch,” and “I hate you! Why are you even here?”

I’ve never done anything (that I know of) to make her hate me. I have a leave of absence from my PhD program for a few months and it’s such a good opportunity for Julie and I to get to know each other as adults, but she wants nothing to do with me. Instead, she spends 18 hours a day watching TV. She won’t go out anywhere, and she has no friends other than a boyfriend she’s had for two years. She eats very little and is very thin. She told my mum she “doesn’t feel right” and hasn’t for years, but she won’t go to the doctor to change her medication or go to therapy. If she needs help, then I’d be happy to help her get it. If she needs different medication or therapy, I’d pay for it out of my stipend. I tried to say we could go to hot-yoga together in our local town and I could pay for it, but I just got cursed out. If you or any of your commenters have any advice on how to handle her, I would really appreciate it. — A Very Worried Sister

Let’s look at things from your sister’s side: her father left when she was 15 — a formative age for anyone and probably more so for someone who may have been predisposed for depression or other mental issues; she has an older sister who left the country shortly after their father’s deserting them to pursue a PhD program; and that sister, after she left, only stayed in touch through periodic Facebook messages (I’m making an assumption here. Is that right?). Those are the things we know. What we can infer by Julie’s behavior is that she felt very lost, depressed, and like her family was falling apart. She may have felt like she couldn’t compete with you, the prodigal daughter who left for another country to pursue a PhD. She may have felt like you had more important things to do than keep up a relationship with her. She may have felt like she wasn’t getting enough attention and that behaving badly was a way for her to get noticed. She may have felt like her mother’s solution was to throw money at the problem (paying for a makeup course, sending her away, giving her an allowance while letting her mope about all day watching TV).

She may have felt all those things BEFORE your mother got sick, so imagine how she may have felt when you, the prodigal daughter, finally waltz on home to save the day by taking care of your mother and helping out around the house while she’s in the hospital. Imagine how she may have felt when, after deserting her like your father did and staying in touch through periodic Facebook messages, you suddenly want to use your leave of absence to build a relationship with her and get to know her “as an adult.” She’s probably thinking, “Where have you been the last few years?”

I’m definitely not saying that this is reality, but I’m trying to paint a picture of your sister’s version of reality. She says she hates you, but the truth may be that she simply resents you. She resents that you got to escape your broken home when she still had to finish high school. She may resent that you took off when she needed a sister most. She may resent that you get to be the ace student — in a PhD program! — while she struggles in school. She may resent that you don’t seem as screwed up by your Dad’s swift departure from your lives as she does. She may resent that you haven’t been around to deal with your mother on a day-to-day basis and that you get to waltz in now and take credit for being there when she got sick. She may resent that you think a trip to a hot yoga class is going to make up for the years you weren’t around.

This isn’t a full picture of reality, I know. But again, it may be the reality your sister sees. It may be the only reality she understands because she’s 20, she’s been through a lot, she’s kind of screwed up, and she’s got a chip on her shoulder. And, unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do right now to make things better. Pushing her to get help or pushing for a relationship is going to make things worse. So, back off. Let her be messed up for a little while and trust that with a safety net of living at home she won’t fall too hard or too far down. When you do have a chance to talk to her, focus on stories instead of instructions or advice for her. Share stories about your life. Tell her about some of the mistakes you’ve made and struggles you’ve had. Let her know you aren’t perfect. Invite her to come visit you some time. When you go home, make more of an effort to keep in touch. Ask to talk to her when you call/Skype. Even if she says no every time, keep asking. Just because you have a leave of absence for a few months doesn’t mean this is your only chance to get to know your sister as an adult. SHE isn’t even an adult yet, after all. Hopefully, you have many, many more years, so just remain available and keep trying without being pushy.

Honestly, the best thing you could do is to stop trying to help your sister. She doesn’t want your help. And by positioning yourself as the helper and her as the needy victim, you will only continue to alienate yourself from her. Instead, try to level the playing field between you. Ask HER for help. Ask her to do your makeup some time. She spent a year studying makeup artistry, so she probably knows more than you do. What else might she know more about? Think of something and talk to her about it. Give her opportunities to be better than you at something.

I can appreciate how worried you must be about a sister who seems so depressed and refuses to get help. But it’s not your job to fix her. And if she’s resistant to your support, there’s not much you can do but focus on creating a better relationship with her so that eventually she’s more open to receiving your help.

***************

You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

77 comments… add one
  • Fabelle

    Fabelle August 27, 2013, 12:01 pm

    Ooh, I have nothing to add. Wendy’s advice was perfect (& I especially love the “ask her for help”/”level the playing field” advice. I never would have thought of that, but it’s true… LW’s offers of help are putting the sister in a pitiable position, one she clearly doesn’t want to be in, & it’s likely making her pull away even more.)

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    bethany August 27, 2013, 12:13 pm

    WWS. That was way more thought through and compassionate than I would have been.

    She’s right though, your sister had a lot of changes going on in a short, important period of time. Maybe she’s not as strong as you, and had a harder time handling it than you did. Just be there for her. Be there when she hates you, be there when she’s unsure, be there when she eventually comes around. Your dad bailed. She needs proof that blood is thicker than water. Show her you’re not going anywhere and that you love her. It might take a really long time, but a guarantee you that you’ll never regret investing your time and energy into her.

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    • landygirl

      landygirl August 27, 2013, 12:21 pm

      She’s not going anywhere because her mother supports her because she refuses to get a job. I know that the sister is mentally ill but her actions make her easy to dislike. I think coddling the sister will only reinforce her drama.

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  • niki

    Niki August 27, 2013, 12:16 pm

    I totally agree with Wendy’s advice that the LW should back off and leave her sister be. I also understand where Wendy is coming from trying to show things from the sister’s perspective. However, it very much came across that the LW did something wrong by leaving to pursue her education. No one can help the sister but herself. Yes, she had some sucky things happen. But for the love of all things, LOTS of people have sucky things happen without becoming hateful. I also understand mental illness is an issue. I have depression. I take medication for it daily. I don’t use it as an excuse to treat people like crap. LW, please don’t think that your sister’s attitude, depression and anger is your fault. Your father left too. When your sister decides she needs help, or just a serious attitude adjustment, she will come around. Until then, it is your job to just continue to be there and to help take care of your mom to the best of your abilities.

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    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 12:29 pm

      Wendy made it pretty clear that she wasn’t saying it was the LW’s fault, but that LW’s sister might see it that way. Just because you can control your depression without acting hateful doesn’t mean that everyone can, or that she is trying to use her mental illness as an “excuse” to treat people like crap.

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      • avatar

        MissDre August 27, 2013, 1:03 pm

        Yeah, I agree with you here. When you KNOW you have issues with depression and are actively seeking to treat and control it, you’re in a better place where you have insight into how your actions affect others. But when you’re trapped in a pit of despair and you haven’t yet faced what the issue is, you DON’T always realize how your behaviour is affecting others. Depression affects logical thinking. I’ve been there.

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    • Lindsay

      Lindsay August 27, 2013, 6:15 pm

      Wendy definitely wasn’t blaming the LW. Even if it’s not her fault, it doesn’t mean the sister sees it that way or that it can’t be part of a cause-and-effect.

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  • avatar

    painted_lady August 27, 2013, 12:20 pm

    WWS. Whether it was your job to stay for your sister, even when you’re both adults, the one who stays often resents the one who leaves.

    One other thing I would recommend is that you keep in mind that you and your sister were raised in very different families. You had a whole family far longer than your sister did. She may have had to do a great deal of caretaking for your mother even prior to her diagnosis. I’m not even close to suggesting that this is your situation, but it’s the same reason abused children are often accused of lying about it by their siblings: the siblings didn’t see what they saw. What kind of family did your sister have? Do you even know? Obviously you can’t force her to tell you, but even showing an interest in her perspective and acknowledging that it is different from yours might go a long way.

    I know that you didn’t intentionally abandon your sister, but it’s probably how she sees it. There haven’t been a lot of people in her life who have stuck around, and so she is probably incredibly wary of trusting anyone, much less someone she sees as already having broken that trust. It’s probably going to take a long time to re-earn that trust, but the best thing you can do is show her you’re deserving of it by not going anywhere but not forcing her to have a relationship with you she doesn’t want.

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  • avatar

    lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 12:22 pm

    Incredible advice Wendy!

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  • avatar

    sisisodapop August 27, 2013, 12:23 pm

    not sure how much this helps, but it sounds like your sister could possibly have picked up a drug problem. Unfortunately, I have had more experience with people with both mental problems and meth addictions than I’ve cared to. The description she gives of her sister’s behavior rang a lot of bells for me.

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    • avatar

      feelingroovy August 27, 2013, 9:34 pm

      I hate to alarm the LW with something so overwhelming and stressful, but I had the exact same gut feeling. As I was reading this, I thought “gosh, this girl sounds just like my brother,” and then remembered that a major reason for his immature/angry/irrational/self-centered behavior was his addiction.

      Even if the problem is addiction, Wendy’s advice still applies. Build trust by finding a balance between backing off and letting her be the expert at something; once she feels less resentful of you, you’ll have a better idea about whether or not drugs are part of the problem.

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  • CatsMeow

    CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 12:27 pm

    I have struggled with depression on and off for as long as I can remember. When I was your sister’s age, LW, it VERY much manifested itself as anger, irritability, and hatred. Not only did I hate myself, but I hated everyone around me. I pushed everyone away and treated my family and friends like shit. I had a complete lack of respect for my parents, especially my mom, whom I was living with. I rebelled in some ways, but mostly? I was just an insufferable bitch. I yelled at everyone all the time, slammed doors, had temper tantrums, cried a lot. Looking back, I’m very much horrified by my behavior, but at the time, I felt out of control. And it wasn’t necessarily my life circumstances that brought this on – it’s just that I’m really prone to depression, and it often can manifest differently in adolescents and young adults than it does in older people.

    Anyway, I came around with time, and hopefully your sister will too. The good thing is that my family and friends didn’t permanently disown me or alienate me, and when I started acting more like myself, they were still there. So, WWS. Be there for your sister and let her work through this in her own time.

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    • avatar

      MissDre August 27, 2013, 1:05 pm

      Me too. Been there, done that.

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  • avatar

    rachel August 27, 2013, 12:31 pm

    What wonderful and compassionate advice from Wendy. I have nothing to add.

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  • avatar

    mf August 27, 2013, 12:39 pm

    Wendy, this is amazing advice. I went through a period of depression and other issues around the age of 20, and it was very tiresome to have everyone treat me like I was a broken toy that needed to be fixed. This is exactly the thing I wish my family could’ve heard: “Honestly, the best thing you could do is to stop trying to help your sister. She doesn’t want your help. And by positioning yourself as the helper and her as the needy victim, you will only continue to alienate yourself from her.”

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  • Diablo

    Diablo August 27, 2013, 12:41 pm

    What hasn’t been touched on is what will happen once/if the mom doesn’t make it. Sorry, LW, I know that is a hard reality to be faced with, but i also know this has crossed your mind. How could it not?

    I respect what Wendy is saying about backing off to allow time to build a better relationship. But her sister could be on the street soon after Mom’s passing if her attitude toward life is this effed up and considering how protected and coddled she has been. A high proportion of people on the street in any community have undiagnosed, untreated or improperly treated mental illness.

    If i’m the LW, I’m wondering how I can protect the little nihilist until our relationship can improve. You doesn’t mention too much about other family resources, but I’m wondering if you can touch base with family, friends, neighbours to check in with little sister and report back on her state from time to time. These people could also gently urge her to seek treatment. You need that peace of mind to complete your studies abroad. And let’s face it, not even knowing your discipline, there is a good chance your employment doesn’t bring you home either, or not right away. Good luck.

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    • Diablo

      Diablo August 27, 2013, 12:43 pm

      PS – My Dad went through cancer a couple of years ago, and nearly didn’t make it, but is now fine for the last two years. I hope your Mom does well with the treatment.

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  • avatar

    BreezyAM August 27, 2013, 12:45 pm

    I dunno,
    Frankly she sounds like she either has a drug problem, and/or a mental health issue far beyond garden variety depression.

    That said, the advice that you can pretty much do nothing for her, well, yeah, that’s true. I just don’t see this as something so benign. She sounds like one seriously fucked up individual.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 12:56 pm

      A seriously fucked up individual? Eh, not to me. She sounds like so many other 20 year olds who didn’t get their shit together straight out of high school.

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        kerrycontrary August 27, 2013, 1:05 pm

        I mean she’s treating her mother, who has cancer, very poorly. She’s verbally abusive and kicked her mother out of her own bedroom. She doesn’t work, at all, she doesn’t help around the house. It sounds like she doesn’t have ANY moral compass or empathy.

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 1:14 pm

        Of course the treating her mom like shit (cancer or not, but obv worse since she has cancer) is fucked up, but the rest? Not all that abnormal to me.

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      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark August 27, 2013, 2:52 pm

        That’s a sad commentary on your experience. To me, it’s VERY Fucked up.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 2:54 pm

        I’m not saying the being an asshole to mom isn’t fucked up, I just think the fact that she lives at home and mom still supports her isn’t all that strange for a 20 y/o.

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      • avatar

        tbrucemom August 27, 2013, 1:41 pm

        I agree with your comment. You can look at things from the sister’s point of view and make a certain amount of leeway for her mental illness, but the part that angered me was her mistreatment of her mother, who has cancer and supports her. If I was the LW I could probably excuse all of her other issues but that would not be something I could tolerate. I also don’t have a lot of empathy for people that don’t want to help themselves as indicated by the comment that she needs to have her meds checked and not feeling right but won’t go to the doctor. She may indeed have a drug problem. Lots of people have more difficult lives, like her poor mother who could DIE….

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 1:54 pm

        Yea, I guess I am playing DA here. I agree with this.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 2:59 pm

        The difficulty of your life situation doesn’t necessarily affect the severity of your depression, though. Someone ALWAYS has it worse. Some people have the shittiest lives ever, but don’t get depressed. Not all depression is situational – it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.

        When I’M depressed (so certainly this doesn’t apply to everyone), thinking to myself or having someone tell me how much worse my life could be actually makes me feel worse because then I feel guilty for not being able to handle my cushy life, or I just feel bad for the hypothetical people who “have it worse.” Either way, it makes me more depressed.

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        BreezyAM August 27, 2013, 2:51 pm

        Yeah, this is exactly what freaked me out. I have no idea what 20 yr olds LBH knows but the ones I know who were that… hostile, for lack of a better term, were seriously messed up and needed major help, not just being lazy and directionless and resentful.

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 2:56 pm

        Haha, just replied above. I didn’t mean the treatment of her mom is normal, just the living at home still and parents supporting. Its not something I think is GOOD, but normal? I’d say so. I’ll even go so far as to say MOST 20 y/os are still being supported almost entirely by their parents, including their living arrangement (whether at school or in the basement).

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  • avatar

    starpattern August 27, 2013, 12:50 pm

    I get that the LW’s sister has had a rough time of it and deserves some amount of understanding from her family, but am I totally out of line to suggest that the LW just cold turkey STOP putting up with verbal abuse from her? Like, just disengage when that crap happens. I just feel like there is no excuse for that kind of treatment, no matter how bad a person has had it in life. LW can’t make her sister get help, and she can’t make her mom stop putting up with it, but she can stop putting up with the temper tantrums and being cursed out. If nobody ever takes a hard line on that, it will be that much harder for her to navigate the world on her own when she wants or needs to leave the mother’s home – people outside her immediate family are not going to put up with it.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark August 27, 2013, 1:00 pm

    Actually, I think Wendy missed the mark here.

    The kid sister is a fucking headcase and would be REGARDLESS of whether or not her older sister left… You know what? Older siblings LEAVE. It’s what they do… Meanwhile, 18 hours a day of television and nothing else is dangerously depressed. If she won’t go for help, I’d have her committed. Or at least evaluated. This 20 year old is IN the fucking Bell Jar… This isn’t a slight case of the blues where you sit back and hope they snap out of it… This is the type of case where you sit back and you wind up planning a funeral.

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      kerrycontrary August 27, 2013, 1:03 pm

      I actually agree with you on this one. I mean treating an older sibling leaving for school as some sort of traumatic event is a little ridiculous to me. I had 2 older siblings that both went to college. I feel like I barely knew them until I was 18 and they actually liked me. We still can go weeks without speaking to each other. No big deal.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 1:08 pm

        The sister leaving might not even be a contributing factor in her depression, though. She’s at the normal age for mental illness to start showing up.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark August 27, 2013, 5:44 pm

        All the more reason to take this seriously… Thinking it will just magically go away on its own is beyond foolish… The wait and see approach suggest by some here is woefully misguided.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray August 27, 2013, 1:09 pm

      I agree that your version of the reality is probable. Statistically speaking, it sounds not too far off. But that doesn’t mean the sister won’t grow up and come around. I think Wendy’s advice was best for an older sister who WANTS her sister to grow and come around. By stepping back, asking the sister for help, making her feel valued, etc., there’s a better shot at that happening. So, Wendy’s thoughtful, constructive advice for the win!

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    • avatar

      thatgirl August 27, 2013, 1:17 pm

      I am with you on this…little sister is acting like a child who has been coddled and enabled to a harmful degree. She needs some serious help before something tragic happens.

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    • meadowphoenix

      meadowphoenix August 27, 2013, 5:10 pm

      If she won’t go for help, I’d have her committed. Or at least evaluated.

      This isn’t something the LW can have done without her sister’s consent. Unless there is some physical harm going on, you can’t actually force people to get help for themselves. Even when those people are circling the drain.

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      • avatar

        feelingroovy August 27, 2013, 9:38 pm

        I was just about to say this. She’s over 18, so unless the LW can prove her sister is an immediate danger to herself or others, committing the girl is not an option. You can’t commit someone for being an asshole.

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    kerrycontrary August 27, 2013, 1:01 pm

    Ok, I agree that the younger sister has had a tough go of it. But if she’s treating her sister and her mother the way she is due to resentment that they didn’t do enough or because they got to move on and be happy while she didn’t, well then that’s really fucked up. Like if her perspective is how wendy describes it…then she has a really screwed up thought process. Like older siblings go away to school and they may call once in a while but whatever, they don’t need to make some extraordinary effort to stay in touch with their teenage siblings because they are living their life and their 20s (as they should be). I mean I feel by writing that, Wendy is sort of putting on the blame on the LW for not being around and then suddenly showing up when her mother has cancer (I know Wendy says this may not be reality but it could be the younger sister’s perspective). She was in another country for god’s sake, how often is she supposed to visit? And my siblings and I still don’t call each other all the time and no one has resentment over it.

    There’s a lot of teenagers who go through tough shit and they don’t act the way this girl does. It’s called learning how to be resilient. And maybe I’m lacking compassion, but we’re talking about a 20 yr old adult who is living off of other peoples paychecks, treating them poorly, and neither contributing not participating in society in any way.

    I don’t think there is anything the LW can do except let nature take its course.

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      lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 1:05 pm

      we’re talking about a 20 yr old adult who is living off of other peoples paychecks, treating them poorly, and neither contributing not participating in society in any way.

      Sounds like an 80s baby for sure! Kidding, kidding, but seriously, I feel like a LOT of 20 y/os are exactly like that, and the treating people poorly part? Maybe just still a bratty asshole teenage phase.

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        kerrycontrary August 27, 2013, 1:07 pm

        See, I don’t. I don’t know anyone who acted this way. Anyone I knew who didn’t go to college at least worked. I don’t really see any excuse for behaving the way this girl is unless she’s seriously mentally ill. She’s old enough to know better. I just think blaming it on “oh she’s 20” isn’t giving credit to those 20 yr olds who can act like normal people and actually work towards something. It’s also making excuses for this girl, and I don’t like excuses. Maybe I’m just in a harsh mood today.

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 1:17 pm

        Saying oh she’s 20 has nothing to do with giving credit to productive 20 y/os. I don’t like excuses either and normally I’d shout loser! mooch!, but I guess just think there’s a good chance if lw takes Wendy’s advice, this girl will come around and grow up and become a normal adult. Living at home? Normal. Parents paying for you? Normal. Not getting along with your overbearing sister? Normal. The only fucked up thing is the treatment of mom. And many teens/early 20smethings treat their parents crappy til they grow up a bit.

        Maybe I’m in a soft mood today!

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 1:19 pm

        Just to add, I wouldn’t put up with this. Mom needs to not allow it, enforce punishments, stop paying for everything, etc. Basically, force her to grow the f up. Stop engaging with the fights. Stop acting like you’re above her. All those things.

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      • avatar

        BreezyAM August 27, 2013, 2:57 pm

        yeah. I wonder how much of this would have been avoided if Mom had not had cancer, and been able to put the law down?

        A friend of mine had something similar on a much more benign scale happen in her home with her older teens when she had cancer. When she got better, holy cow, she said she felt like playing a mix tape of Aerosmith’s Back in the Saddle, AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Elton John’s Bitch is Back while standing over her kids with a whip making them clean house to get it through their heads 😛

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 2:59 pm

        Sounded like mom didn’t “put the law down” prior to having cancer, so I doubt it makes much of a difference.

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      • KKZ

        KKZ August 27, 2013, 3:13 pm

        I’m on Kerry’s side today. Sympathetic that she’s gone through tough shit, but I feel the time for excusing and rationalizing this behavior has passed. If this is a “phase’ it’s been going on for several years by this point and she’s been given opportunities to get out of it and repeatedly rejected them. Early on, the trouble with school, the taking up cosmetology and then dropping it, all in the wake of Dad leaving, that’s understandable. But for her behavior to go THIS far? For this long?

        I tend to agree with BGM. This girl has issues and the “sit back and play it cool” approach could end with her in the gutter, if not worse. I understand it’s not the LW’s job to fix her sister, but I don’t think this is run-of-the-mill depression and young-adult floundering, I think she’s in real danger and it would not be going too far to be more proactive about getting her help, even against her wishes. Alienating, perhaps, but there are worse things in the world than alienating a younger sibling… like going to their funeral. If this were my brother, I would step in, PRONTO.

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 3:24 pm

        I don’t feel sympathetic toward the sister. I have no patience for people who use shit that happened years ago, especially shit most people go through, as an excuse for being a loser adult. I’m not saying any of her behavior is ok or acceptable. I’m just saying I don’t think its all that weird/bad she still lives at home and is supported by her parents.
        Sister becoming mom here is not going to help anyone, imo.

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      • KKZ

        KKZ August 27, 2013, 3:37 pm

        And you know, it was really Wendy who made the assumption that Dad/sister leaving the home plays such a big role in the trauma, it could very well be that Little Sis doesn’t even make that connection (excuse) herself and is just plain mentally ill. One can assume that LW was already out of the house for a little bit if she left this time to get a PHD – she probably was at least somewhat distant while doing her undergrad studies, I’d think. So really, I’m sympathetic to Little Sis if only for the mental illness thing. Even without the dad abandonment and struggles in school and stuff, that’s still a shitty thing to carry.

        IMO there’s no excuse for *knowing* you have a mental health issue and refusing to get help for it. And THAT is where I think the LW can try to do something. Anything. I don’t even know what to suggest, my mind just can’t settle on anything but “get her help, now.” And again that probably comes from picturing this as me and my little brother, whom I love like crazy. If he were spinning out, even if he were being a little shit about it and trying to push me away, I’d be doing anything in my power to prevent a tragic ending. I’d rather him hate me forever for interfering than sit back and watch him self-destruct.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 3:54 pm

        She might not blame the way she feels on that, or she may. She might not have the self-awareness to be able to attribute her feelings and behaviors to a mental illness. Even after a psychiatrist told me I was depressed, I thought that *actually* I was just a horrible, shitty person who couldn’t handle the normal stresses of life and didn’t deserve to be alive. I thought it was just as fundamentally a part of myself as my personality.

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      • KKZ

        KKZ August 27, 2013, 4:26 pm

        I’m basing that off the LW’s comment that Sis has said she doesn’t feel right, but refuses to go to the doctor.

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        MMcG August 27, 2013, 4:25 pm

        Yeah KKZ… based on their ages the LW would have been a 20 year old college student when dad left. Already out of the house.

        I wonder if this is less mental illness and more mom let her get away with murder to compensate for dad being gone and now she’s just a shitty person.

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      • othy

        othy August 27, 2013, 2:55 pm

        For the record, a 20 year old would be a 90s baby.

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 2:58 pm

        Were you expecting me to do the easiest of calculations to back up a lame joke Come on, othy. You should know me better than that.

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      • othy

        othy August 27, 2013, 3:04 pm

        Nah, I just want people to stop ragging on the 80s babies, because they’re so much better than those damn, lazy, 90s babies. After all, just compare me and my little brother. I’m by far superior.

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      MissDre August 27, 2013, 1:09 pm

      The difference though, is experiencing these things as a healthy teenager vs experiencing them while dealing with serious depression, self esteem issues or mental illness.

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    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 3:02 pm

      “There’s a lot of teenagers who go through tough shit and they don’t act the way this girl does.”

      Not all those same teenagers have depression. Sorry, but her life isn’t bad enough for depression to be “justified”? That’s definitely lacking in compassion.

      Sure, maybe she IS a spoiled, entitled, coddled, asshole, overgrown adolescent who treats everyone like shit. But she’s ALSO in all likelihood battling a pretty severe mental illness. How much of that can be blamed on her personality and how much can be blamed on her mental illness can’t really be determined by us just from this letter.

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      • avatar

        kerrycontrary August 27, 2013, 3:27 pm

        I think it’s hard to judge in this situation. Like it’s hard to judge from a letter how much of this behavior is due to the girl’s depression and how much is due to her being an asshole (or it could all be due to her mental illness). I just don’t think that her behavior can be blamed on her father leaving/her sister leaving to get her PhD.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 3:44 pm

        Yeah, I’m saying that her depression might not be situational AT ALL. It’s easy to feel sorry for the mom because she has an actual, tangible, physical disease. But depression can be the same way – it has a biological cause. It’s not just someone having a bad attitude or poor reaction to their life circumstances. And what depressed people hear all the time is, “Snap out of it,” but they really, truly do not feel like they can. People think it’s a matter of willpower or just… I dunno… “Hey, grow up and stop acting like an asshole!” but it’s never that easy for the depressed person. I highly doubt she WANTS to feel like shit every day and alienate the people who care about her. Or, maybe she IS irrationally angry at everyone in her life. But depression can do that too! It manifests differently in different people. People obviously have varying degrees of severity, but the symptoms can vary too. Some people might feel physical symptoms – pain, fatigue, apathy, lack of motivation, weight loss or gain, sleep problems – without feeling the typical sadness or hopelessness. Some people do feel angry or irritated more than anything else. Some people even have psychosis with depression. And the behavior that’s evident in the LW’s sister might only be the tip of the iceberg for the inner turmoil she could be feeling.

        When I was going through something similar (yes, I know I’m taking this too personally because I relate), I HATED my mom. We had a horrible relationship because I was just shitty all the time. If she had been diagnosed with cancer during that period of my life, I don’t think I could have just snapped my fingers and changed the way I acted around her or toward her. In fact, I might have acted out even more out of the fear of losing her. One of the stages of grief is anger. Lil’ sis was already having problems, her relationship with her mother was already poor, and then this happened on top of it. So yeah, while I do think it’s HORRIBLE, I can still sympathize and understand it to a degree.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 27, 2013, 3:49 pm

        I mean, I get it. I get how infuriating and frustrating it can be to deal with someone who is mentally ill, especially someone you care about. I would have hated myself if I had known my younger self. I was a case manager for the mentally ill and I hated that too. So it’s just useful to sometimes step back and try to really empathize with what they may be going through internally.

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle August 27, 2013, 3:58 pm

        I’m with you on all this. Like, I think some people are equating “empathizing” with, I dunno, “letting the sister off the hook easy” or something, & that’s not what it is… it’s for the LW’s benefit that she see the sister’s side—like, it’s not even necessarily for the ~sister’s~ benefit?

        No one is saying the sister is being a good person right now, but it’s helpful—when faced with somebody acting out this way—to come at things from their side AT LEAST, if only, to aid in interacting with her/him?

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    Addie Pray August 27, 2013, 1:03 pm

    Very thoughtful advice, Wendy!

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    oldie August 27, 2013, 1:06 pm

    I think Wendy is far to quick to blame the LW. Going off to college/grad school is not abandoning your younger sister. This is the normal state of affairs. She may use FB as the primary means to contact her sister, because that is her sister’s preferred mode of communication. Not an unlikely surmise with someone as withdrawn and depressed as her sister. Her sister seems to have serious mental health problems. It is very normal for many mentally ill to push away/resent those who try hardest to help them. Many mentally ill see themselves as normal and persecuted by the world for some strange reason. The key here is for someone to get sister to a mental health professional. She’s not going to help herself, and LW is not going to be able to help her by herself, or to force her companionship upon her. Yes, younger sister may resent older sister. She seems to resent/fear the world and her mother has enabled her behavior. Parents are often afraid to aggressively steer a child to an unwanted mental health evaluation, fearing that the child will distance herself from that parent. However, this is what that child badly needs. Might or might not work. Can’t continue to treat an adult against her wishes.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy August 27, 2013, 1:27 pm

      I’m not at all blaming the LW! But the LW says she can’t understand why her sister would hate her and I’m trying to show her how a fucked-up, 20-year-old who probably has abandonment issues and maybe an emerging mental illness might be seeing the situation. I’m not saying that her reality is in any way RIGHT; I’m just trying to point out where the anger may come from, even if it is totally misplaced.

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        oldie August 27, 2013, 2:03 pm

        Okay, fair enough. I just think that as the LW reads your response it will sound awfully harsh to her and perhaps lead to hair-shirt taking of blame for something she is not responsible for. She already seems a tad guilty for taking the perfectly normal route of going off to grad school, followed by the perfectly warranted sacrifice, and it was a sacrifice, to come home and take care of her mother. Also, I’m not at all sure that it is possible to deduce what the little sister’s thoughts/motivations are. In the case of my mentally ill relative, the logic clearly was once parent went to the hospital, the sib still living in the house owned the house that the parent had abandoned — to the extent that relative would not allow parent to remove any of parent’s possessions from the house. Just saying, little sister’s reasons for her behavior likely make absolutely zero sense.

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        lets_be_honest August 27, 2013, 2:13 pm

        If the LW thinks its harsh and places blame on the LW, then I would say the LW has a reading comprehension problem.

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        MMcG August 27, 2013, 2:24 pm

        I think tying her departing for school with dad’s abandonment could lead to that reading… that’s the way I read it the first time FWIW. Her sister feels/felt abandoned because of what dad did, and I would hate for the LW who is already bending over backwards and putting her education on hold to take on any more responsibility for a grown adult who completed an education and refuses to use it, get help, or do anything really.

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle August 27, 2013, 2:28 pm

        Wendy makes sure to clarify multiple times, though, that she’s just painting a picture of the sister’s possible point-of-view. I think that’s helpful for LW to imagine, no? The idea of two different realities is a good one to grasp in this situation, in my opinion.

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        oldie August 27, 2013, 2:40 pm

        Yes, she does, and that is good. It’s also good that she paints a reasonable version of the possible view from little sister’s point of view. It’s also a plus that she tells LW that she can’t save her little sister and can only relate to her as a sib, not as a substitute parent. Still… I would have liked the response a lot more if Wendy had also said something like ‘and stop beating yourself up, you didn’t cause your sister’s problem, or her anger, and you can’t fix her’. There never was enough reassurance/ pat on the back to LW. Mental illness is caused far more by chemical imbalances/genetics than typical, even tragically typical, family events like a Dad leaving when you’re 15 or your sister going off to school. Parents look for someone to blame. Often it is the departed sib(s). In my family’s case, for a good year, both departed sibs were blamed for leaving some of their science fiction books back at the family home, to be read by remaining sib, and somehow cause schizophrenia to develop. Makes no sense, but parents can pile on a lot of unwarranted guilt as they lash out in their disappointment with stay-at-home sib. First they blame their parenting, then they can’t take that, then they pamper and lash out.

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        MMcG August 27, 2013, 2:41 pm

        We’ll have to agree to disagree – in part because I really don’t give a rats ass about the sister’s point of view because I think she’s being abusive to her mother who has cancer… and I just can’t look to alternate perspectives for this one.

        If I had to take time off from my program to care for my mother while my sister lays in her bed and does nothing… well, improving my relationship with sis would be the least of my concerns.

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    Kelly August 27, 2013, 1:48 pm

    It’s mental illness. I haven’t spoken to my brother in over 20 years. I would love a relationship with him, but he wants absolutely nothing to do with our family. He is homeless off and on, but has managed to hold onto a job for the last few years. We’ve tried to reach out to him at one time or another, but I think at a point you have to accept things. I’m not saying for you to give up at this point and I like Wendy’s advice about asking for help from your sister rather than offering help. Do that, but for the most part, focus on your mother and being there for her. You don’t want to bring any added stress to her right now. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, but you have to do it for her.

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  • avatar

    Milla August 27, 2013, 2:08 pm

    No advice, but I just wanted to offer sympathy to the LW— I’m finishing up a PhD program, and was in classes when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It’s rough to have the pressure of grad school combined with taking care of a parent. I was lucky enough to have my family all pitching in and a supportive partner, but man, it was hard. Make sure you take some time to take care of yourself in addition to taking care of your mom.

    Best wishes to you & your mum & sister— my mom has been in remission for two years now, so success stories do happen!

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    • avatar

      harrisco October 7, 2013, 11:32 pm

      I really like Milla’s compassion and support for the LW. Being a caregiver is very demanding–and here LW is in effect the caregiver for a cancer patient and for a person with mental illness at the same time. It would be very tough to fill one of these roles–much less two. Being emotionally engaged with Mom’s illness has to be very stressful and taxing, so LW should allow herself to be human in the face of these great difficulties. She may not have enough gas in the tank to take on her sister’s problems or build that relationship. She cannot be superhuman and meet everyone else’s needs. That is an impossible burden to carry.

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  • avatar

    MMcG August 27, 2013, 2:17 pm

    I would be very concerned if I was the LW that this is a situation that could turn into something abusive. I just don’t understand how you do that to your mother who is undergoing chemo.

    That being said, if that’s how mom is being treated and she’s never done or said anything about it – well it isn’t your place to be “the mom” and start telling people what to do. I would be supportive, and keep a very close eye on mom. With the potential for drug abuse I would be really worried about sister doing something with mom’s meds or worse… she can’t change her sister, but maybe talking to her mom and recommending some family therapy for the 2 of them could help.

    It seems like the sister went downhill after the dad left, which is understandable – but it also appears as though mom has bent over backwards to support/enable her without any sort of expectations or boundaries. She’s living at home, no job, no hobbies to speak of – and she can’t even be bothered to care for her ailing mother who is supporting her? Worse, she took over her room and yells at her!?! That’s fucked up… I would be less worried about a relationship with my sister and more worried about my mom at this point.

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    • avatar

      starpattern August 27, 2013, 2:59 pm

      Yeah, I agree with this. I have read through all the comments and am still coming up on the “tough cookies” side of things. It is unacceptable for a grown child to treat a parent (or anyone) this way, especially considering that parent is undergoing cancer treatment. Like you say though, it’s not the LW’s place to overhaul this, and it is unlikely the mom will have the energy to deal with it. All she can really do is lay down the law on what kind of treatment she will personally accept from her sister and keep a close eye on her mom.

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  • avatar

    Bunnycsp August 27, 2013, 2:50 pm

    LW – I think there are a few things that you can do to try and mend fences. For example:
    1.) if you are going somewhere, ask your sister to go -grocery store, out with friends, to the movies.
    2.) Bring up things she would like. Pass along news articles, gossip about shows she likes. show that you pay attention.
    3.) ask her how her day is every day and then really be interested in her. Also, ask about her boyfriend.

    The most important thing about someone liking you is to be “interested” not “interesting”. These are small steps but it will be a good way to build the trust back. If she snaps you can say, “Hey, are we ok?”

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  • Lindsay

    Lindsay August 27, 2013, 6:18 pm

    Stick around for your sister. I know she’s not very nice, but she’s clearly depressed and as rough as it is for you, it’s much rougher for her. One thing that I always used to think about when I had issues with friends was that anyone can be nice to someone who is nice to them, but the point of friendship (or family) is caring about someone even when they do something shitty. Consider how you’d feel if you were lost like she is, would you want your family to stick by you?

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  • avatar

    Sue Jones August 27, 2013, 9:27 pm

    I think that your sister has serious mental health issues. Sadly, if she won’t engage with you or help out, there really is not much you can do. You can look at family therapy/social work if she is open to it, which it sounds like she really is not. But you may broche this as for your mum, etc. At least here, once a person is 18 they can refuse mental health treatment. I would remain cordial and if she doesn’t respond, really that is her loss.

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  • avatar

    Something Random August 28, 2013, 10:10 am

    wws

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