"On the day of my youngest sister's ninth birthday party," Whitney continued. "I'd been sulking around the house all day, feeling alternately ignored and entirely too hassled, which was pretty much my default setting, even at eleven. My older sister, the social one, was going to ride her bike down to the neighborhood pool to meet some friends and asked me to come along. I didn't want to. I didn't want to be with anyone. If my older sister was friendly, and my younger sister sweet, I was the darkness. Nobody understood my pain. Not even me."
"My older sister got on her bike and headed for the pool, and I started to follow. I always followed, and once we were riding, I started to get angry about it. I was tired of being second. So I turned back. And suddenly, the road was empty ahead of me, this whole new view, all mine. I started to pedal as fast as I could. It was great. Freedom, even the imagined kind, always is. But as I got farther away, and didn't recognize what was ahead of me, I started to realize the distance I was covering. I was still going full speed, away from home, when my front wheel suddenly sank, and I was flying. It's a funny feeling, being suddenly airborne. Just as you realize it, it's over, and your sinking. When I hit the pavement, I heard the bone in my arm break. In the moments afterwards, I could hear the wheel of my bike, ticking as it spun. All I could think was what I always thought, even then: that this was just not fair. To get a taste of freedom, only to instantly be punished for it.
Everything hurt. I closed my eyes, pressing my cheeks to the street, and waited. What for, I didn't know. To be rescued. Or found. But no one came. All I'd ever thought I wanted was to be left alone. Until I was. I don't know how long I lay there before my sister came back for me. I remember staring up at the sky, the clouds moving past, and then hearing her call my name. When she skidded to a stop beside me, she was the last person I wanted to see. And yet, like so many times before and since, the only one I had. She lifted me up and settled me onto her handlebars. I knew I should be grateful to her. But as we pedaled toward home, I was angry. With myself, for falling, and with her for being there to see it. As we came up the driveway, my younger sister, the birthday girl, burst out of the house. When she saw me, my arm dangling useless, she ran back inside yelling for my mother. That was her role, as the youngest. She was the one who told.
My father took me to the emergency room, where the bone was reset. When we got home, the party was almost over, presents unwrapped, the cake just being served. In the pictures taken that day, I am holding my arm over my cast, as if I don't trust it to keep me together. My older sister is on one side, the hero; my younger sister, the birthday girl, on the other. For years, when I looked at that snapshot, all I could see was my broken arm. It was only later that I began to make out other things. Like how my sisters are both smiling and leaning in towards me, while I am, as always, between them.
It was not the last time I would run away from my sisters. Not the last time I thought being alone was preferable. I am still the center sister. But I see it differently now. There has to be a middle. Without it, nothing can ever truly be whole. Because it is not just the space between, but also what holds everything together."
(excerpt from the novel "Just Listen" by Sarah Dessen)
Growing up as the middle child in the family was difficult for me. I didn't know where I fit in, and often felt lost and ignored among my siblings. There are 5 of us. Two older and two younger. I think it was also one of the factors (there were many) that led to the development of my eating disorder. It gave me an identity. A way to cope. Something to focus on and control. Something that was mine - no one else's, and no one could take it away from me. It became my best friend, the thing that I could turn to for comfort. Growing up, I felt like the one who was always doing things wrong, getting in trouble, and making mistakes. The one who would never be as smart, pretty, well-mannered, talented (ect.) as my other siblings. I often felt like I could just slip away and no one would miss me. I don't blame my family. My family was (and is) a close and wonderful family. I think it was my personality, my super-sensitiveness, and feeling lost in all the shuffle that caused me to feel this way.
I don't feel this way as much anymore. Through my years of treatment, I have mended a lot of the feelings that I felt growing up. I know my family loves me, and I know they always have. I know it was really tough for my parents to have a child who struggled so terribly with this illness. And I know it was hard for my siblings to have a sister like this as well. I am grateful that I was able to mend these relationships, and I have never felt closer to my family then I do now. I am grateful for that. But often, I still think about that little girl who felt so lost and forgotten in the shuffle of a big family. The little girl, who then turned into a teenager, and then a young adult - never really knowing where she belonged or who she was. Who became trapped in a deadly eating disorder that hurt her (very nearly killed her!!) and hurt the people around her for much too long. I am healing from this past pain - but I won't forget. I know I can't go back and change things. But that's okay because I know that my past has helped shape me into the person I am today.
I am glad that young girl is finally finding her wings, her voice, her identity, & her purpose in a healthy and positive way. I feel grateful that this young girl is healing and not letting the past define her any longer. This young girl will always be a part of me. But she is growing stronger and more confident every day. She no longer feels lost and forgotten in the shuffle. And for that - I am grateful.