A Letter to My Sister

Dear Sarah,

I’m not sure if I’ll actually decide to give you this letter, but I knew I had to write it either way. I just have to put these thoughts down into words. Even though our family has never been very outwardly affectionate, I have always had a deep well of admiration and love for you for as long as I can remember. We may be pretty close in age, but I’ve looked up to you my entire life. All I ever wanted was for us to be friends, and it means the world to me that we are now.

It’s hard for me to come up with the right way to phrase everything I want to tell you. I guess primarily I just want you to know that most of the aspects of my life that I am now so proud of were introduced to me by you. You are the reason that I draw. If it wasn’t for you, I may have never found an interest in that hobby. I can still remember how good you were with colors and blending even when we were still using crayons. You should see the way I show off the paintings I have of yours to everyone that comes to my house. I know you don’t even use it anymore, but I’ve shown so many people your website. I am just so proud to have such an incredibly talented sister.

Even though mom and grandma raised us, you have always been my primary role model. One of the most influential times in my life was living with you again at mom’s when you came back from Florida. I doubt you’re aware, but a lot of the “self improvement” things you brought back with you during that time shaped the course of my life in the years since then. Remember when I first started writing pages with you every morning? Even though I no longer do that exact practice, that may have been the first daily self care habit I ever had. I can trace back a lot of my beneficial daily routines to that time.

You were even the reason I started doing yoga! Doing those poses in the rec room with you all those years ago was probably the first yoga I ever did. I was so impressed when you showed me that you could plant your palms flat on the ground in a forward fold. It was the first time I realized that maybe yoga really was something regular people could become good at, not just famous internet influencers or people that had practiced it their entire lives. I would have never become a yoga teacher if it wasn’t for you opening that door for me.

Another major part of who I am today that I want to thank you for is veganism. I’m not sure I even knew what a vegan was before you. I know it took me a while to get it, but once I did you were the anchor that kept me sane in the beginning. You showed me so many delicious new options. You were pretty much the one that taught me how to cook, albeit indirectly. Your culinary skills are another thing I can’t help but brag about to everyone I know. I cannot wait to have Nick try the Gross Sandwich. I’m sure I would have struggled so much more with a vegan diet if it wasn’t for you feeding me for the first couple years.

You have so many amazing talents. I am so grateful that I have had you in my life to constantly inspire me and challenge me. I would not be half the person I am today if it weren’t for you. I just want you to know how much I love, admire, and appreciate you. And how much I always have, even when on the surface it seemed as though we didn’t like one another very much. You are an incredible, funny, intelligent, creative, and unique person.

Finally, I want you to know that even if Val and I pressure you to make more art again, the things you create aren’t what give you value. You could never touch a pen or a brush again and I would still love and respect you just as much. I’d still be just as proud to be your sister. I only want you to be happy, because you deserve to be happy. You have no idea how much it fills my heart with joy to know that you’ve found a wonderful man who loves you and can be by your side. Not only that, but the fact that he has an incredible young daughter for you to help raise. Alice is so lucky to have someone like you in her life to learn from and look up to. I guarantee you have already permanently altered the course of her life for the better. She may write you a letter like this herself one day.

With love and gratitude,

Your Sister

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Bonding & Social Anxiety

Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.

Conor Oberst

Probably my favorite man in the world (besides my boyfriend) is the man I work with at my small little three-person office. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever held someone in such high regard. I genuinely view him as a member of my family and I look forward to talking to him every day. If we were closer in age, I’d definitely have a crush on him. Since he’s my parents’ age, I think of him like a father instead. Strangely enough, he and my real father go by the same name.

Earlier when I walked into his office, he was telling another coworker/friend of ours that he had been talking about me with his wife last night. He was telling her about how close we’ve gotten over the last few years and how much he’s grown to love me. I nearly teared up as he listed off my best qualities proudly. I was so close to telling him that I view him as a father, but decided to bite my tongue. Maybe I’ll tell him one day, but not today.

Never having been close to my biological father, seeing him in this way means a lot to me. I honestly have never had a closer, non-sexual relationship with a man before in my life. He has taught me so much. I am filled with admiration and love for him. He’s one of those people that I just mesh with extremely well. He has such an open, accepting, light-hearted aura.

However, despite all of this, I struggle with the warm emotions I feel for him. It is a constant balancing act whenever I start to feel attached to someone. There are only a small handful of people I’ve ever felt strongly enough about to be vulnerable with. Even so, that vulnerability terrifies me. My anxiety tells me I’m not safe, that I’ll only end up getting hurt and rejected if I show the world who I really am. No matter how safe the person may make me feel, that pinching fear in my chest never fully leaves. Even when I so desperately want to be closer, I can’t help but keep myself at arm’s length.

I think when you don’t have personal experience with social anxiety, you imagine it’s only being afraid of negative social interactions such as being humiliated or not knowing what to do or say in a given situation. But actually, positive social situations can be just a stressful. Even after a great moment of intimacy with someone I genuinely care for, I find myself feeling anxious afterwards. Thoughts start to pop up: Did I share too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Do they like me as much as I like them? I feel awkward and embarrassed by getting closer to someone, even when it’s what I want. It’s quite frustrating and isolating as you can imagine.

I think most people in my life notice a striking difference between who I initially present myself to be: cold, distant, quiet, serious, soft-spoken, reserved and who I reveal myself to be later on: warm, loving, sensitive, affectionate, funny, loud, outspoken, passionate. Although most people seem to change once you get to know them better, I don’t think it’s usually as drastic of a difference. I doubt most of the people I am close to even realize how deeply loving and affectionate I can be. I’m just too afraid to be that vulnerable with practically anyone.

It really makes me wonder how different those around me might be from the way they present themselves to the world. I tend to take situations and individuals at face value. I can be pretty gullible and have to make a great effort to integrate the various layers of a person into a cohesive image. That’s one of the many great things about my friend at work. He is not without his flaws, but somehow his flaws make him all the more endearing. Loving someone despite their flaws is such a beautiful and profound thing to experience. Not only that, I am able to see the way he loves others who are deeply flawed themselves. He is open and accepting of just about everyone no matter how different they are from him. Witnessing this in another has helped me so much to come to terms with my own issues.

So for those of you out there also struggling with creating close, meaningful relationships despite your earnest desire to do so, know that you aren’t alone. And for everyone else reading this that may not have much knowledge of social anxiety or mental illness in general, I hope this has given you a new perspective and a better understanding of some of the issues others are going through.

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