After two weeks of tirelessly working on perfecting my presentation slides and revising my literature review, I’m back to matters of the heart. This week I’m devoting time to working on my family tree which is a essential part of my MA thesis memoir. A few weeks ago I nervously asked my older brother Gianni to share with me his experiences with anxiety and OCD. You see that is something my older brother and I share. Besides our love for the same foods, pickles anyone!? The same sense of humor and the fact that we look so much alike, and of course share the same DNA from our wacky Italian family, the one thing we also share is our diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Why was it important to start with my brother? I chose to start with him because he is the first born in my family. He is the oldest cousin and the very first person in my family to graduate from high school and college. He is and will always be a important branch in my family tree. At the age of 46 he has carved out a very nice life for himself. He works as a PA-C in a reputable drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, is a proud Father, active outdoorsmen, certified personal trainer and a homeowner. He has done quite well for himself and as his little sister I couldn’t be more proud.
I know all of these accomplishments were no easy feat for him because of his battles with anxiety and OCD. He is eight years older then me so I have limited memory to a lot of his sufferings and experiences. Eight years is a large age gap between siblings. We were never in school at the same time and all the milestones he reached I was still far behind. He was always a step ahead due to his older age. Only in our late twenties and when we both reached our thirties did we become closer because the age gap seemed smaller. I finally caught up to my big brother! But from what I do know is that my brother also suffered from the same debilitating symptoms that I did. I needed to know more. I wanted to know more. But of course I was hesitant to ask for fear of being rejected and possibly hurting my brother by awakening old and repressed memories from within him.
To my surprise my brother was more then willing to participate! He said YES with no hesitation. I was elated! I let out a huge sigh of relief! I told him to write out his earliest experiences with OCD and anxiety. To trace his entire life up until this point in his adulthood. How did it manifest? How did he cope? What were specific memories? The highs the lows? He never hesitated or asked me why these specific questions. He just got to work and a few days ago he emailed me the beginnings of what he wrote. I excitedly opened the email. I began to read my brother Gianni’s words. He wrote it in a casual conversational style. In small paragraphs that gave a timeline of sorts as to when his symptoms started. I was immediately transfixed by his honest and raw account. Reading his words reinforced to me how little I really knew about his issues while growing up. But I knew it wasn’t my fault. I was simply too young to remember. Of course I did have memories of some events and troubles that he faced as I got a bit older but having him write it out in his own words was even more powerful then I anticipated.
After reading what he wrote so far I quickly texted him and said: “Thank you, I already feel closer to you.” He responded with a smiling face emoji. He even asked me if what he wrote was okay. He really cared about this. It warmed my heart as a little sister. Currently he is in the process of writing more and adding to the document. Of course I want him to take his time with it and I hope he finds a catharsis from this experience. I always knew my brother was a talented writer. Ultimately, he chose to work in the medical field but I had read some free lance articles years back of what he wrote about OCD and it was amazing! Yet another thing to add to the list of what we have in common. This MA thesis has taken me on quite the journey so far. A unexpected voyage, not only into research and academics but a odyssey of sorts into getting to know myself and my family better, learning to forgive my troubled past, learning each day to embrace my present and continuing to dream big and have faith in my future. Xo