My bipolar sister: one in a million

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Photo for a story, 'my bipolar sister.' A beautiful warm photo of an African-American dad and his two young daughters posing together for a portrait. The dad is smiling and the older daughter is laughing.

My bipolar sister: one in a million" is a true story about the effects of bipolar disorder on my sister and my small family unit.

My sister has bipolar disorder

Aaliyah was standing opposite her kneeling dad.

"How long till there’s a fruit?" she asked her hand on her hip and a booted foot poised on the spade.

"At least a few years, and that’s if fruit grows at all," he replied.

Her brows furrowed, and her widened eyes glanced at him as he happened to look up. He started talking about how not everything happens instantaneously and how the result of their labor would be worth it in the end. As he was speaking, her eyes darted around the garden while she nodded. She wasn’t listening, and she didn’t like it when he started waxing on about the way of the world.

She could tell by the heavy-handed urgency in his voice that he was really thinking about Mary. He was thinking about what more he could do to protect her. He was thinking about where he went wrong. He was thinking about how this time would be different. And he was thinking about how long it would be before they lost her again. 

Mary was Aaliyah’s older sister. She’d somehow been born with straight hair, which Aaliyah had envied forever, trying to tame the tight curls her scalp had seemingly been cursed with. Mary’s long hair hung down her back until it reached the tops of her elbows. She used to adorn it with clips from Aunt Sylvia’s hair shop or with ribbons plaited into it. Though last time Aaliyah saw Mary, her hair was badly matted.

Mary was Aaliyah’s older sister in numbers only. Aaliyah felt responsible for Mary. The weight of being someone who cared about Mary had fallen onto Aaliyah’s shoulders when she was just shy of twelve: Mary got ill with bipolar disorder for the first time. The weight – to sever Mary from her reality, to clip her wings, to haul her back down to earth – was a labor of love that few could bear. Indignant, Aaliyah had watched as Mary’s host of childhood friends dropped off one by one. In her heart of hearts, Aaliyah couldn’t blame them. Caring hurt you. And losing friends was the price.

She had been hurt beyond words when they realized that Mary had been secreting her pills. The fallout had hit Aaliyah and their mum and dad, but it did not hit Mary, for Mary was chortling and skipping. It was only when those strangers came for Mary that Mary started howling. They came for her, and they would not listen to her dad. They bundled her into the back of an ambulance, and then they drove her away.

Aaliyah’s dad heaved himself up after he patted down and consolidated the loose clumps of soil. He brushed the dirt off his trousers and nodded at Aaliyah. She put the spade, and he put the gloves and plant pot into the garage. They both changed clothes, and then they got into the car.

Aaliyah’s mum was at work, but today they were going to pick up Mary from this latest admission to a psych ward. Her fifth spell in as many years. It was almost as though she was a permanent resident at the hospital and took her sojourns at home. It was hard to confine her to a steady civilian life. She was too bold, too blazing. Her joy made the air crack with electricity. Her rippling laughter lifted you from seriousness and inflected you with gaiety. Her arms wrapped you into earthy hugs. Her smile inspired confidence.

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"How’s Mary been since Wednesday?" enquired Aaliyah’s dad as they were being escorted to her room.

"Mary’s been well," said the healthcare assistant. "Her eating and sleeping have been good, and she’s been interacting well with other patients and staff, which is what you want. But, honestly, you needn’t worry at all, Mr. Brown, we’ve got her in safe hands here."

Aaliyah reflected that her dad was justified in his concerns. The last time Mary had been released from the hospital, it had seemed as though they had discharged her at their earliest convenience.

After they got home, Dad realized something was wrong when Mary started mumbling random, inchoate sentences. And hollow-eyed, she asked anybody who would listen if she would be alright.

But Aaliyah knew that no matter what state Mary was in today, it was going to be a difficult journey. Gone would be the security of fifteen-minute check-ups and having everything that she could possibly hurt herself with removed.

Inhaling, Aaliyah walked through the doorway into Mary’s room, wishing that love alone could save her.

Article by
Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell was born in 1996 in Derbyshire, UK, and is an English undergraduate at Oxford University. She has had a short story and a couple of poems featured in student magazines.


"My sister has bipolar disorder" | Photo: Jade Lilly/Behance Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0