Growing up, I was the one who looked up to everyone: 5 siblings, my parents, tons of older cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I had idolized many of them. Now that I’m becoming an adult, despite 23 not being old (even though I feel it sometimes), I feel like I’m in their position. Sitting higher than the generation below me for them to watch for action. Like a leader leading her knights into a battle. And I especially feel like that when it involves my niece or nephew because they are all going through those impressionable ages that children go through.
But being on that higher ground, is probably the bravest and safest thing I’ve done. My niece has been there for everything. She was born about 2 years before my diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder. I would sleep on the living room floor and wake up every morning to her sitting against my body with SpongeBob on the TV. And we’d just lay there, watching it until everyone else woke up in the house. And I loved her even deeper for that because I think even back then I was lacking motivation to continue with life. But each morning, waking up to my niece laying against me, gave me the strength to actually get up off the floor eventually. Almost as if I didn't want her to see me laying on the ground when I should be up and playing games with her like I usually would.
When I was put in the psychiatric ward at the local hospital for a couple days at one of my lowest points after my diagnosis, I would sit in my room there and think to myself. It was October and October meant Halloween. I remember it being close to Halloween and I couldn’t stand it because this was like a top holiday for kids. It didn’t matter if I was lactose intolerant and couldn’t eat anything but the Twizzlers out of my niece’s bag, because we worked a deal. I kept the candy from her father’s, my brother, grasp and I got the Twizzlers. So, I was miserable up there because not only was that my first time with just unfamiliar people but I felt like I couldn’t keep my promise to my niece. Which, if anyone knows me, is just a no-no in my world.
I started working on myself with my niece in mind and getting better so I could be released in time to help my niece with Halloween. I thought, “How can I be a role model to her if I’m sitting in this room, crying all day and just suffering? What type of role model is that? What if she grows up and inherits the same genes? What if she gets diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder?” I gave myself a reason to continue and I pushed on. About a day and a half after these thoughts started, I was released. I, of course, immediately went and got some food because me and hospital food don’t mix. Don’t blame me! I grew up with an Italian grandmother and a German grandmother. Plus, if I saw tuna and cups of fruit again (which I never ate to begin with), I might have been there longer for throwing the cup of fruit at the wall.
I went home and my niece, at the time, was around 4. She and her mom, who is my best friend outside of my blood-related family, were making pancakes. I put my brother’s school bag on the floor and I felt her little arms around my thighs. I picked her up and I had to stop myself from crying because my niece is everything to me. She saved me then, without even knowing it. Because I thought to myself, if she ever has issues in the future, I wouldn’t want her to look back and think “my aunt gave up. Someone who was there almost every day for my earliest years gave up.” I would want her to think, “My aunt has gone through this, if not worse or maybe better but she understands. She survived. I can survive.”
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