A Story of Tough Love (part 5) The End.

The years passed by and got more and more mature, I turned 20, 21, 22…I moved to Havana with the help of my dear friend Debra. I started developing my career, traveling out of the country, learning from other cultures and then I got married,  to a Psychologist.  Yamel and I were not meant to be together forever but I have to say that he helped me a lot in different ways, he specially helped me understand a lot about the human mind. I read all his books and we used to have long conversations about my sister. I told him something that I never thought it was that important but for some reason it came to mind and I just told him and here I will tell you now:

 One day when my sister and I were together waiting for the train she started crying, I didn’t know why so I asked her what was going on. She couldn’t stop crying and finally she was able to articulate some ideas. She said: I hate myself, I hate myself so much, you have no idea. You can’t even imagine how much I hurt you when you were very little. When Mom went to work at night and she left you with me you started crying and I just hated that so I hurt you but nobody knew anything and then I felt horrible but I couldn’t tell anybody. I just hugged her and said: come on Ileana! I was just a baby, I can’t even remember anything. Forget about that, I love you and I forgive you for whatever you did to me when you were a baby. Come one, stop crying, that’s silly.

 But Yamel made me think in a competly different way when I told him this story. He thought that maybe that was the key to the door that was keeping my sister locked inside a world of guilt. He showed me a new way to look at why my sister had the tendency to reject me. He thought that I was just too perfect with my sister because I never got mad at her, I never did anything mean to her, I never said anything offensive to her so with every good action that I did for her, with every beautiful gesture, with every little bit of love I gave her she only felt more and more imperfect. This made lots of sense to me. I remember that around the time when these ideas came out my sister started calling me on the phone and saying offensive things to me. She desperately wanted me to be mad at her but as always, I just showed her love the way I had done since I was a little girl.

 Then one day I realized that somehow, I was being selfish, because I just wanted to give my sister love no matter what. It made me happy to give her love but not for one second I thought about what that love was doing to her. I was hurting her. I was making her feel imperfect, guilty and miserable. A normal person would had felt differently in her situation of course, because it is hard not to enjoy it when people show you love, but in her particular mind the love equation was a different one. That’s when I had to think outside the box.

 It took me about a year to process my new ideas, to observe how my love was hurting Ileana but also myself and to understand that I had to make a tough-love decision. After that year putting all my ideas together in a way that made sense to me one hundred percent I was ready for the most extreme thing that I ever did with one of my relatives, I had to stop talking to her, not for a month or a year but forever, for the rest of my life, that was going to be my way to set her free. And it worked. I wrote her a letter pretending that I was so mad at her for all those years, for all the things that she did to everybody and myself…She knew how much I loved her and I am sure that she thought: Elsita will be back. But I never did, even when I had doubts about my decision, I never did because I knew that my return was going to make her world collapse.

 And today I am happy to say that somehow, that was the miracle that I always waited for. Who could imagine that the magic was going to come from myself and from my own decision to stop talking to my sister? She immediately changed, it was as if someone had taken a huge weigh away from her, she felt completely liberated. I can’t say that her mental illness went away but it is a fact that her crisis have stayed pretty much under control for all these years. The quality of her emotional life improved and the best thing is that our connection have stayed alive anyway but now through my Mom. I still help my sister through my Mom, I send her money once in a while. I know everything about her, how she is doing, how she is feeling. At the same time she talks with my Mom about me, she knows everything about my life and about Natalie and Diego and Bill and Miro.

The relationship between my sister and I has been one of the most amazing schools that I ever went through, I learned so much. And one of the most important things that I learned is that love is the most powerful thing ever and it sometimes manifests in the most unexpected ways. Human nature is a mystery and it is also something beautiful even in its darkest side. No matter how hard life is sometimes, no matter how much pain we have to carry with us, no matter how much we lose, in the end  there is always one single thing that has the power to keep us going and creating and giving and that is LOVE. As long as we let love have a big space in our hearts and souls everything will always be OK. 

I want to thank you so very much for letting me share this story with you, it means a lot to me. All my best for you and your loved ones!

Elsita :)

A Story of Tough Love (part 4)

When my niece was born I became a mini Mother myself. All I wanted was to make her happy.  I made her dolls out of corn and primitive materials. She loved them.  And I also remember how I introduced her to sweets :) She grew up fast and by the time she was three (just like Diego now) we became really close to each other. Everyday on my way home from school I stopped by some candy store to get her sweets. When I got home she came running as soon as she saw me. What a wonderful experience that was! I remember everything so well. But very painfully, our bond was broken because my niece’s father had to take her away from my sister; he moved back to Havana with my niece. This was an extremely hard thing for him to do but it had to be done because Ileana went back to her severe crisis and it wasn’t safe for the baby to be around her. This was devastating for my sister as you can imagine as well as for everyone else in our family. Some time after this, my niece’s Dad got married and together with his wife he raised Graciela, I didn’t see her for years.

 After some period of crisis and depression my sister had to go back to electroshock therapy as the only resource that she had for stopping her suffering. This time it was her own decision to do so and soon she was better again.  Then she got pregnant for the second time, the father was a wonderful man. We love him very much up to this day. Very soon a beautiful baby boy was born, Alejandro, my dear nephew who is the most loving person ever. A few years after Alejandro came out to the world I was already having a life on my own. I left home because I felt that I needed to start my own life away from everything and  my Mom supported me one hundred percent. She was so strong by letting me go, it broke her heart but she knew that I was making the right decision.

 During the first few years away from my family some things happened; Ileana separated from Alejandro’s Dad and she had her last baby named Adrian. Adrian’s father was (and is) also a wonderful man. By the time she had Adrian Ileana was a much better Mother, the boys gave her so much love and they were so mature and understanding about her Mom’s illness. It was hard for them as you can imagine but fortunately they made a great difference in Ileana’s life up to this day.

 From the distance, I just wanted to take care of my sister and my nephews in every possible way. I was very poor but anytime when I made some little money selling my crafts I sent them part of that money. I wrote my sister long letters full of love and hope and support. Whenever I had a chance I visited her and I also invited her to visit me. But no matter what I did or how much effort I put into helping my sister, her response was most of the times negative. The more I did for her the more she rejected me and I don’t think that she was so aware of that.

 I never got mad at her, ever, even when she did pretty crazy things to me. Like for example; one day she offered to cut my hair, I said OK so she started doing it. I realized that she was cutting too much hair so I asked her not to cut too much. But then she started laughing and before I could do anything about it I was almost bald. In fact, to fix the problem she had to cut all of my hair so short that I looked bald. When I took the bus next day I heard two old ladies talking about me: poor girl, she has cancer (I heard one of them say) and then they looked at me with a sympathetic smile. But I just smiled back and thought: if they only knew that all I have is a Schizophrenic sister! I found the whole thing so funny, I wasn’t worry about my bald head and I wasn’t mad at my sister at all. How could I be mad at someone that I loved so much? How could I be mad at someone that I saw suffer so much for so long?  My hair was going to grow again so that wasn’t a big deal. Was her healthy mind going to be back one day?

 (Tomorrow I will write my last post about this story)

 Have a great day!


A Story of Tough Love (part 3)

Ileana and Eduardo were happy for a short amount of time. Love kept them connected until  Ileana’s illness took over her life again and this time in a more dramatic way.  She became aggressive towards herself and other people, including Eduardo and she just stopped being the woman that he had married in the beautiful ceremony. There was a major problem and that was that Ileana refused to take her medications and she insisted that she didn’t need them at all. This was a real problem, we knew that the consequences were going to be extreme and that’s exactly what happened.

 After a serious suicide attempt my sister ended up in the hospital. This time the Doctors were not sure if she was going to survive so my Mom started preparing herself,  my brother Alex and I for the worst event possible. I can’t even tell you how afraid I was, how scared and confused. I could not imagine our lives without Ileana and all I wanted was a miracle to save her. All I did at school was to look at my classroom door. I imagined the principal showing up and asking me to come outside because she had some terrible news to tell me. Every time when that door opened I almost had a heart attack. Thank God Ileana did survive, but her life was not going to be the same anymore because around that time a new kind of therapy started for her; one of the most extreme, painful and polemic kind of therapy up to this day: Electroshock. The word describes exactly what this treatment is all about.

 My Mom had to make a serious decision between letting my sister keep going without medication, which was going to be for sure the end of her life, or start electroshock therapy to keep her alive. She decided to keep her alive no matter what and I think that every mother in her situation would have done the same thing.  So my sister started her series of ECT soon after that. Those electroshocks were something terrible, not only for Ileana who had to experience them in her own body, but for my Mom who decided to stay in the room in order to hold my sister’s hand while she was going through the treatment. I am thankful that I never had to see that in person but I suffered it anyway through my Mom who came home devastated after every session and through my sister who didn’t recognize my bother Alex or myself until her brain recovered from the electric impact, this took hours and sometimes days. But the treatment did help her. She slowly recovered and found herself in a safer place.

 Ileana got divorced and started some new relationships but each one was difficult for her to keep. Each partner was patient and loving but they left as soon as they realized that the relationship was a real challenge.  Then one day she fell in love again, deeply in love, with someone special. He was an English teacher from Havana, the capital. He was doing some work in a province where Ileana happened to be at the time and they met and fell in love. Then, some time after being in this relationship something unexpected happened:  she got pregnant. We didn’t know how to take this news. Was she going to be able to take care of a baby? Was she going to be a good Mother. Was the baby going to be healthy? Before we even had time to process the idea of this pregnancy Ileana and Irmino decided to keep the baby. Her tummy started growing and a beautiful, healthy baby girl was born.  My niece Graciela, this tiny girl that I loved with all my heart from day number one when I saw her little face. 

(I will continue tomorrow)

Have a great Tuesday my friend,


A Story of Tough Love (part 2)

After that day when my sister left her first suicidal note everyone in the family knew that something was terribly wrong with Ileana so my Mom and Dad took her to the Psychiatrist immediately. For the first time ever my sister had the opportunity to share with a professional all the things that were in her head. She talked about voices asking her to do certain things, about impulses that she could not control, about being obsessed with ideas that didn’t make any sense, about not trusting people around her. At that point she clearly understood how her mind was taking over her life and she hated it. It was as if her mind was becoming a second person within her body. She was really articulated about explaining all these things and that helped the Doctor start a profile that later turned into a diagnosis: Paranoid Schizophrenia. That was exactly the final answer to my sister’s transformation, two words that broke our family world in one million pieces.

 The Doctor explained that there was no cure for this mental illness and that the only thing that it could be done was to keep her under medication and to watch her closely because real suicidal attempts were very likely to happen in the future. Everybody wanted to believe that the Doctor was wrong, that maybe something was going to change, that maybe because my sister was so smart she was going to be able to control her own mind but again, all these ideas were wrong and very soon reality started showing us the darkest side of my sister’s condition.

 After the final diagnosis, every member of our family had to go through life with a deep pain and each one of us coped with that pain in a completely different way. I would need to write a book just to explain how my sister’s condition affected each one of the members of our family, specially my oldest brother Rene, my Mom and my Dad. I remember how the atmosphere at home became more difficult everyday.  I remember arguments, sadness and fear. The fear to lose Ileana made us forget about other things that were also very important in our lives, but at the same time that fear became the thread that kept us all connected.

 The suicidal attempts started happening and gradually they became something regular. Every single time that my sister attempted to commit suicide it was a traumatic experience for all of us. My Mom had to spend half of her life in the hospital with my sister and the other half working hard and taking care of the other children. Eventually, the pressure on my Mom and Dad was so deep that their marriage deteriorated at the point where they couldn’t save their relationship so the divorce became the final solution. The divorce was devastating as you can imagine but we had to keep going. 

 In the middle of everything falling apart in our lives my younger brother Alex and I became role models. We just wanted to be perfect, do everything perfect so my Mom had something to be happy about. We did great at school, we did great at home and we just became adults a lot sooner than we were supposed to. We became my Mom’s pride and hope in the future. Alex and I were so lucky to find our vocations early in our lives. We both went to art school, my brother Alex studied music and I studied visual arts. In the meantime our older brother Rene went to school far away from the family, my Dad became a distant (but loved) figure and my sister Ileana started having some periods of peace. Her crisis were a little less frequent and then something wonderful happened: she got married. 

My sister fell in love with Eduardo (my art teacher) who was the sweetest guy ever. He was skinny and had long hair. I always thought that they were the cuban version of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, that's how cool they looked together. Eduardo was crazy in love with Ileana and she was crazy in love with him. They got married in a beautiful weeding that I remember as one of the happiest days of my life as a child. I think that it was the very first time in years that I had seen so many members of our family in the same place; Mom, Dad, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and also neighbors wearing their best outfits. We were so sure that this was the miracle that everybody was waiting for, we thought that Ileana was going to find her cure in love. In my  imagination I saw Eduardo singing All you Need is Love to my sister, holding hands and walking in a beautiful flower garden. To me, Eduardo was a real John Lennon because he was changing the world (our family world) with his love.

(I will continue tomorrow)

Have a great Monday!


A Story of Tough Love (part 1)

Dear friend, as I promised yesterday I am going to tell you the full story about my sister and I and about why we haven’t talked to each  other for more than 10 years. I am going to need more than one post to tell you everything so here I go:

 When I was a little girl my hero number one was my older sister and I just wanted to be like her. From the beginning I was aware about how different my sister was, to me she was so amazing and wonderful: a real genius. She was funny, creative and she did everything in a way that it didn’t look “regular”. Everything that Ileana touched became special. She was always transforming everything around her, her clothes, her shoes. She cut her own hair and everybody’s hair at home, she had the best sense of humor and she was so smart. She introduced me to books and poetry and she didn’t even know that she was doing so because in her opinion she wasn’t anything special.

 My sister was like my second mother because technically, she  raised my younger brother Alexander and I.  My Mom had to work late at night in all her hard jobs so Ileana had to stay home and take care of her younger siblings and that was the beginning of this story. Ileana was a person that needed special attention, she craved love and affection, it was as if there was a huge hole in her heart that could never be filled with enough love but she had to take care of her siblings so she had to give so much of herself to us that I think at some point she felt empty. She was the best entertainer ever. I remember how she used to paint her face in funny ways in order to make us laugh. She also drew and sang beautifully, the kind of music that she liked was opera music so you could hear her amazing voice and think: how can she sound like that??? She was so fascinating!

 Life was so hard for all of us back then, I can’t tell you enough about it. Our house was so poor and my Mom was so tired of working so hard. She got home and then she had to keep working in order to keep all of us going. Back then my sister Ileana was considered an adult because her responsibilities were too many and too serious, she never had time to be a child or even a teenager, she was almost born an adult. I remember when she had her first boyfriend, one day he secretly came to our home when Mom was at work and I loved him, he was so nice with us. I had to help him come into the house from the back door so nobody could see him. It was all very innocent, he just came to talk and he was so respectful and polite. But then, our neighbor told my Mom that she had seen a young man in our home when my Mom was working and my Mom went crazy, she was so mad at my sister for doing that. And I went even more crazy because there was nothing wrong with it and all I did was protect my sister and try to calm my Mom down. I think that from that day on something switched between my sister and I. I became the adult and she became the child. From that day on I felt as if I had to protect her and take care of her.

 She started changing quickly and it was so devastating for me to watch. By the time she was 16 her hair was so beautiful, straight and long and perfect. I was so proud of her beautiful dark hair, but one day after she came back from school she got some scissors and started cutting her hair little by little. I was sitting next to her very quiet, just observing, I didn’t say anything because she was always so strong about whatever she did so I just let her do it. When she was done it was as if a new person was taking over her . She cut her hair in a crazy way. Some parts were very short and some parts were long. She looked like a crazy person. I was so serious but then she started laughing so much, as if she had just done the most fun thing ever. I was scared because I realized that something wrong was going on. When my mom saw her like that later it was another war: HOW COULD YOU DO THAT ILEANA! ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? THAT IS JUST CRAZY! And yes, nobody could imagine than in fact, she was just crossing that line between sanity and insanity.

 The day when her mental deterioration became clear was when she left a suicidal note on the kitchen table. She wrote something like this: Mom, but the time you read this note I am not going to be alive anymore, Good-Bye. Ileana. As you can imagine my Mom was in shock, she was so scared that she immediately started looking for her at the police station, the hospital etc. but then she run to her school to see if someone had seen her. When she got there she saw my sister looking totally OK. Ileana looked at my Mom with a smile as if everything was just fine. My Mom could’t underdtand if that was just a very bad joke or if in fact my sister was becoming a victim of some mental illness that was making her do something like that. Very unfortunately it was not a joke.

(I will continue on Monday)

Now I need to go but I hope that you have a great Friday and a peaceful weekend.

Lots of love!

Elsita :)