First thing’s first; I want to make it clear that I am not writing this to educate you on PDA. I know nothing about it whatsoever and I refuse to learn about it- but I’ll get to that in a minute. However, I will put a link in the bottom so that if you should wish to educate yourself on the matter, you will have the tools in which to do so.
I am also not writing this to inform you how it feels to have PDA. I do not have it, and any of my behavioural issues stem from a condition called “being a spoilt brat”. (Just in case it’s not obvious, that’s not a real condition and should not be taken seriously… I don’t mean to offend anyone).
I’m writing this to tell you what it’s like to be related to/live with someone with PDA. Well actually, I’m writing this because it’s important to my mama, and my brother; and because I’m tired. Of being the only one who has to be a teenager and deal with this, of being angry all the time, of hurting my brother’s feelings because we can’t get along.
I may have exaggerated when I said I know nothing whatsoever about PDA. Mama tells me titbits about it all the time and she thinks that I don’t listen to her, but they’re there in my head. I just don’t let on that I’m listening; because if I do that, she’ll want to get me involved- take me to conferences and talks, having family heart to hearts, joining groups on Facebook. Quite frankly, she’s lucky I’m doing this.
Please don’t think I’m a bad person who doesn’t care about her brother’s condition, because I do. I really, really do. But this is new to me. Growing up, my brother was just a bad little boy who threw tantrums to get what he wanted; and I hated him. I know that my mama’s reading this right now and is disappointed/ angry with me for saying that I hated my brother, but the fact is that I did. I really, truly loathed him. As much as I’m ashamed to say it, every time I looked at him, I just felt this ball of anger and disgust. I would refer to him as “half a brother too many” to my friends, and they would either be appalled with me or tell me that their sibling was worse. None of them understood just how much I actually meant it when we said we hated our siblings. I knew it wasn’t natural, to despise a sibling that much. I should know- I have seven in total, and I didn’t feel this with any of them.
Back then, before he was diagnosed with anything- even before the dyslexia and dyspraxia- I just saw him as this leech that followed you around and got whatever he wanted with a snap or his fingers or a stamp of his feet. He would cry all the time, and as someone who gets stress related headaches, that’s not a particular quality you can tolerate. He was the reason I couldn’t talk about my friends in detail, or bring home a party bag; because whatever I had, he wanted, and I had to share. I could never go out with my friends without bringing my little brother along. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him around, it was that they didn’t, and I would be torn between choosing friends or family on a daily basis. I also couldn’t hang onto a hobby before he dive-bombed in and claimed it for himself. Lego? His. Ukelele? I had lessons for a year with my school and yet he owns one. Fashion design? Now a potential career for him. I can’t even remember which hobbies I actually enjoy and which I started just to have something to myself. It’s a hard enough job doing that with multiples siblings; even without one that has PDA. I began to enjoy complicated psychological horror films because my brother couldn’t understand the plotlines. Reading, I became obsessed with, because he was dyslexic and couldn’t keep up. Netball, because it’s a ‘girls’ sport’ and he has too much pride to be seen playing it.
Reading this, you’re probably thinking that I was jealous; and you’re right. I still am. I can’t help it. The definition of jealousy is ‘the fear that someone will take what you have for themselves’ and that’s all my brother has ever done.
The reason I don’t want to learn about PDA is because I don’t want to understand it. If I understand PDA, I will empathise with my brother; and if I do that, then all of the hate I had for my brother will transfer onto me. All of the anger and the jealousy will become guilt and regret, and I don’t know if I can handle that. It was so easy to just blame my brother for everything- for example, if I get bad results from my recent GCSEs, I could blame the bad grades on lack of focus during revision, deriving from his outbursts. But if his actions aren’t his fault, then I’m just the girl who grew up resenting her little brother for something that’s out of his control. It would literally be like hating a wheelchair user for not being able to walk up the stairs. Because that’s what PDA is, it’s a disability that prevents him from doing everyday things that we take for granted. I would hate myself more than I ever hated him, and call me selfish, but I don’t want to hate myself. I don’t want to look in the mirror knowing that I’m a bad person.
I realise that I’m not painting a particularly nice picture of myself; but I’m not trying to make myself look good, I’m trying to be honest.
I do try to be a good sister to him, I swear. I would protect him with my life; he’s my brother, of course I would. Sometimes he goes to the local park by himself because no-one wants to come outside with him, so I’ll go along behind with a Frisbee or a football. When he used to have nightmares, I would let him sleep at the other end of my bed so he wouldn’t have to go all the way downstairs to wake mama. On Saturday mornings I used to read to him with my finger running below the words so he could feel like he was reading at the same pace. I once reprimanded an entire classroom full of kids in his year at school because I was in the art room (their tutor room) at lunch prepping some GCSE coursework and they were badmouthing him (clearly too busy to realise that the girl they’d seen talking to him earlier that has the same surname as his written on her art folder just happens to be his sister).
Sometimes my brother can be a really sweet kid. But more often than not, there is no distinguishable difference between the kid and the condition. He’s boisterous all the time, whether we’re getting along or not. He has no sense of priority- he will sit at his computer until he needs to run to the toilet, or is about to pass out from lack of food/drink. He tells lies, and somehow believes them. He seems to make up conversations or pretend some were never held to get his own way. He can cry on demand to act like you hurt him- sometimes even hitting himself so a mark will show up. He has no concept of saving up- he wants to spend his money as soon as he gets it, and complains when he only has enough for little things. He has this knack of twisting situations to suit him. More often than not, I end up in my bedroom just to get away. I’ll sit down on the sofa, and he kicks up a fuss because I’m in his seat. If he comes home from school and I’m watching television, he complains because I’ve been watching it all day and it should be his turn; and yet if it’s the other way around, he’ll just say that it’s not fair for me
There is just so much guilt and resentment involved with PDA. You can either have one or the other, or both, but you never go a day without experiencing one. Say you come home with a good grade. If your parents make a big deal out of it and you feel proud of yourself; the person with PDA feels bad and gets discouraged. That would be when you feel guilt. If your parents play it down so that the person with PDA doesn’t feel bad about themselves, you feel like it’s not important to them, and you feel resentment. That’s the first thing everyone should know about it. Not what causes it, not how many people it affects; the first thing people should know is that for the people who have it and their families, there are no good days. It’s a lose-lose situation no matter what you do. No matter how well you deal with the outburst, someone is always going to be upset. It might be the child with PDA, it might be the scorned sibling, it might be the mother or father who despite their best efforts, get dirty looks from other parents. You just have to wait it out and hope that you stay in contact when you grow up.
My mama thinks that I don’t notice the way other people look her when my brother has an outburst, or the way she gets close to tears when it’s been a long day and my brother just will not go to bed. She had to defer from University for a year because she couldn’t cope with the stress. She had to put her dream on hold because she couldn’t handle the pressure of looking after a hormonal fourteen year old boy with PDA and a stressed sixteen year old girl doing her GCSEs. She lasted a lot longer than I would in her situation. Both my brother and I take our problems out on our mother, we always have. I know we shouldn’t, but it seems as though it’s just one of the things that mothers are there for- fixing your problems that is. Then when they can’t, you just don’t know what to do, so you get upset.
This is all over the place, I know, but there’s just so much to say about it; and once you start it all just comes spilling out.
I don’t know where to go from here, if I’m honest. I suppose I ought to apologise to my mama, I don’t think this is quite what she wanted when she said I should show people how it feels. I don’t mean to insult my brother at all; as frustrating as it is to live with him sometimes, he’s still my brother and I love him.
The main thing I want you to realise though, is that PDA works both ways. That sounds completely ridiculous I know, but to me, my brother had everything, and it wasn’t fair. Now I know that he thinks the same thing about me. I’m told that he doesn’t understand me and the mannerisms that show my emotions, but the fact is, I don’t understand those things about him either. Where I might walk out when I’m angry and need to calm down, he’ll stay close to the person he’s angry at. When I’m told no, I might sigh or roll my eyes, whereas he’ll cover his ears and pretend that nothing was said.
People with PDA have a completely different language, both physically and verbally. I think that if enough people become aware of its existence, maybe that language can be learnt and everyone will be able to sigh with relief in the knowledge that there is a reason for this.
I don’t think there’s anything else for me to say, except that I’m terrified that it will turn out I’m the only sibling feeling this after all. If I am, then I’m sorry, I have no idea what’s wrong with me. If I’m not, then I’m so sorry that you’re going through this too, I know how hard it can be.
Just try not to feel selfish, okay? Because although we don’t have PDA, it is hard for us too.
The promised link: http://www.pdasociety.org.uk/