Watching my 18 month old son cry as I leave him with his childminder, is one of the hardest things I’ve experienced as a mum. He is usually fine after I’ve left and his lovely childminder distracts him with toys or other activities. She has told me this is the only time during the day he cries. Separation anxiety at his age is normal and I suppose it would be more worrying if he wasn’t bothered about his mother leaving him!
Here’s the thing, I wasn’t that bothered about being apart from my mum or dad when I was little since I was usually with my identical twin sister. We were always playing together, at nursery together, we even shared a bedroom. We were in the same class at primary school and had mutual friends. There weren’t many moments when we weren’t in each other’s company.
We shared our thoughts, fears and excitement with each other. When you’re an identical twin your identity in your younger years is so linked together. Strangers notice you because you’re twins and want to talk to you about it. You are constantly referred to as ‘the twins’ or ‘double trouble’ so you begin to think of yourselves as a unit.
My first memory of separation anxiety was when I was 7 or 8 . I went to school on my own since my sister was ill, then onto a friend’s house after school while my mum took my sister to the doctors. It was odd, I remember my tummy feeling unsettled and constantly thinking about my sister. I was tearful and I felt uneasy and withdrew into myself, I remember my friend’s mum asking me if I was ok, since I was being so quiet, which was unusual! Running to my mum when she arrived, I just wanted to get in the car and be with my sister. The overriding feeling was that everything would be ok when I could see her and be near her again.
Looking back there are other moments when I definitely felt anxiety from being apart from my sister but I didn’t connect it at the time. The worst being we left home to go to University. I went to Manchester, the plan had been for my to go to Sheffield so we could visit each other easily but she instead she went to The University of East Anglia, in Norwich. Leaving home was obviously a wrench but my go-to person that provided support and reassurance had gone as well. Our default response would have been to talk to each other face-to-face and face some of the new situations together but we couldn’t this time.
We had some tearful conversations on the phone in our shared halls but it wasn’t the same. I just remember feeling overwhelmed. Being across the country from each other meant we didn’t see each other as much as we wanted but in hindsight this was a good thing, we became individuals, made separate friends and began to figure out who we were when the other one wasn’t around.
Everything changed again when I returned from university and went home to live with my parents. My sister having finished her law degree went onto law school and didn’t return home until the year after. It was a shock to the system, living in the family home without my sibling, feeling like an only child. It’s really hard to articulate but something just felt off, it was too quiet or having my parents focus all their attention on me, felt too intrusive. I’m sure a lot of the unease also came from leaving friends behind from university and not having a secured my first full-time job yet but not having my sister around definitely made it feel harder.
It got easier once she returned home and we both began working in our respect careers, mine in marketing and hers in law. Suddenly, it felt like we were back on the same track again, sharing experiences like making new work friends and throwing ourselves into our full-time jobs. After a couple of years when we were 24, my sister left home again and moved in with her boyfriend. It felt different this time, we were both ready for it, my job was keeping me busy and we were progressing onto the next stage of our lives. We gradually went from being each other’s best friends, companions and confidants to being sisters who are still close but very much have their own lives.