Nearing, who works on community engagement at Long Wharf Theatre, talked about how personality conflicts with her sister eventually became a source of strength in their fraught relationship.
Nearing’s sister, Gina, who is two years older, is more reserved than Nearing, who described herself as the only extrovert in a family of introverts. Nearing loves the theater; her sister loves science. Nearing talks about her problems and lives her life outwardly; her sister is much more reserved.
“She needs to escape. I need to dig deeper,” Nearing said. Her sister needs to engage with problems in a solitary, detached fashion, while Nearing prefers to do it emotionally and in public.
Nearing said their conflicts went further back than she could remember, originating when as a toddler she “stabbed her [sister] in the ankle with a fork.”
When her sister went to middle school, Nearing found the change hard. Her sister stopped playing with her, and Nearing would sometimes sit outside of her door hoping for her sister’s attention.
Soon after Nearing fell into adolescent depression. She said she is driven to understand her ailments, so she researched adolescent depression. She even gave a presentation on mental illness to her seventh-grade class.
Her sister, meanwhile, thought Nearing’s depression was a form of attention-seeking behavior. When Nearing developed an anxiety disorder at age 15 her sister’s suspicions only deepened.
The conflict between the two sisters’ ways of interacting with the world came to a head the night Nearing’s sister was to leave for college. Nearing had a massive anxiety attack at two in the morning; her sister just rolled her eyes.
They would not reconcile with each other until Nearing’s sister developed a similar anxiety disorder while working at a robotics internship after her junior year in college. Still, they fought, arguing endlessly on the phone. Slowly, two steps forward and one step back, they approached reconciliation.
Then disaster struck. Nearing was hit by a car. Her father was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Her mother underwent a major hip surgery, and the family’s three dogs died, all in the last year or so.
Nearing’s sister called her every day. Sometimes they fought, and sometimes they were able to plan a more effective response to the family’s crises, with Nearing focusing on short-term consequences and immediate emotional health, and her sister looking after longer-term logistical issues. Over the holidays Nearing and her sister helped their parents deal with the strain of medical crises and the sudden deaths of their three dogs.
On their most recent night together in 2017, Nearing and her sister built a pillow fort, playing as though they were children again.
She said her fights with her sister taught her that opposing strengths and weaknesses don’t always have to be a source of conflict in relationships.
“The push-pull conflicts can become something really beautiful,” Nearing said.
Making The Grade