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Woman navigates a complicated relationship with her brother. His diagnosis teaches her a lot.

Sasha Im and her brother, Thomas, as kids.
Courtesy of Sasha Im
Sasha Im and her brother, Thomas, as kids.

Sasha Im says her brother, Thomas, was always tired when they were growing up. He would come home from school, drop his backpack on the floor, and sleep for long stretches of time.

During his waking hours, Thomas experienced much more intense emotions.

“When he wasn’t sleeping, he was often kind of angry,” Sasha said. “Kind of violent.”

Once, she recalled, Thomas got angry at her for having peanut butter breath. He shouted and slammed her head into a dresser, giving her a black eye.

“He was remorseful right away,” Sasha said. "There were a couple of other occasions when things like this happened."

Sasha also has sweet memories of her older brother: walking to and from school, learning to ride a bike. “I could hear him behind me, cheering me on,” Sasha said of the day Thomas took off her training wheels. “That’s one of my sweetest memories.”

After Sasha moved to Seattle, an arrest landed her brother in a mental hospital. That’s when Thomas got his diagnosis: he was suffering from bipolar disorder.

“For the first time, we had a name for his condition,” Sasha said.

It was a turning point for Sasha. “I think it just dawned on me at that time,” she said, fighting through tears, “that there was this huge gap between our lives.”

She said it seemed unfathomable that she came from the same family as her older brother, considering their contrasting haves and have nots: “He’s always reminding me how good I have it.”

Listen to the full story above to hear more about this and other lessons Sasha learned through her relationship with her brother.

Sasha Im is a photographer and web strategist in Seattle.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.
Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.