twincerely yours

how being a twin shapes my life

With every hello comes a goodbye

Sorry to my readers for being so MIA this semester- I have been super busy with classes, extracurricular activities, research and joining a sorority! But, I just needed to go back to blogging this afternoon as I just said bye to my sister after an amazing long weekend together.
While so much time has passed so ridiculously quickly without us seeing each other (since the beginning of January when we both went back to our colleges to start second semester), and being so busy, I have not found myself missing her, saying goodbye is always difficult, no matter what. With experience, goodbyes may get easier, but maybe not, who knows? I know my sister is always a phone call away, which makes it easier, but I know I just have to accept the fact that transitioning between moments of being with my twin and without her is always going to be hard.
Nevertheless, it was a wonderful weekend, which I have to be thankful for– she got to meet a lot of my friends and my new sorority lineage too! I loved spending this fun time together, even though she stole my earphones on the way out– but that’s just how twins are.
Cannot wait until the next hello, but for now, just staying positive and focused on how amazing our time together was!

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Not the same person, but how similar are our personalities?!

Just some fun facts about twins and personality: 

  • When researchers examined 123 pairs of identical twins and 127 pairs of fraternal twins in Canada, there was a much higher correlation for the “Big Five” personality traits (that came as no surprise to me… but see graph!)ImageYou may find these two facts more interesting…
  • Twins raised apart were often as similar as or even more similar than twins raised together. (Bouchard et al, 1990)
  • According to research, identical twins become more alike as they get older.

Since I have always thought that twins become more differentiated in interests and passions, and thus may develop different personality traits as they grow older, I found this info worthy of sharing to twins and non-twins! 

 

 

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Taking a look at twins and autism…

I recently wrote a short article for a newsletter for Penn Speaks for Autism that I think most twins and others would be interested in- so I decided to post it on here! Hope you enjoy it…

 

With the increase in the prevalence of autism, everyone is questioning the potential causes of the incidence of this disorder. While most professionals would agree that it is both caused by genetics (nature) and one’s environment (nurture), there is continuous research being done in several disciplines to address the relative contributions of each.

As an identical twin myself, I find twin studies especially interesting and insightful about the roles of nature and nurture. Twin studies look at the presence of a certain disorder in identical twin pairs and fraternal twin pairs. Because identical twins are genetically the same, researchers can determine the heritability (portion of liability attributable to genetic factors) of a disorder if the identical twin pair both present or do not present the symptoms of a disorder. The concordance rate refers to what percentage of the time there is the same trait present in both members of twin pair. It is powerful to compare the concordance rate in identical twins to that in fraternal twins, who do not have the same genes, in order to determine the relative genetic cause.

For autism, three studies in the past demonstrate concordance rates for identical twins as 72% and for fraternal twins as 0%, which has suggested 90% of the causation of autism was due to genetic factors.  Additionally, findings from studies indicate that concordance rates among siblings range from 3 to 14%, implying some environmental cause.

However, a new study, the California Autism Twins Study, was published last November that sheds a completely different light on the nature/nurture debate. This study assessed 192 twin pairs and found a much higher concordance rate than expected in fraternal twins, and lower concordance rate than expected in identical twins. Since the concordance rate was significantly higher in fraternal twins than that in siblings found in previous research, this study suggests the importance of prenatal environment (the environment during pregnancy), as fraternal twins share that environment. The authors suggest that environmental factors common to twins contribute about 55% to the presence of autism, unlike previous findings that heavily supported a genetic cause for autism.

Being a twin is such an integral part of my life, and it is great to know that twin studies have led to progress in the field of autism.

Reference:

Hallmayer J, Cleveland S, Torres A, et al. Genetic Heritability and Shared Environmental Factors Among Twin Pairs With Autism. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(11):1095-1102. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.76.

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Answering “Who am I?”

Recently, I have learned in my psychology class about Erik Erikson’s theory, the stages of psychosocial development, which describes eight stages through which a healthy person passes from infancy to late adulthood. Each stage builds on the previous stage, so that someone will confront a certain challenge during each part of his or her life and battle between two relevant “forces.” While this may seem odd to someone not familiar with psychology, it is very applicable in layperson’s terms as well.

Have you ever heard of a young adult who wishes to be intimate with someone else and marry, but feels isolated while searching for the perfect someone? According to Erikson, this refers to the Intimacy vs. Isolation battle that occurs in young adulthood.

Are you familiar with any senior citizens who question if his or her life was productive and well lived? According to Erikson, this is the stage of one’s life where one confronts the battle between Ego Integrity and Despair, and when one thinks about his or her accomplishments and disappointments.

I digress, but I hope you got my point—now back to what this got me thinking about. Developmentally, Erikson proposes that in adolescence, from ages 13 to 19, people enter an Identity versus Role Confusion phase, where they face a sort of “Identity Crisis.” Most people question during this time of their lives, “Who am I and what will I be?” While every person struggles with this, I wonder how twins are affected in these “shaping of identity” years. Do they instead question: “Who are we and what will we be?”

As a twin, I know that I always felt that my sister and I had the same identity in our high school years, the critical years according to Erikson that one may answer the question of Who am I? For example, as I am home for my fall break from college and went to my old girls cross-country team practice today, I was referred to as Mergler! and asked where’s the other—something I am never asked at college when I am me, not “a Mergler” in my sense of identity.

Since separating for college, which was extraordinarily difficult for me, I have stepped out of this identity crisis, which I first encountered when I was not with my twin. I have found my own unique passions and sense of self; I am proud to say, so has my twin. While we are as close as ever, we both have differentiated ourselves from each other, and no longer do I anticipate “our” future, but “my” future.

The understanding that the identity crisis occurs during adolescence reaffirms my belief that separation is so vital to a healthy individualization during this time. As Erikson outlines his stages within specific years of an individual’s life, I question if a formation of an identity outside of a twinship is necessary within these years, in order for a person to be successful with the other stages later in life. I also wonder how early in a twin’s life this should happen—honestly, I think the fact that I did not truly feel my own sense of identity until now is disheartening, and could have happened earlier if my sister and I were apart for times earlier on in our adolescent years.

This defines the message of my blog, and how being separate but happy is so important for each twin in his or her adolescent years who is trying to answer the frightening question of “Who am I?”

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Visiting and Reconnecting

This weekend was the first weekend that Reid came to visit me at my new home at Penn. I had an amazing time showing her around campus, which is so different from hers, and introducing her to all of my friends. As she was leaving today, we discussed something that may be unique to our relationship or may apply to all twins (I would love to know!).

Always upon first greeting each other, we get on each other’s nerves for little things– this time, it was her complaining about a long day of traveling and having to go to dinner looking gross, and later on, it was me complaining about  her stuff all over my previously neat and organized room. However, after an hour or two, it always feels like we were never apart and as though our lives are in sync. We start to live as one, and rarely fight after that first hour or so. Often, after that first hour or so, we are on the same page with every little thing, and rather than argue, have the exact same ideas/ mindset about what we want. Since we have already had a lot of times of separating/ coming back together again, we have noticed this trend and recognize the oddity in it. Yet, it is wonderful to know that no matter how many times we separate, our bond will never sever and we will always return to that synchronization of our living styles and thoughts. 

Since she knew a lot about my life here through our daily phone calls, it was not as though she was in a foreign land, but rather just placing faces with those she sees in pictures, and buildings/walkways with those she’s heard about countless times– just like I did a few months ago when I visited her at college frequently. We were able to do basically all the things we looked forward to doing, and we enjoyed every second. 

Separating is always a little rough, but it has certainly gotten much easier each time. I loved having my sister visit me, and am grateful to have our moments together and our moments apart as well. 

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How to: Introduce Yourself

Today, I came across a novel concept, an activity when introducing yourself that I find interesting and amusing. Instead of the “share your name, age and interesting fact about yourself” icebreaker, a “positive introduction” could allow someone to give a better insight of oneself to others upon first greetings.

Tomorrow, I will be taking part in the first session of the “Exploration into Positive Psychology” Preceptorial, which for those non-Penn students, is a non-credit small seminar that will meet three times and provide some information about this field of psychology. For this session, the instructor wants us to write a positive introduction: a small anecdote that demonstrates who we are in some small respect which will help us to get to know each other.

Compared to all the mundane icebreakers from which no one remembers even people’s names (especially during orientation), this one seems like an interesting take on self-definitions, that has really got me thinking about how to define oneself. A lot of times, when I present myself, parts of the identity I share are my name, my hometown, my age, and if asked to provide a “fun fact,” my default is always “I am an identical twin.” (surprise, surprise…) However, how are any of these facts self-defining? And you cannot just simply name positive adjectives, i.e. fun, loving, generous, friendly, etc, because then people would be wondering what makes you so full of yourself. Instead, by sharing a small anecdote of your life, the people to whom you are introduced can make their own judgment of whether by that story, you are fun, loving, generous, friendly, etc.

I am really excited to begin this preceptorial tomorrow and see how this introduction idea goes, as it is one fundamental feature of Positive Psychology. It has helped me to realize that instead of “my name, my hometown, my age, and the fact that I am twin” I am me, and I have  qualities that make me unique from the people whom I have yet to meet.  I encourage you all to try this idea at your next meet-and-greet type event!

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Independence, not Dependence

Wow, such changes in my life since my last post. Back to the amazing city of Philly and a great college life– all of this without my sister by my side. It has been wonderful to embrace my independence and to be on my own again; to no longer be dependent on others by knowing myself, and who I am.

As a twin, I think it can be difficult to see being alone as a good thing, but as I have come to realize, time to yourself is so important. At college, I have little time to myself, and I love surrounding myself with people from all different backgrounds and ways of life at meals and in between classes. Yet, I fully enjoy my times alone as peaceful and thought-provoking, whether they are my beautiful, long runs at Penn, or my time reading and doing assignments in my room. Time alone for a twin can at first be scary, lonely, odd, and make she or he feel as though part of him or herself is missing, especially if the twins are usually together 24/7. But, spending time alone is one of the most important growing experiences a twin can have, as it fosters independence and negates dependence on one another.

The fact that two people can be so dependent on each other is unfathomable to the outside world. Even spouses spend time alone and apart from one another. While dependency in some ways can be a good thing (I know I can always depend on my sister anytime of the day), dependency to the point where it is sacrificing one’s independence is not. As twins fascinate me, I have viewed several twins in restaurants, on the street, around school, and elsewhere that seem  to have never even grasped a sense of their independence–they go to college together, they room together, they get jobs at the same place together, they get married together, they have kids the same age, and the story goes on. While society might marvel at such a sight, it is sad to think that these two human beings have never grasped their own sense of independence, and remain so strongly dependent on each other.

That’s why, even though I had a rough time at first separating from my sister and being alone, it was one of the most important decisions I have ever made. As I sit here in my wonderful room in Pennsylvania,  I am happy to be back as an independent individual, and not as the dependent girl I once was.

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Uptown girl…

Walking back up to my apartment on the Upper East Side tonight during this last special week of city living with my sister, we passed a doorman who quietly asked, “Twins?” As this is a usual remark, we said Yep! in unison, as we continued to stroll along in the beautiful night breeze, but then decided to pause for a second or two. He goes, “Me too.” And after he asked the typical Who’s older? and How far apart?, He answered the same questions with “He is, by five minutes.” I did not want to pry, but out of my twin curiosity, I asked “Do you live near each other?” Doorman: “Well no but he works a few blocks away, and every day, we meet in the middle for lunch and then head our separate ways.” My sister and I smiled at this twin connection, and said goodbye, wishing him a good night.

This summer city living has been a remarkable experience of growth and adventure for both of us in our respective positions at work, in our adventurous excursions all over the city, and in our relationship. From the memorable shouting of about 15 high schoolers on a subway of “Are you twins? Oh my gosh!” to just getting stares as we walk around Central Park, it was truly a summer to remember. I don’t know why I am in such a reflective mood tonight, but even earlier, I was trying to remember the dessert I had each night (for anyone who knows me, that is obviously the most important part of my day, especially in summer 🙂 )

Maybe it was the doorman’s remark about his relationship with his brother that got me stirring in thought, but the twin dynamic is just fascinating. We embrace each other’s idiosyncrasies, always standing by each other’s sides, whether on the beach on Long Island or walking up Park Ave.

 

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Beginning with the End

A few weekends ago, I was casually scanning magazines in Barnes & Noble when an article mentioned on the front cover of Psychology Today caught my eye. The article, written by Mary Rockefeller Morgan, a psychotherapist who specializes in twin loss, expresses the writer’s personal story of the tragic loss of her twin and how it was a truly life-changing experience for her.  Before losing her twin, she never considered psychotherapy, but after her healing experience, she decided to return to school to receive her Master’s in Social Work and become a twin loss expert. In the aftermath of 9/11, she formed a Twinless Twin group for twins that lost their twins in the attacks. Her work is truly inspiring.
After reading her story and having heard about her, I decided to contact her, and from our conversation, she told me about her book from which the article was adapted and her website.  I would recommend all to read her book, “Beginning with the End: A Memoir of Twin Loss and Healing,” which she described as much deeper and more meaningful than the article. I recently bought it on Amazon and cannot wait to begin reading it.  In addition, please check out her website: www.beginningwiththeend.com. 
While all experiences with loss are extremely difficult, twin loss is a subject that Ms. Morgan finds “extremely threatening” to most twins. “It is, however a sad fact of life, especially as so many more twins (76% increase since 1980) are being born and twin loss becomes an important subject to  understand for any therapist specializing in working with twins,” said Ms. Morgan in an email.
 
Even though thankfully it is outside my realm of understanding, my heart goes out to all who have suffered through losing their twin. Ms. Morgan’s work is so important, and I thank her for all she does. 
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Different Destinations

            Seven months ago, when I was facing difficulty over being attached to my twin, I would have never fathomed that I would have been able to go one day without speaking/texting/facebook chatting my sister, but this week, I proved myself otherwise.

            Reid spent the last twelve days in Israel on Birthright—a trip we were supposed to go on together, but which I backed out of because of the date interference with the beginning of my internship. She actually was supposed to go in January, but since I wanted to spend the time we both had home together, I asked if she could wait until the summer. Thus, she did and we worked on getting on a trip together, yet life gets in the way. I am definitely happy it did though.

            While it would have been special to go on this trip together, I think this trip was even more significant, as it was the first time Reid and I have not shared a travel adventure together. Additionally and probably more meaningful to me, we were out of contact with each other for basically the entire time, except for when she called me and calling her back, she picks up saying “I’m on a camel, got to go.” I did miss hearing her voice and telling each other little, insignificant details of each other’s days, yet I did not feel like I NEEDED it which is good to know as a twin. It also helped that I was really busy at my internship and seeing friends almost every night, so never really had time to dwell on it, but I still think it was progress from how it was seven months ago.

            Also, as I have noted in another blog post, twins often find the need to compare everything they do. But, I feel as our lives become more differentiated, the lack of grounds on which to compare makes it impossible. Due to this lack of matching in our lives, such a healthier relationship exists between the two of us where competition does not exist, and we can be truly happy for each other. Just as she was on a camel in the middle of the day, I was on a train in the middle of a morning commute. She was eating falafel, shwarma, and Israeli salad for lunch as I was passing by the halal stands in New York City.  She was in Israel on a trip of a lifetime; I was in New York at an internship of my dreams.  This uniqueness about each of our experiences makes it more difficult to be jealous of or competitive with one another, both feelings that often plague relationships between twins.

            When she got home at 5:30 this morning, and woke me up at 7, even though I got 5 hours of sleep last night, I heard some of her stories of the past ten days, as she did mine. We had A LOT of catching up to do which took place throughout the day, but we’ve both had an amazing two weeks.  As I heard her stories, I was not at all jealous that I could not go on the trip; I know I’ll do a Birthright trip eventually. As she heard my stories, she was looking forward to her next eight weeks of city life, as she begins her internship. We both were equally happy for each other, and we were at a destination where competition and jealousy do not exist.  

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