Best Friends Forever!

My dear friend J called me this past weekend to check in. She is my crazy friend. Not crazy as in “ha ha” but crazy as in living with a mental illness. I am not making fun of her. She occasionally calls herself crazy.

We have been friends since we were in our twenties. We worked for the same company and in the same department. We were the same age and single so we became fast friends – lifelong friends, through thick and thin friends.

J was always a little different. I thought of her as eccentric. As the years went by, her eccentricity became pronounced. Sometimes I didn’t understand her logic or her paranoia. As an example, she was traveling to a field office with our department head. He lived about five blocks from her apartment complex. He was driving. She had him pick her up about six blocks from her apartment in the other direction.

If you think about it, it made no sense. She had to walk there at 7 a.m. in the morning and she had him drive out of his way to pick her up. When I asked her why, she said she didn’t want him to know where she lived.

Aside from the fact that he wasn’t that kind of guy, he was her boss and he had access to her personnel file which contained…yes, you guessed it…her address! He was married with kids and not interested in affairs with younger subordinates (or anyone else for that matter). It would have been shorter to walk to his house.

She had a thing about locking doors. I know you are saying that’s a good thing but not always. We were on my back yard patio which was small. She kept locking the door even though we were within 15 feet of it all the time. She almost locked us out. At the time I slept with the windows open! (It was the ’70s! I don’t do that now unless I’m on the second floor.)

I have a lot of stories like this. Ultimately, when she was in her early 30s she became very ill. The kind of ill where you can’t get out of bed for days and weeks at a time. I thought it was depression but she had manic periods too. Her doctors tried every psychotic drug there was even electric shock treatments. I thought that was outlawed but it is still used for severe cases. Nothing helped and some of the drugs had nasty side effects.

She became very isolated with few friends. It was hard to be her friend. She didn’t answer her phone and you never were sure how she was doing. Her mother lived an hour away and sometimes I checked in with her. All of us felt inadequate.

After eight years, she did find a treatment that helped to some extent. She was part of a clinical trial. The drug moderated her moods and she was able to function. She would never be able to manage a full-time job. She dabbled in part-time jobs as a child care worker, at flea markets and selling craft work. Not enough to earn a living but enough to contribute.

What never came back was my old friend. She has a masters’ degree in journalism but cannot read books. She has an extremely short attention span. She doesn’t watch movies. She has no interest in computers which would help her be less isolated. When she does something, it has to be perfect so she accomplishes very little and very slowly. She can’t let go.

In recent years she has had a lot of physical health issues. Both hips have been replaced and the doctors are talking about knees and shoulders. I sometimes wonder if thirty years of the wonder drug caused this. She needs a walker to get around. She is 65 years old.

What I remember most are the good times. We spent a week in California and for the entire week I drove her crazy singing, “Do you know the way to San Jose?” Yes, we got lost on our way to San Jose and I was driving!

I remember the beach trips, mending broken hearts (mostly mine!), singing karaoke off-key (mostly her), drinking margaritas and clothes shopping. I really miss my old friend.

 

Photo courtesy of Sparrow Girl via Flickr

24 thoughts on “Best Friends Forever!

  1. Thanks so much for alerting me to this piece that I can really sympathize with. My similar friend (http://thinkinganddreaming.ca/2012/07/13/a-moment-for-mental-illness) calls me at least once a day (long distance from Montreal where I grew up). I think you deserve a medal.
    In my case, I care passionately about mental illness, and am an active ‘member’ in the “recovery” movement (vs ‘medical/biological’/condemned-for-life-model). I don’t know if she will benefit from it, but many will. If you’re interested and haven’t seen it already, lots of interesting stuff at http://www.madinamerica.com and other sites.
    There’s a lot of information out there about the permanent brain damage of many anti-psychotics, side effects of anti-depressants, etc. I know one, a beautiful person of 78 who co-wrote a book called “Committed to the Sane Asylum”. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia when a young mother with four children – with all the usual consequences. The speech center of her brain was permanently damaged but luckily – not her wisdom center :-). If you’re at all interested, I can send you a lot of interesting links…. If not, best of luck and you’ve been an amazing friend!.

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  2. Kate, i think you struck a chord of compassion, many have suffered but few have survived, and they truly need friendship too, no matter how hard, you don’t know the effect that you have on the other person, so keep trying, thanks MJ

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  3. Kate— This is a beautiful, wonderful essay, and a lovely way to honor your best friend. I’ve been a bit behind in my reading, but, now that I have had a chance to read this piece, I have this belief that your lovely story is going to open many hearts over the next few weeks. Good job, KC. You are the real deal.

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  4. It’s hard to watch with friends like this. They don’t know how the brain works – and treatments that help some, cripple others – and the unknown side effects. As one said above, a life stolen from her.
    Your post is honest and kind. You make the world a better place – there are no small kindnesses from big hearts

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  5. Thank you for posting this. It is important for people to know that the “crazies” though difficult to connect with have the same need we less “crazy” folks do. You are a wonderful friend to keep on in spite of the discouragement I know you feel at times.

    My brother was severely ill–bipolar, DIDS, paranoia, and all the anger and fear and sadness that goes along with being crazy. I loved him but at times I just didn’t want to know him. But he was my brother and a blessing–though sometimes a difficult one.

    You may have noticed that I unfollowed you. Sometimes I stop getting new posts from blogs I follow an I have found if I unfollow then follow again the glitch rights itself. So, hopefully, this works with your blogs.

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    • Since posting this I have found that so many people have friends or relatives with problems.
      I didn’t realize you unfollowed. WordPress only sends a follow notice, which I got. I was surprised because I throught you already did follow, but it’s ok. Another blogger told me the same thing. There is a blogger that I haven’t received any post from in a while so I should probably check to see if he posted.

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  6. Really touching post, Kate. I have family members who suffer from mental illness. Thankfully, the medications are helping them, but sometimes they choose to stop taking the medication. As you said so eloquently, it is difficult to see someone you care about struggle with mental illness.

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  7. The Invisible Shadow sent me here. I am a pastoral counselor and have seen mental illness close up and personal. It is my job to connect with the divine soul who still lives within the body/mind that doesn’t quite function right. The closest I can come to personal experience is the after effects of migraines which leave me just a bit paranoid and anxious over . . . nothing. I am lucky, though. I know that it is just my chemicals a little off-balance and they eventually right themselves within a day or two. My awareness saves me. The fact that I recover saves me. And I am grateful for this tiny excursion into the outer banks of crazy. It has grown my compassion.

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  8. Pingback: Out of My Mind « Invisible Shadow

  9. Hmmm, this made me ponder, and wonder, and ask myself if I should even join in the conversation? You see, I am very much like your friend, in that I went through many years of psychosis and paranoia and “can’t get out of bed” depression, and was even hospitalized and given a huge array of various drugs, and when nothing was working, yes, they also did electric shock treatments (which wiped out so much of my short term memory ability, permanently). Lithium and all the other heavy hitters were tried on me, and still, my psychosis reigned front and center in my life.

    I became reclusive, and isolated, and disinterested in life, and suicidal, and most especially, psychologically and emotionally empty. Even my closest family members had to turn away, because it was (a) frustrating, (b) heart-breaking, (c) aggravating, (d) appeared hopeless. Although I never really had close friends, there were a couple of people who I would have called friends, (in the loosest sense of the word), but even they had to shut the door. They just couldn’t take it. My physical body began failing rapidly, and at the age of 53, my knees are barely usable, my hands are gnarled and almost frozen in place, and I have to use a walker to get around. At age 53.

    My ability to hold down a job dwindled over the past ten to twelve years. The person who once was a key player in a huge corporate environment, eventually became someone who worked small odd jobs, then took a bookkeeping job for a tyrant because it meant I didn’t have to come in contact with very many people, and then struggled through some various part-time jobs, and eventually, two years ago, had to apply for disability, after it became clear that it was unlikely I would ever have the ability to hold down a regular job again. After four years of being unemployed and incapable of handling even the simplest of part-time work, I had to finally accept that my “working outside the home” days are over. At age 53.

    The big difference between me, and your friend, is that somehow, through the grace of God, or through sheer willpower and perseverance and determination, or through countless years of therapy and practicing how to understand my illness, my mind has remained intact enough to allow me to connect to people through the internet. I still struggle against manic depression and bi-polar disorder, and psychosis, and even, sometimes, paranoia, but on those days when my mind is awake and functional and cooperative, I can communicate with others intelligently, and on those days, people would have a hard time believing that I am the same person who was strapped to a bed, with electrodes affixed to my shaved skull, while electrical current tried to realign the parts of my brain that are so damaged and dysfunctional. I never believed I would leave that hospital. I believed my living days were behind me, and I would die there, trapped both inside and outside of my mind.

    Your post today makes me very sad for your friend — it sounds as if she got lost inside the disease of the mind, and never found her way back. It makes me sad for you, in that you were one of the people who had to witness her eccentricities and deterioration, and you are left with the haunting memory of who she could have become, if only her mind hadn’t stolen away her life. Even so, you still try to hold close to the memories of better times, and you still count her as a friend. That part of your story made me smile.

    Something you said really rang true for me. You said “All of us felt inadequate.” Yes, that’s it, really. The people who cross paths with deeply disturbed or mentally broken people are left feeling inadequate, as if nothing they can say or do can help the person. As humans, we have a very strong need to fix what is broken. When we cross paths with someone who is so broken, that no amount of fixing makes it better, it can leave us feeling, as you said, inadequate. Like their brokenness is a reflection on our inability to help them. This is why, I believe, historically speaking, mentally broken people have always been shuttled away to institutions and hospitals …. partially to keep them safe from harming themselves, of course, but also because society, as a whole, is just incredibly uncomfortable being confronted with their brokenness. Every day their existence is a reminder of something that is broken that cannot be fixed. It’s maybe a bit like shouting in your face, every day, BROKEN, BROKEN, BROKEN.

    Your post was so gentle and open, and truthful, and I truly am sorry that you’ve had to witness your friend disappearing from your life. Your words made me realize, yet again, how much of a miracle it is that I am sitting here today, on the other side of the keyboard, being able to carry on a conversation. As much as I empathize and mourn the loss of your friend, and her energy from your life, your words have given me reason today to celebrate. I am alive. I am functioning within the world. I am blessed.

    You have given me the gift of appreciation today. Thank you.

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    • I was thinking of you as I wrote the post. If only my friend would or could learn the computer. She may find a way to connect with people more easily. She asked me to get some information for her (which she could easily have gotten through Google if only…). After I collected the information and snail mailed it, I found some other stuff. I am so used to emailing data and everything is instant that I am dismayed at how hard it must be for her to rely on mail and telephones. I think she may be able to read posts and enjoy them. The electric shock destroyed her short term memory too but unlike you, you doesn’t have the attention span to concentrate for any length of time. Thank you for commenting.

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      • My ability to concentrate comes and goes … there are times I go several days without being able to form complete sentences or connect one thought to another, and then there are those other days, when a glimpse of me squeezes through the brain fog, and there I am again.

        Really, your post this morning had me feeling very appreciative, and lucky, and blessed. How generous that you are doing what you can to make the information available to her … unfortunately, when our minds are in that broken space, everything, from washing a dish to walking outside to sit in the sun, feels so overwhelming and impossible. Still, we can always hold out hope that she might find the strength, or ability, or be able to align her focus long enough to learn how to communicate via the internet. For me, always having been a writer, I suppose it was like a thread of memory that remained intact, and became my life line. That seed of connection, even though only online and sporadic at best, is enough.

        You, and your friend, will be on my mind today. Hope your Friday is filled with moments of joy, so that you might share some of the peace and happiness you brought into my life today. It was both a sad reminder of where I was, and a glorious reminder of where I am. Thank you, again.

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        • I couldn’t help it … I kept thinking about you and your friend today … so I did the only logical thing I could do under the circumstances … I blogged about it. Thank you, again, for helping me today. Thank you.

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  10. I understand all of this too well
    I have family history with mental illnesses and it’s sad
    My grandmother on my maternal side was a severe manic-depressive, causing her to have many drug trial periods, hospitalization, therapy, etc. I never knew her like that, but my mom did, and what I knew of her she always seemed happy and such…but my mom always said she was just kind of there, not really in or out.
    I also have battled and been clinically diagnosed with depression. It is one hell of a struggle, especially for someone who is only 23 years old. I have a good grip on it 80% of the time without aid of drugs or therapy. I get my down times but I always pull myself through either by talking or writing them out. It’s tough but if you wanna get through it, you will always find a way

    So sorry that your friend has such a hard time…I will keep her in my thoughts!

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