This morning, I learned horrible news about a friend of mine, a friend who had grown distant over the past year but with whom I had just been trying to re-establish a connection with, and who I still loved nonetheless. I called her a month ago, she called me two weeks ago, I was going to call her back soon…
Now that is not possible, because last week she took her own life. This is such devastatingly sad news, and I have not yet processed it fully yet.
The thing that bothers me the most is that I cannot honestly say that I had no idea that she was this disturbed. I did know that she had a serious mental illness, although I never dreamed it would go so far in this direction. I believed that her family and her religion and her religious community would support her through her struggles, and so even as I found it harder to connect as she got more and more into her religion, I took comfort in the thought that she had a strong support network in her family and other friends. Or so I thought.
I knew she was sick, and it makes me feel that much worse that I didn’t reach out or wasn’t there for her or that she didn’t come to me. I know in my rational, psychological-illness- experienced brain that suicidal thoughts are very personal and that I may not have been able to reach her even if I had known how much she was struggling. Or that I could have seen her every day and never known that she was in such a dark place internally. But even knowing that, it is hard not to think of what I might have done or said, if only we hadn’t grown apart, or if I had gotten back in touch with her sooner.
When she left our job last winter, I firmly believed she was experiencing a true manic episode. That was when I first realized that she was not just the most optimistic and cheery person I had ever met, but that she was actually suffering from mental illness. The type that leads you to make rash decisions which can have dire consequences. I felt hurt at the time that she made such a snap decision to quit her job even as I had counseled her about making longer term plans to get out. It was the beginning of the fading of what had become the closest friendship I’ve had in this office, at this job. She was so much more than a coworker to me. We went out together, we went fabric shopping (the fabrics she bought to make a skirt with are still in a bag in my apartment), she came to my apartment and we made sewing patterns, I attended her buddhist readings and chanting sessions, she came to see me skate and to an Ice Theatre show with me, and we talked often every day that we were in the office together. We would e-mail each other to meet in the bathroom where one of us would have a good cry. But then she quit, thinking that her part-time sales gigs and dancing would support her, and she was so confident and happy about it.
But there is not much you can do for someone in that manic state, because they don’t believe they need any kind of help. All there really is to do is to be there for them when they crash from it and help them with the support they will need. I wanted to be there for her, but she was getting harder to reach – I didn’t see her in the office and she wouldn’t always follow through on plans to meet or talk. Also, it was her growing religious fervor that made it harder to stay close. It was hard for me to talk with her when she would constantly return to the thought that this positive life force in the universe was going to make everything good and well and beautiful and that she could rely on it to do so. We drifted apart, and she called me on the day she left the city but left a message that wasn’t clear enough for me to realize she was leaving town, so I didn’t make it to see her that day.
A mutual friend tells me that shortly after that she stopped believing that crazy stuff, but I never knew – she never told me, and I am so sorry for that because I would have tried to help her see why life is beautiful and worthy even without the poppycock. But I never had a chance to. It is indescribably sad.
At the end of the summer the mutual friend told me that she was back in NYC. I didn’t immediately contact her, because I wasn’t sure how I felt about our friendship. But I knew that I missed her and called her one evening in early October. I left her a message that I was sorry we hadn’t been in touch much and if she was interested I’d like to get together and catch up. She called back about two weeks later, and she started with a preface that she had been so busy and there were so many people she hadn’t had time to catch up with, and that she was sorry about that, but that she was looking for work as a nanny or tutor and could I see if our other coworker might want her help when her baby came? And I hadn’t responded for a little while, because I was hurt that it sounded like she was only calling me back when she thought I could help with something. But I had thought it over and resolved to call her back and see her and tell her that it had upset me but that I still wanted to be friends and catch up. I hadn’t gotten to it yet.
It sounds like she had family and friends around who would have been trying to offer their support and help her. Since she had moved back to NYC, she had been staying with a friend who my coworker says was good for her. And apparently back at her home she had been in therapy. So she wasn’t alone, she had some type of support. But whatever that support was, it wasn’t enough, and it was just that they couldn’t reach her. I don’t mean to think I am different, but I have had so many loved ones struggle with mental illness and I would have gladly welcomed and supported her if only we had reconnected sooner.
She is from Minneapolis, so the services will be there with her family, and I cannot attend. They may have a NYC memorial later this month, so I’ve asked to be updated when they have details.
I still have the card she gave me on her last day at my office – it’s been on my cubicle wall ever since. It is full of love and encouragement – just how I remember her most:
I will never forget your greatness or the greatness of your story, with your family, friends, and Husband. It has been fun filled and fan’freakin’tastic! I love you very much. The world awaits to experience your greatness (and you in turn to experience theirs)!