She has a birthday today.

Today I got a Facebook notification of a birthday. It really sucked.

Several years ago, I lost a friend for the second time. This is mostly about me, because she’s not here, and it hurts every year. I had lost touch with her, again, as you do with people who are consumed with beasts and needles, when you have your own things to fight. When we were kids, and I thought I had lost her the first time, I remember feeling so strongly that there was something I should have done, some place I should have stepped in, some thing, any thing that would have come between her and the beast, but I was 17, and beasts don’t work that way.

She was gifted. Which is a corny way to say she could write. She never wanted to publish, because she didn’t want anyone to actually read her stuff. She just wrote to get the hell out of her head, and sometimes it worked, and always it was brilliant.

She lived through more crap than I can really wrap my head around. She came to school one day with a tooth knocked out. The school called Children’s Aid, and they went to interview him, but he told them everything was fine, so they went away. She got a little more scarred every weekend.

I finished school, and she didn’t. She took the money he gave her and paid for a little one-room apartment downtown, where she would gather up little girls from the street, to keep them warm and safer, because they trusted her. The money ran out, because it does when you spend so much a day to cope, and things deteriorated fast. She called me at university, completely out of it – please, just lend me a little. I still love you.

The last time I saw her, was in a dive bar, just south of the university. She knew I would be there. She could barely stand up, with her missing tooth, and the bruises and messed up eyes. I didn’t know what to do. I gave her money, and then regretted it, and then wished I had taken her home with me. 17 year olds are very rarely equipped to deal with shit like this, or at least I wasn’t.

Then she was gone. The phone was gone. The apartment was gone. She was nowhere. I didn’t think there was any way she could have made it, she was so sick, so I grieved. She was gone from me, at the very least.

When she came back, after I had mourned her the first time, she had moved away, found a life, and some purpose. When she found me, I was so happy, in a simple, naive way. She had found life, and joy, and was away from the things that made her life so shit in Canada. Everything was cool. FB was my friend that time.

When I found out she was gone the second time, I knew that the beast had followed her, and was just waiting for her to trip, but none of that changed what I knew about her. There was a news report, from a hotel in a far away place. The name was right, and her cousin verified it. I’m not sure which time I was more crushed, but I felt it again today when I saw the notification. She’s gone. She’s dead. She will never call me again. She will never write another word. I still love her.

She was, and always will be, the only person who came to my 14th birthday party. She was the one who faked an asthma attack to sit with me in the dark while the rest of the class ran laps in gym class. She was the one who told me, there is something wrong with you, but it doesn’t make me love you any less. She was the one who wore her mother’s pink cotton prom dress, that she had to keep hitching up over her non-existent boobs, and danced with me, when some guy named David told me I was ugly and stupid, and I believed him. She was the one who made me feel like sticking around. She was the only one my mother would let smoke on the back porch in high school, because we were afraid she would leave, and we never knew if she would make it back this time.

She would have been 42 today. If you need help, please ask, please tell someone. There are ways to feel ok again, and ways to fight beasts, and you don’t have to be alone. There are people who you have made better, and people who will miss you for the rest of their lives, because you are awesome.

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I’m not sure if it’s time to post to Facebook again

It is Mental Health Awareness Month again around here. Last year I wrote an epic status update on Facebook, outlining my mental health issues, well, some of them. It was a fairly effective way of outing myself to more distant family, those weird Facebook-only high-school friends, and the odd collection of people I have gathered from various random sources (mostly friends of friends). This last group are mostly Americans, who argue endlessly about politics and gun control, so the whole revealing myself as a crazy person was a bit of an interesting experiment.

For the most part everyone behaved. There were the usual “don’t call yourself crazy” lectures, and a lot of “but you aren’t like ‘those’ people”, and of course the obligatory “but you seem so normal”. All sort of annoying and condescending in their own special ways, but well meaning, and pretty much willing to listen. The thing I get the most reaction to is the whole “I wouldn’t change my experiences if I could” thing. Most people just can’t conceive of not needing to be cured of bipolar disorder. To them mental illness has no up side, no positive angle. What they are not seeing is the fact that I would not be who I am without it. Being bipolar is pretty fundamental to the way I developed. It gave me my self-reflection, my compassion for suffering, my understanding of power dynamics and oppression. It gave me a much more robust understanding of joy, contentment and happiness than my peers. I see the light better because the shadow defines it.

So, now that it is “be condescending to a crazy person” week again, I have to decide if I am going to post this year. It has been a much better year, as I measure them. I got healthier, I didn’t get hospitalized, I left some groups that were draining energy from me, and I spent more time with friends who really support me. I’m ready to work (even if I don’t have much of a job yet), and my mood is pretty stable.

Ok, not totally stable. I completely had a panic attack a few days ago, but it is a good story. In the past a panic attack would have collapsed me for days. The recovery was always slow. I became one with the couch. This time I made cookies. Literally. I went home and baked. My husband fully supports this coping mechanism. Apparently, I am learning how to manage again. I suspect that perfectly ordinary, mentally stable people bake as a coping mechanism too. There are way too many baking magazines in subway news shops for this to be just about providing sweet sustenance to your friends and family. I think I have stumbled on to a great secret of the sane world – baking as an antidepressant! Don’t tell anyone. Big Pharma will have it packaged in less time than it takes to brown the edges of a nice peanut butter oatmeal cookie. It can be our little secret. Oh right. Facebook.

I object to Facebook on a number of levels. I am not the user, I am the product. Facebook owns everything I post. They own all my little political rants, and my reposted pictures of kittens, and all the weird conversations I have with old roommates. They own my last “I’m crazy” post. They own all the responses from my nearest and dearest and others. I know that, and I rationalize it by saying that I post with eyes wide open. I know I am giving my words up, so somehow it is ok. It’s not really, but most of the people I “know” on Facebook have no other contact with me, and so I have no other way of contacting them. Ah, the life of the netizen.

The other thing, says my HR manager best friend, is that I am wrecking my employment reputation by ranting about city council and the federal government. I maintain that any employer who would disqualify me based on my dislike for our mayor, is not an employer I would want to work for, but as my savings and my family’s good will dwindle, this feeling is eroding. So, if my potential bosses would freak out because I have a serious problem with his worship, or our glorious leader, it stands to reason that they would shred my resume seconds after reading about my mental health. Stigma-busting and supporting workplace mental health are great for corporate fundraisers, but god forbid you actually have to hire one of these people.

So I’m torn, between my own little Facebook activism, where I force my friends to recognize that they interact with a nutcase on a fairly regular basis, without appreciable trauma, and wanting to present a clean, or sanitized view of me to the working world. I want to be sort of in your face about my illness. I’ve always said that I had enough backup that I could afford to be really open about my life. That resolve is being tested. It pisses me off, though. I know that we all curate ourselves for different audiences. Who I am with my mother is awfully different from who I am here, the sticky part comes when you have to hide parts of yourself, or risk being ostracized or left out. In this case it would mean continued poverty and deprivation. I don’t like being told what to do, and not posting on Facebook feels like someone telling me who I can tell about me. I don’t like it.

Chances are I will post. Some part of me likes watching my acquaintances wriggle around in discomfort as they try to be supportive. Maybe like is the wrong word. It is more about some level of satisfaction that they have had to stretch their minds a little to encompass something they are really good at compartmentalizing away. It is ok for Annette to be eccentric, but keep the mumbling real crazy person away from me. They don’t understand how closely related to that person I am, but that isn’t really the point. Posting about my illness is practice for being out in the world. In my vain little head, I can change them. I can make them think differently. Maybe I can get them to treat someone better, or judge someone less. I’m foolish and pig-headed that way.