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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On Thumb-sucking, Security Blankets and Trusting Myself Again

It has been a year and a half since I was discharged from the hospital. I still struggle with keeping my feet under me, but for new reasons. I’m not depressed, I’m not battling crippling anxiety, and I have not had to fight off mixed episodes or general craziness for a while. It’s been pretty good, from that perspective.

The real problems are things I am less familiar with. I need a job. I need some direction. I need more sleep. I need to get the physical issues under control.

The medical stuff is sort of crazy related. The kidney damage from the meds means that I have to drink a lot of fluids. That seems to have antagonized my bladder, and now I can’t sleep for more than an hour or so without having to get up. I’m sort of getting used to the sleep deprivation, but it makes everything else that much harder. But, I’m getting off track. This is not meant to be a whine about my aging, cranky body.

I do really need a job. I’ve applied to a whole host of jobs I am sort of qualified for. I have a newly minted masters in Educational Technology, and a few years experience in creating online courses for clients, but my resume is horrible. It is just a listing of all the things I either failed at, or failed to finish. It is a mess of jobs, a career I bailed on, and a collections of degrees that make me pretty interesting in conversation, but not the kind of person you would hire. I’m going to need to luck into something, I think. I have a line on some freelance contracts, and you hate to put all your eggs in one basket, but there are not a lot of baskets around at the moment.

I guess I need to find some way to sell myself, never my strong point. Part of the problem is that I’m not sure how much I believe in the product.

Every time I get sick there is a long road back to being ok. Part of the process is giving up the security blanket. I know how to be a sick person. I’m a pro. The people around me, the ones who love me and support me, know how to deal with a sick me too. We have a lot of practice, dealing with the sick girl. I know how to ask for help, for pity, for support, I know how to get what I need when that constitutes coddling and walking around me on eggshells. That sounds really bad, and it isn’t actually that awful. When I’m sick, I need help with really basic things, like laundry and groceries. I need someone to help me get my bills paid, and to tell me to stop crying, and that I can do this. I really need cheerleaders to get me through when I have no faith. I need hand-holding, and reminders to eat and sleep. It is pretty hard on my husband, and my family, and I’m sure it does not endear me to my friends.

When I’ve been hospitalized, it usually comes as a huge relief to my husband. He can go to work without worrying that he will come home to my body. He knows I’ll be safe there, and he can relax a little, usually for the first time in months. Once I’m discharged the worry starts up again. There is always the questions of just how “better” I am. How long can I be left alone? Will I remember to eat, to sleep? Every bad day is a warning flag. Every bad mood is a potential disastrous slide down into a pit. Every night of bad sleep, or every ridiculously early morning, brings up questions of hypomania. If I am irritable, it is a bad sign. If I get angry, it could be the harbinger of doom. All the people in my life, including me, judge, evaluate, dissect, and categorized my moods, the things I say, and all the other indicators we can come up with. It is a pretty exhausting process, but for a while anyway, it sort of needs to happen.

When you come out of an episode, you are still really fragile. You are like the insect, newly moulted. The new skin, or the new exoskeleton, is soft, and offers very little protection. You need to keep wrapped up in the security blanket. You keep sucking your thumb, for comfort, and as a reminder that you are not yet whole.

Obviously, this can’t last. You need to give up on the protections and get out of your head and into the real world at some point, or the recovery stalls. The problem with this is trust. I have to trust myself. I have to start to believe that a bad day is just that – one day – and not the beginning of the end. This usually takes me a couple of months. It is slow, but I get there. The process is slowed down, though, by my well-meaning loved ones, my doctors and the world in general. They protect me, the keep pulling the blanket up to my chin, they dance around me like I was made of only slightly hardened jello. It is way too easy to buy into this.

This time I didn’t have a job to go back to. My job disappeared into the meltdown of the company I worked for. Every other time I have been working on getting my act back together I have had a job to go to. I’ve had responsibilities, and a place to show up at. This time it’s just me, and school, and school is done now. I have no external structure to rely on for a reality check, and so I have been relying on the people around me, and they don’t trust me.

Well, they trust me, they just don’t trust that I am healthy, or that I can handle adversity, or that I’m not teetering on the edge of disaster at all times. My problem is I tend to buy into this a little too easily. It makes me question myself, and, let’s be honest, it is too easy to give in to it. It enables me to stay sick, or stay fragile, longer than is really necessary. I get to figuratively limp around for a lot longer than I really deserve.

This time is has been worse. I was really sick for a lot longer than usual. I was hospitalized twice in one year, which has never happened before, and I scared the bejeezus out of the people around me. Hell, I scared me. Getting better was hindered by the fact that I wasn’t really sleeping well. I’m still not, not really. Plus, there was the problem of not really having anything to do. I was in no shape to job hunt, and I could barely put sentences together for school. It was a very long, slow process. I had a lot of little relapses, very bad weeks, and some rather dumb slip-ups. It has taken a year to get to the point where I could realistically do a full-time job. So now, I have to get rid of the security blanket.

I’m terrified. I’ve been protected and coddled for two years, and now I’m facing the prospect of just being fine, of giving up my special status, of being ok. I don’t think that I can adequately explain what it is like to give up on the fantasy that you are sick and fragile, or impaired. You lose your excuse for everything. You have to take full responsibility for everything. I know how spoiled that sounds, really I do. It is just that when I am sick, I really can’t do all this stuff. I really am disabled, impaired, or broken. There is just an invisible line that you cross, where one day you are weak and in danger, and the next you are doing ok, a contributing member of the world.

I’m at that point.

Wish me luck, but not too much. I need to get my act together on my own.