I’ve been friends with a pretty special person since 1978. While on vacation recently, I was sharing some of her background with my niece. While some may think they are at a disadvantage because they were raised by a single mother, a controlling father, a parent with a substance abuse problem, or lack of financial stability, my friend dealt with obstacles way beyond the pale. She was raised by a single mother with a troubled family history and mental illness that started as depression and progressed. Her aunt (a twin) suffers from many of the same problems, even resorting to ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) . Her father never had a role in her life, never paid child support, and I think she only met him a few times. He started a family of his own that she’s never met.
My friend was determined to travel and often made things happen through sheer force of will. She worked on a cruise ship to travel the Caribbean, then transferred to another company so she could see the world. See the world she did – Russia, China, Europe…you name it, she went there. She met her husband once she finally settled down in the states, and took a job where she could still travel. She finally had the child she always wanted – and her daughter is a true gift. She was determined to have more children, but her first pregnancy created unforeseen problems and too many miscarriages. She and her husband then started down the road towards a foreign adoption (something she’d always talked about since visiting that country). The process was made more arduous by the history of mental illness in her family and the fact that she had talked to a counselor about how to deal with it. The adoption finally happened five year’s later.
Her mother’s illness has progressed to the point that she can’t maintain a relationship with her even though they live within 20 minutes of each other. I saw first-hand the deep depression and then the mania beginning to manifest itself, and I had no clue how to deal with it. The gracious, loving, giving person you knew is replaced by a person filled with bitterness, panic, and anger. There’s no cure for mental illness and not a lot of coaching on how to deal with it. Once mental illness invades your life through a family member or friend, you’ve become part of a club that you never imagined. Unfortunately, it can be like ‘Fight Club’ in that people don’t talk about it.
My friend & I communicate in a variety of ways. I pull up our last iMessage session, and I see the above picture of her bloody foot. Her aunt had visited & insisted on buying huge amounts of unnecessary food from Costco. A 10 lb container of whipped cream fell on her foot…reminding her again of her familial burden.
Through it all, my friend has been able to live a life filled with Martha Stewart inspired (dictated?) moments. She goes to so much trouble to make everything perfect, something will happen to mar it, and she inevitably finds the humor in it. I helped develop her relentless sweet tooth, and now we commiserate about our dentist visits. One of my biggest regrets is not making it to her wedding–let’s just say I am a true introvert. Most of her friends don’t realize how much she’s had to overcome to get the family unit she has today, but I do. I have two older sisters, and I’ve always considered her the little sister I never had. Her views on politics and religion are closely aligned with my own. Even though we live far apart now, we are able to keep in touch with social media and for that I am grateful. I told her years ago to start a blog because she’s such an entertaining writer/ storyteller. I’m still waiting. I’ve also encouraged her to build a nest on Twitter, but she’s avoided that as well. For now, she prefers her Facebook while I enjoy Instagram. One day…