“You will always be friends” the counselor told us. We were too entwined and besides, she had seen it repeatedly in the women’s community, a fluidity of friends and lovers staying connected despite everything. I said nothing but promised myself, “Oh no, we won’t”. For me, the counseling sessions were entirely a mechanism to safely disengage for good.
“You will always be friends” the counselor told us. We were too entwined and besides, she had seen it repeatedly in the women’s community, a fluidity of friends and lovers staying connected despite everything. I said nothing but promised myself, “Oh no, we won’t”.
We had met maybe two years earlier when we were both in medical training. She was smart, mischievous, insistent and full of life. When she turned her charm on me, I couldn’t resist. I needed a friend, and this morphed into a lover. When she rearranged her life to follow me to another city, I passively agreed.
That year of living together was full of emotionally exhausting adventures—there were her new friends, work dramas, accusations of being too distant, and then her infidelity. I was ready to leave but feared the confrontation; she was volatile and insisted we should stay together even though she claimed the problems were all my fault. We agreed to see a counselor.
The counselor helped us negotiate a temporary separation. I developed other friends and found a new place to stay as quickly as I could, untangling myself emotionally and physically, watching from a distance–the closer you are, the more vulnerable you are to unpredictable love and hate. Then things got truly crazy.
It is not possible to sensibly recount what happened over the following year. The intensity of personality that had attracted me like a bright star continued to become more unstable and exploded as if in a supernova of psychotic destruction. It was a disaster you could see coming but couldn’t stop, and impossible to completely look away. Events included involuntary hospitalizations, recruiting friends to break her out of the hospital (more than once), recording all her brilliant ideas onto a tape recorder she carried with her, calling friends and family together with threats of violence to her pets and others, a snap wedding to her social worker, and essentially burning every professional and personal bridge she ever had. The details were both morbidly fascinating and repellent. You will have probably recognized full-on mania from this description. I learned how traumatic mental illness can be for everyone.
By this time, I had receded to the periphery—close enough to follow the story but far enough not to be completely sucked into the black hole of drama. She did show up at my door some months later at 3 am wondering if I might want to buy into a great business opportunity owning a gas station; I didn’t let her in and politely declined.
I found out that she blamed her break on an unregulated thyroid gland, and ultimately must have gotten on some medicines that helped. She managed to resume her medical career in another state and at some point I got some Christmas cards that showed her and another woman with some children. All good, but I didn’t write back. Once I saw her at a conference and we acknowledged each other without really engaging. That was the last time. Contrary to the counselor’s prediction, I determinedly did not stay friends with her.
Decades passed, and last year I got curious and decided to google. I found a recent newspaper article referencing an unsuccessful run for office, dismissal from employment, and arrest for threatening a store clerk with a gun–which I read as a story of someone out of control and likely off medication.
It is not easy to stay with someone with mental illness. There is a tension between wanting to provide love and support, and self-preservation. I’m sorry my ex-friend’s life has been so hard but am happy not to have shared more of it.