Supernova by
100
(129 Stories)

Prompted By Ex-Friends

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

“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.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Khati, what a difficult, heart-breaking story you share with us with your usual perfectly calibrated word choices and time line. You were smart to disengage and save yourself. My daughter went through something similar, but she has her own set of issues and it took her years to mentally end emotionally recover (I am not sure she ever did). Your final paragraph says it all – no, not easy to stay with or support someone with mental illness. Society bears the burden.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I knew you would understand the difficulties mental illness can cause in people’s lives. I haven’t shared this story openly before—it is hard to talk about—but there are no easy answers. With luck we do our best to understand, forgive and support to the extent possible. Good luck to us all.

  2. Oh Khati, heart wrenching to watch a friend or lover spiral down.

    As in all families, mine has had its share of mental illness, leading to the incarceration of a cousin, and the suicide of my father’s sister, my much beloved aunt. Hoping for less stigma and more understanding and support for the mentally ill.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Trying to maintain a friendship with someone is in the throes of mental illness is very challenging. In your case, you did what you needed to do for your own mental health. I hope you don’t feel any guilt about this choice.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I didn’t feel good about remaining estranged, but I was very clear that it was not good for me to get involved again—too many bad experiences to open that door. As you say, it is very challenging when mental illness is an issue, but there are also lines that can be crossed in any relationship that tell you it is time to move on.

  4. First of all, it was fun to see a photo of you looking as I remember you, not much different from how you looked in college–flowing with energy and beauty. More of those, please….
    This story, in its depth as well as its starkness, brought me back into my very stormy and unsuccessful marriage that lasted from 1981 to 1985. Like you, I have not shared many of the details of those dark and scary times. Maybe your narrative will motivate me to think about doing that. I wish I had been able to draw the line before I committed to marriage with this person, because all the actions I needed to see were being performed on a regular basis. But I thought I could “tak it,” and I probably believed I could rescue her from herself.
    She called me once about 12 or 13 years after we broke up–and about one year after I had gotten remarried. She said she just happened to come across something about me on the Internet. (Oh, sure.) It sounded like my life had taken some interesting turns and maybe we could talk. I told her it’s possible I would change my mind at some point, but for now, I couldn’t see any good reason to do so. She backed off and that was the end of it. No further contact. Sometimes that’s what you have to do, to preserve you own mental health.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks for your comments. I don’t have many pictures from those days, and now my dog is most photogenic one ha ha. It sounds as if you do understand—dealing with a toxic relationship, complicated by the ties of marriage, and now you sensibly have left the ties cut. It isn’t something to dwell on, but sometimes you have to process it nonetheless to move on, and sharing the story can make it lose some of the power it had as secret suffering. I’m sorry you had to go through that and glad there has been a happier ending, older and wiser. Happy thanksgiving.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    As they have said in all first aid and rescue courses that i have taken, “don’t create another victim.” This goes for emotionally dangerous situations as well.

    I had a (very slightly) similar experience with a friend who suffered a traumatic brain injury (https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/tbi/). That one worked out very well in the end, but until his recovery was underway, no progress was possible. Which was, of course, not a given; we got lucky.

Leave a Reply