Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stories of Friendship

Freshman year of college was hard, but I made some friends during that time. There were a few of us that came from hardship and, at least for that first year, banded together. We were a rag-tag group for sure. But none of us kept in touch much after that first year.

My college required everyone to take a year of physical education (on top of a load of other requirements). Everyone fought for the ‘easiest’ and that found me in Badminton class. The first couple days the teacher put us through individual drills then, on the third class, we were to pick partners (after she gave us each a little drill and we passed it). I looked around the room to see who could be compatible. Everyone was so friendly and smiling and slim- I hated them all. I was surly, couldn’t take people who were always happy. “They never knew hardship,” I griped to myself, “They’ll never understand me. Spoiled brats all of them.”

Then, in the back of the room, I saw this other overweight person giving everyone the same evil eye. So I walked up to her and asked her to my badminton partner. We’ve been best friends ever since, always there for each other through thick and thin. She is the only person I talk to now who has even met my mother and knows some of the things I’ve gone through.

We were great together. We’d have our “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” nights in college where we would order Chinese food and sit up doing arts and crafts or other non-academic things. We were roommates our senior year in college and joked around a lot about how my grades just steadily climbed since I met her, and hers went down from a perfect 4.0 to maybe a 3.5.

Like I said, we have been through a hell of a lot and now, at 30, have known each other for a third of our lives. Here’s the thing- I don’t want to be the angry person like I was in college who hates the happy people. I understand happiness is a good thing. When we talk now, I have begun to realize she still feels the way I did. So I opened up a dialogue about it and for the first time we had a serious conversation.

She feels helpless
She feels like no one cares
She feels doomed, like nothing she does matters anyway
She berates herself for everything she perceives she does wrong
She has lost hope and is scared every day

I was happy she talked to me about such things, we were both crying on the phone. I recognized everything, as I’ve been through such a long period of that and I’m still fighting against it. She recognizes she’s depressed and has been for years but doesn’t know what she can do. Then she felt she didn’t have a right to feel that way since I’ve been through so much worse. Everyone has a right to feel how they do! That was one of my main reasons for not talking, how could I complain when my best friend in highschool was forced to bear her father’s child? We talked about options and she was very open to everything. She found the number to call for a mental health professional, covered by her health care.

“But I won’t call.” She told me at the end of our conversation. “I never do. I’m not as brave as you- I can’t just call. That first step is too hard.”

“But you already made the first step,” I told her, “you didn’t hang up on me when I brought this up, you listened and responded positively. I’m just sick of seeing you hurting yourself plus, in all honesty, had you said something similar to me a few years ago I would have hung up on you.”

“You stepped away from your mother,” she replied, “you’re stronger than me. Even if I do call, I’ll cancel the appointment. It’s what I do.”

“But it isn’t what you have to do,” I told her. “Therapy isn’t always the answer. You can try yoga, meditation, or just a week without McDonald’s since you are there everyday.”

“Not McDonald’s, just fried food,” she told me.

The other issue is this – It’s so easy to fall back into that habit of thinking. The idea of hopelessness is kind of attractive. It’s like an ex-junkie walking into a crack den. And I did tell her that – that I worry about her but also about me. When we go out she is always self-deprecating and it is something I’m fighting so hard against. It’s been ten years of our lives, and she’s always helped me, and I want to help her, but not hurt myself in the process or ruin our friendship. For the past few years we have been talking less and less and I know it is her depressive state that leaves her cocooned alone.

I did talk to my therapist about this as well, and she stated what I already was going to do, just keep the dialogue going and keep being friends. It can test me and might show her an alternative even if she thinks I’m ‘stronger’ than her. On the other hand, if it gets to be too much, I have to face the reality that for a while, we might have to part. That is the last thing I want to happen.

I had gotten her to agree to go to a social event with me and then, an hour before we were to leave, she canceled (after already paying a non-refundable fee). It’s hard for me, but goes to what I talked about the other day – she has to save herself. Which is what we talked about. I will not tell her what to do, especially since there isn’t just one way. She has to decide when it’s time and go forward. My friend fears she won’t be ready until someone in her family dies and she’s forced to deal with a change. I really hope she gets some help before then. As I told her, I’m not there to judge her or threaten her, I’m here to help if she needs it and still be her friend and listen to anything she has to say without judgment.

It does get hard for me when there are these long lapses between communications. For my first birthday since I’ve known her she didn’t call me. When I finally called her up at work, the day before leaving for Chicago, she told me she had e-mailed me at midnight and wondered why I never responded – I had never gotten the e-mail. We each thought the other was mad over some perceived slight when that wasn’t the case. There are so many long roads to walk down.
picture from http://www.nwf.org via google image search


Amel's Realm said...

Ahhh...friendship is tough. So this is the story you wanted to share, that she has to save herself. And yes, misunderstanding like the birthday email has happened to me a few times with my close friends. I confronted some of them and got unexpected replies.

I understand that it's hard for you to be with your friend, but in the same time you WANT to be there for her. I hope she'll be able to want to save herself soon so that she won't be stuck in a rut too long.

Even though you've probably known this, I think you've been doing the right thing, Vic. And yes, everybody HAS the right to feel the way they do...just as long as they don't drown in the swamp of bad feelings too long (hopefully).

Victorya said...

Amel - yeah, this is the one. It's tough because I feel myself backslide around her, but want to help her at the same time.

Amel's Realm said...

Yeah, it's a tough dilemma indeed. I know it'd make you feel better once she seeks help. It'd be nicer when she can also start the healing process so you two can go back to where you once were without "pulling each other down", right?

Sending prayers so that she will seek and find the help she desperately need in time...

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Victorya - I visited your blog today after you posted a comment on mine and I am really touched by your writing.

I hope your friend will find a way to deal with her feelings of helplessness, but I agree that she's the only person that can do it and all you can do is be there for her.

Something that helps me to keep a positive attitude is to take things day by day and to do my best for that day only, once I've done that, I tackle tomorrow.

All the best to you and your friend,

Helena said...

Yeah, depression itself becomes what you know, and what you know, no matter how bad, becomes the "normal", hence the "secure", hence you can veer back to it. It's like having your centre of gravity slightly offset.

It's like when you go on holiday. It's nice, but when you come home there's that "nothing like being back in your own bed" feeling.

Over and over we're told to fight it, but that takes mental energy, which depression saps... it's a cycle people that haven't been there can have a hard time to understand.

Hang on in there!


Rose said...

Thank you for sharing this story with us. I too suffer from depression and have a close friend who does too. I sometimes find it easier talking to her because she can relate to living with depression. Just being there for your friend will help her learn she is not alone.

Victorya said...

Fish - I did a day by day mode of thinking for a while, but at times I got bogged down because I couldn't see a future. When bad stuff happens, I do still realize it isn't forever, but do look to a future w/out the pain I'm in. It's hope, it's out there for me. Thanks for stopping by!

Helena - it does become so comfortable, so very inviting, like the chair that knows all your grooves. *sigh* and now she says she's busy until august so I can't talk to her for a while.

Rose - (hugs) man, as the commercial says, depression hurts. It hurts the person who has it, the person fighting it, and everyone surrounding the situation. I hope she comes around and I have the strength to keep up the good fight.