Category Archives: Friendship

Mental Illness 1, Sheila & Topaz 0

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Sheila and I had planned a happy hour after work last Friday. We were both really looking forward to it after a long week of being “in the trenches” (teaching).

We went to a place that Sheila recommended. Since she is a vegan, the restaurant was a vegan Mexican place. I didn’t know anything like that existed. It was in the artsy part of the city.

The decor was made up of the Virgin of Guadalupe statues, banners, and renditions of local artists’ interpretation of the Virgin. The place was a total dive, but that’s what gave it its charm. I told Sheila that I didn’t know if we should pray or eat: the centerpiece of our table was a religious candle of the Virgin, the kind that you find in barrio shops for a dollar.

It turns out that this place didn’t serve alcohol; they hadn’t applied for a liquor license yet (they were under new ownership). Disappointed, we left in search of a microbrewery in the same vicinity. After sitting down, Sheila complained that they only served beer. Duh. It’s a microbrewery, I almost said.

So then we went next door to a trendy coffee shop/bar where everybody was pretty and handsome; definitely there to be seen on a Friday evening. As we perused the menu (they had spirits!), Sheila suddenly grabbed me and headed for the door.

“That woman [the waitress] was laughing at me. I have to get out of here.”

I was aware of the waitress the whole time, and she was not laughing at or doing anything to offend Sheila.

So we sat outside on the patio, trying to decide what to do and where to go. Sheila had become totally silent. After several minutes, she said, “Let’s head back to our cars.”

Walking to our cars, Sheila’s eyes began to tear up. She wiped them with the back of her sleeve. “Why am I cursed?” she sobbed, looking up at me, her nice blue eyes now red with tears. “I’m not supposed to be happy,” she said, her voice choking up with more emotion.

I didn’t know what to do. From experience, I’ve learned to be a good listener. In Sheila’s state of mind, she wouldn’t have heeded any advice I offered her. “I’m going home,” she said, dejected.

All I could think of was to say, “Call me if you need anything.” I got in my car, and we were off, going separate ways, back to our miserable lives all alone.

How I wished that I could have persuaded Sheila to join me back at the vegan place. We could have brought a bottle of wine (BYOB was okay there) and enjoyed ourselves.

Instead, I left Sheila for the evening.

I know what it’s like to have paranoia and to think lowly of myself. I still do. But medication and therapy have helped me tremendously. I still have my moments, however. But Sheila is unwilling to seek any sort of treatment.

I’ll continue being her friend. Hell, I’m the only friend she has besides her two cats. I’ll continue not because I’m trying to “save” her, but because she’s my friend.

~t

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My Friend of Misery

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I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty.

— Pope Francis

I made a new friend at work. I’ll say her name is Sheila. It’s a wonder that we found each other. You see, Sheila suffers from depression and suicidal ideation just like I do. We didn’t know this when we started chatting daily and visiting each other’s classrooms.

Sheila seemed meek and shy. I could tell right away that she was introverted almost to the point of misanthropy.

After talking casually for several weeks, she started confiding in me. “I have a drinking problem.” “I suffer from depression.”

I also started opening up with her. It turns out that we both have spent time in psych wards for suicide attempts and depression.

Sheila and I are at the point to where we share everything with each other — because we have each other’s trust.

Today we were on the topic of suicide. We were discussing how different methods wouldn’t totally work. A bullet to the head might turn one into a vegetable instead of being fatal. How swallowing Drano could only burn your insides and not kill you. How pills don’t work (because we have both tried them).

Then our conversation took an eerie turn. Could we go to the Netherlands and take the euthanasia drug? Surely not. They wouldn’t give it out for healthy people’s suicides. What about Oregon? Nope. same thing.

Then Sheila said something that — well, I should have been shocked or red flags should have gone up, but they didn’t.

Sheila said, “As soon as my two cats die, I’m checking out.” Then she made a cutting motion across her throat with her index finger.

All I said was, “How?”

“I’ve been researching about hiring someone to kill me. Either that or jumping off a bridge into traffic.”

The thing is, I did nothing to persuade her from those plans. I didn’t step in like a friend should. I didn’t report her to 911.

Instead I empathized with her and told her I felt the same way. I even asked her if she would someday fly to Amsterdam with me so we could take the euthanasia pill together.

I know that I failed as a Christian. I know that I still have a shot at persuading her to live though.

But what about my agreeing with her? That certainly isn’t the Christian thing to do.

Oh, and Sheila is an alcoholic. She drinks wine at work out of her coffee tumbler. On Fridays we go out for lunch and we both slam beers.

I have the time of my life with Sheila — in a totally platonic way. But at the same time I am starting to believe that God put me in Sheila’s life to help her. And helping her I’m not.

Could you pray for me? Could you also pray for Sheila? Her parents have passed away, she doesn’t communicate with her siblings, and she has no real friends except for me. She has no one to live for.

Right now we are partners in misery yet we both are the only ones who can make each other laugh. It’s a tough situation because I love our friendship.

But at this point I guess I don’t love her enough to reach out to her as a Christian.  The scary thing is, I don’t want it to ruin the fun we have.

The suicidal downward spiral feels like a water park slide: looping down and around until we go crashing into the water, all the while laughing and giggling like two kids under the summer sun.

Except we’re under storm clouds and I’m doing nothing about it. I want to feel ashamed of myself but for some reason I don’t. You have every right to judge me, but at this time I just ask for your prayers. That I can be a man of God and help this poor woman.

~t


Movie: The Road Within

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I just discovered this movie on Netflix. As I always say, I don’t get out too often, so most of you may have already seen this film. Not only do I like indie films, but I especially keep an eye out for ones that explore aspects of mental illness.

This particular film caught my eye because it qualifies as:

  1. a “buddy flick” – and I love those, and
  2. a movie dealing with characters who suffer from some sort of metal illness.

The Road Within is about three young people who don’t know each other, but they all escape from the same wellness center (I’m trying not to use ‘psych ward’). The main character, Vincent, suffers from Tourette syndrome; Marie is anorexic; and Alex, who they pick up at the last minute, has severe OCD. So severe that he constantly wears latex gloves and opens and shuts car doors exactly five times before entering.

They steal/borrow Vincent’s father’s Mercedes and head for the coast to spread Vincent’s mom’s ashes. Along the way they encounter adventures and moments of self-discovery and heartfelt sharing.

It’s not the typical buddy-movie formula: these characters are deep and they’re hurting. They just want and need some help and someone to love and understand them.

I didn’t realize this before watching the movie, but I didn’t know that anorexia was a disease of the mind. I was ignorant like most people probably are.

Alex tells his new friends that his OCD keeps him trapped inside a world of rituals that he cannot escape. He even pays a gas station attendant to chase him out of the store to make it look like Alex ran away without paying. He later confesses to his friends that he did this “to look cool” and to feel normal for a change.

Vincent explains that his Tourette syndrome is like a sneeze: you can’t stop the tics and outbursts of vulgarity no matter how hard you try.

One moving scene in the film shows Vincent’s dad confessing to the boy’s therapist where he went wrong:

It’s awful to say, but I was embarrassed by him… I wanted a different boy. And he knew it. He could see it on my face.

This film doesn’t offer any answers or self-help advice. It’s just a movie about three individuals who are not like the majority of society and how they learn to cope with and eventually rely on each other. I highly recommend it.

~t


Divorce and Marriage: Things Missed and Things Taken for Granted

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My sister posted this on her social media account recently. It speaks for itself and needs no introduction:

 

As the one year anniversary of my divorce is approaching, I’ve made a list of things that I miss and that were taken for granted while being married (beware: it’s a long list). I’ve become an even stronger person and I’m doing great at handling everything. I’m Supermom. smile emoticon

-Having someone give me their honest opinion about anything.
-Having a date for every function.
-Family nights.
-Going to dinner somewhere other than McDonalds.
-Sending out Christmas cards from the four of us.
-Knowing certain little things/quirks about him that no else knows.
-Reminiscing about the 25 years we spent together.
-His friends and family.
-His sense of humor.
-Countless numbers of ‘inside jokes’.
-Being silly and immature together.
-The smell of his cologne.
-His back rubs.
-Having an adult conversation with someone in the house.
-Helping the kids with homework while I do house chores.
-Our own language/lingo.
-Spending 7 days a week with my kids.
-Having someone to share my good and bad news with.
-His muscles to lift heavy objects and move furniture.
-When I’m sick or injured (I’m clumsy), having someone to run errands, make dinner,    take the kids to their activities and laundry.
-Knowing that I have someone to grow old with.
-Our family summer vacations.
-Having someone ask how my day was and hearing about his.
-The security of a two-income household.
-Both of us watching the kids open presents on Christmas.
-Decorating the Christmas tree and talking about the significance of each ornament.
-The kids having both of us together at their birthday parties.
-How easy it was to get things done and being a ‘team’.
-His health insurance.
-Having someone clean out the vacuum cleaner (ha ha).
-Having someone to help with car maintenance.
-Fixing things around the house.
-Helping me take care of the dogs and their vet appointments.
-Sitting down as a family at dinner and hearing about the kids’ day
-Sitting on the deck and drinking a beer on nice summer evenings
-And most of all: Missing him.

~t


In Perspective: My Best Friend’s Death

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For the past two weeks, I’ve been anxious and depressed. I have received a tentative job offer from a company, and any day now, I am hoping to get the firm offer. The deadline to submit everything was last Friday, November 28. It’s only been a day and a half, I keep reminding myself to no avail.

What would I do if I didn’t get this job? It seems like a shoe-in; what if it slips through my fingers like the previous offer from the university? They did my background check after they gave me the offer, only to rescind it the next day. I was crushed.

I get obsessed so easily whether it’s women, job offers, material goods, aikido, et cetera. I develop the worst tunnel vision.

Without much faith, I have been begging God to give me patience and to wait on Him. I’m having loads of trouble doing that, though.

I quickly forgot about these problems, however, when I learned yesterday that my best friend from high school had passed away.

I have never had another friend like David; I don’t expect that I will. We were kindred spirits. Somehow we connected on the first day of high school despite having come from different middle schools. We were both anti-social and awkward without realizing it. We knew each other better than anyone because we were just like each other.

It was the hardest thing in the world for us to make friends with others. We were so shy and afraid of interacting with people that it’s a wonder how the two of us even met. I guess it was our destiny. I don’t recall how we actually met; I just remember having metals class with him, and, before I knew it, we were best friends. Neither of us had a circle of friends, so we made our own circle of two. We didn’t let anybody in, and no one wanted in.

Maybe it was like having an identical twin brother. I don’t know what that’s actually like, but I have read that identical twins are best friends for life. Maybe David’s and my friendship — no, our bond — was like that.

We weren’t complete unless we were together. We confided in each other — even stuff that our parents never knew about.

One time when he had built up the nerve to skip school and spend the day in the woods, I was lost and even envious. Just going one school day without him had me wandering around the halls, dazed and depressed.

Only one time did we fight; I mean literally fight. David was fuming because I decided to hang out with his neighbor, a dorky kid our age who liked the same 80s hair metal (before it was called “80s hair metal”) bands but didn’t have the same connection to David or to me.

In our confrontation later that day, we came to blows; we were both crazed with anger. Amazingly, that was the only time we were ever at odds with each other. It was the strangest thing.

Being a mama’s boy, I attended college close enough in order to keep living with my family. David told me a few times in passing that he was considering the military. I didn’t believe him. I mean, he couldn’t leave! I was attending college near my house, and our life was the same as it was in high school — just the way we wanted it.

But David ended up joining the army. His departure date loomed in our minds, overtaking us like a shadowy demon.

In college, I was recruited to join a Christian cult (but that’s a different story), and David was in the army, stationed far away. We kept in touch, but life took us down different avenues. Eventually we lost contact.

Around the year 2000, I was desperate to locate my best friend. David’s dad was transferred around the country a lot, so I had no idea where to start looking. Google produced no results. Several times I almost hired a private investigator.

I refused to give up. David was more shy and anti-social than I (and that’s saying a lot), so I figured he didn’t want to be found. Nevertheless, I continued scouring the Internet. Then my online searches for him became intermittent; about once a year, I did searches, always coming up with nothing.

I was becoming convinced that he was in the witness protection program or something.

Well, yesterday I did my annual Google search for David, and the fifth result was his obituary. On the website, David’s mother had listed her phone number hoping that I would see it and contact her.

It took me over a year to find the obituary and phone number, but I did indeed find them.

Last night, for the first time in over 21 years, I was speaking to his mother. Same voice and everything. That alone made me cry; I wasn’t ready for it. Hearing the pain in her voice brought everything together, and it finally hit me that my best friend of all time was dead.

After finding out about David and talking to his mother all evening, I am sobered and humbled. I had been stressing out over a measly job offer while David’s mother has been going through hell, perpetually grieving over both of her sons who were taken from her way too soon. (David’s older brother passed away when I was in college.)

I miss you, buddy. I will always miss you.

~t


A Terrible Day for Two of Us

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“Why are you here? Just go. Change to another class.”

“He won’t even let us go to the bathroom.”

“Your writing is boring. It puts me to sleep.”

“If you leave early again, I’ll call the police.”

“You have no chance in here. I will fail you.”

I couldn’t believe these false accusations against me. I sat in the HR director’s office with the dean and associate dean; this wasn’t happening. I was just in this office a year ago for some other BS!

“Your students don’t want you back in the class,” the associate dean told me.

I sat there dumbfounded, my backpack and school bag beside me on the floor in the spacious office. The associate dean bum-rushed me as soon as I walked in the door this morning. “We have a meeting with the dean and the HR director in ten minutes. It’s bad. Bring your bags and all your stuff. Leave your gradebook.”

That could only mean one thing: I would not be going back to my office. I would not be coming back to my job. Why? What had I done?

Like the paranoid fool I am, I began frantically thinking about anything illegal that I had done. I hadn’t picked a fight with anyone. I hadn’t molested any students. What did I do that was so bad??

The dean and her associate walked me to the HR building; we walked in single file. I was last. The long walk. I had just watched a documentary the other day about life on death row.

The dean decided to have mercy on me. The next logical step was for me to get a week’s leave without pay — a method that the college uses to get rid of people since termination paperwork is too time consuming. However, she suggested that I receive yet another written warning instead.

Plus, I got pulled from the class. I would now be doing lowly tutoring work with the educated rejects in the writing center who languished away for minimum wage. At least I could keep my other two classes: the ones I actually liked. The one I got pulled from was an ESL class full of rich, spoiled international students lucky enough to make it to a U.S. college. A lot of them had powerful fathers who knew how to pull strings for their kids back home.

I got back to my office. My colleague and good friend, Rebecca, a Spanish professor, was sobbing in the next office as she packed all her books and knick-knacks in boxes. “So today is your last day?” I said.

“Yep.” She fell apart again. I had never seen her pretty blue eyes so red, puffy, and full of tears. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for such a loving soul as Rebecca.

The new dean and her associate don’t like Rebecca for reasons unknown. We don’t know why because Rebecca is one of the most respected, sincere, hardworking faculty members at the college. The new deans are essentially putting her out to pasture at some rinky-dink satellite campus ten miles away.

Rebecca is a good, faithful Methodist. Even though our Christian traditions vary somewhat, we always found common ground on the essentials of the faith.

She was only given one week’s notice about being “shipped down the river.” I wanted desperately to give her some sort of memento. Not a Starbucks mug or anything ordinary and cheesy. All I could think of was my Divine Mercy prayer card that I kept in my wallet.

I didn’t want to see her open my petty gift in the envelope that I made with a piece of printer paper stapled along both sides.

She told me later that it was the most thoughtful gift that she had received in her short time at the college. In my note that I included with the card, I tried to encourage her with Romans 8:28 which says:

God works for the good of those who love Him.

Rebecca probably had no idea what the Divine Mercy chaplet was. It didn’t matter. On the front, underneath the picture of Christ, are these five words:

Jesus, I trust in you.

“At least I’m not the only one having a terrible day,” Rebecca joked between sobs after I told her about my third written warning in two years.

She initiated a hug right before leaving her office for good. I was nervous because Rebecca is very attractive. Anyway, we hugged, and I’m glad we did because she’s my friend and I’ll miss her greatly.

~t