On Going Mental

Yesterday one of my oldest friends called me… from the “inside.”

Well, to put it more clearly, she called from an inpatient psych ward.Photo by AndyBullock77 from Flickr

My friend and I have known each other now as long as we have not known each other… longer actually. And since she met her husband about 3 weeks after I met her, that friendship is just as solid.

When my girlfriend called, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. She was euphoric, chortling.

She seemed absolutely relieved and ecstatic to be where she was.

However, as I listened to her, this didn’t surprise me. Often when we are together, her thoughts bounced around like a pinball… eventually they’d land somewhere that made sense and I’d get a chance to catch up.

Anyway, even when they didn’t — which was the case yesterday — everything she said to me was perfectly clear. 

In this case, she was erratic. She had finally “reconnected” with an old boyfriend/soulmate. She wanted me to read the Bible… or at the very least, she wanted me to watch for empirical signs of “meaning” in the animated Tinkerbell movie. “Which one?” I asked. She wasn’t sure. Oh and could I send her another blank journal to fill?

Later, when I listened to her husband’s morose story about the last year with her (they live far away, so we see each other rarely), I thought — Oh my love… oh my sweet darling … where did you step off the path?

My friend used to take photos and paint. She used to ride her bike, and wear thrift store clothes and pay with cash or checks for everything. She’d eat oatmeal for a week if she didn’t have the money to buy bread and ham. The elaborate life of credit and gym memberships and preschools didn’t exist in any remote corner of her mind.

Now she’s a “grown up” and she lives in a suburb of a huge sprawling city. She’s a partner in an established family. She works. The last job she held had her commuting 1.5 hours on a train — one way. She loves to work, but her creative mind doesn’t jive with the wildly linear people she seems to always ram up against.

She works out at the gym daily. It was the only thing that makes her feel sane and in control. And she has 2 children to raise (because, after all, she’s the MOM), even though she really never wanted children.

Last year, she got pregnant again. I was surprised when she told me. But I thought maybe the idea of being a Mom had finally softened in her. I know regardless of her initial feelings, she adored her beautiful children, even if she was terrified of herself as a parent. She did everything possible to make their lives insanely healthy. Organic everything, homemade all the time… I learned what quinoa was from her because her kids ate it daily.

If saying that you are in a “psych ward” might sound like saying “I’m in hell” or “I’m in a Thai prison,” would you please call me? Because I disagree. I doesn’t sound that way at all to me. Don’t you remember how much simpler life was when you were 5? Or 10? Before the onslaught? Even just in college, taking classes and working a bit?

Then something happens.

I know it did for me. Maybe it’s work, or maybe it’s family, or age, but it seems like there’s a threshold of tolerance. And if we don’t take care of ourselves, we pass over that threshold without a thought. Pile on the responsibilities and the “sure I can help with that” until before you know it… something gives.

I so so love my family, but they are an enormous energy suck. If I let them, they’d never stop asking for things. Or “not doing” things that get left for me to do. And if I let myself, I’d never stop feel badly about what I didn’t get done today, what I didn’t do right by them. I’d keep on spinning it over in my mind at night.

I hurt my leg a week or so ago and I’ve been hobbling around. It hurts alot and I’ve been testy and not myself. I’ve been trying to rest it and elevate, but it still hurts! And I don’t realize how this impacts my kids. Kiki said today: “Oh I can’t wait till Mom smiles again!”

I was stunned.

I don’t know what to do or say, really, to help my friends and their children. They are so far away. The task of unwinding from such brutal personal handiwork is long and tedious.

So I’ll ask you all to think about them for a minute, with compassion.

And then, I’ll wish for you to think about yourself, too — overstretched as you are — in the same way.


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