Just Ask: How a Friend Can Make a Difference

This is a guest post written by Erica, one of my oldest and closest friends. We made it through middle school together, many years of dance recitals, boys and our first parties, a few memorable nights with cigarettes involved, going off to colleges two hours apart only to have her introduce me to one of her new best friends freshman year who would become my husband years later.
I asked her to write this post after a few conversations around the topic of how it’s sometimes tough for friends to talk with each other about mental illness when one has gone through it and the other hasn’t. And how a friend can be supportive when faced with their friend’s mental health disorder. I love her honesty, her willingness to face the hard moments such as visiting me in the psych ward, and her loving friendship over the years. I don’t know where I’d be without her in my life. {The tucks pads, well, let’s just say that I had been through a C-section only 4 weeks earlier, and I might have had another flare-up. Or, maybe I was just hallucinating.}

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“She is so crazy,” I said as we were discussing our love/hate relationship with Miley Cyrus. Jenn and I were on the phone and I cringed as the words came out of my mouth.

We have been friends for as long as I can remember…

Scan_Pic0001{Middle school: backstage at our dance recital}

Scan_Pic0002{High school: football game, cheering on the team from the stands}

Scan_Pic0003{College: Spring break in the Bahamas with the guys who would later become our husbands. That guy in the Hawaiian shirt isn’t one of them.}

photo (4){Jenn’s wedding to Ben: August, 2003}

I never would have guessed that Jenn would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She first told me about her illness and diagnosis over drinks at TGI Fridays (classy, I know) the night before our friends’ wedding. The conversation was light and I am sure I asked some surface-level questions because I didn’t really understand what she was telling me. I knew nothing about mental illness.

My lifelong friend trusted me enough to tell me and then nothing, we never really talked about it…like really talked about it…until Jenn was hospitalized shortly after the birth of her first child.

I remember Jenn’s husband calling and asking me to talk to her. She asked me to visit and bring her face lotion, tucks pads, mascara, and eye shadow. I obliged and headed to the hospital. In my mind, Jenn was staying in a pseudo-retirement community (it was a geriatric psych ward, the only place they had been able to locate a bed for her).

In actuality, the situation wasn’t pretty. I remember the person at the entry desk taking the CVS bag from me. I mean, did I really think they would let me give her mascara? Sterile is the best way I can describe the hospital. I fought back tears as I saw Jenn in her barren room looking like a shell of herself. We went to a common area and she introduced me to some of the other patients.

I couldn’t focus.
This is serious.
I don’t know what to do or how to be a good friend.
Will we talk about this when she gets out?
When will she get out?
Why didn’t I realize she was so sick?

I had so many questions and the hospital visit was a wake-up call. No more sweeping this under the rug. I needed to ask the tough, sometimes uncomfortable questions.

And I did. But you know what? It wasn’t so tough.

Jenn told me that not getting enough sleep is her trigger and shortly after finding out she was pregnant with her second child, she told me she had stayed up all night getting organized. I knew something was wrong. I called her husband and he told me that she wasn’t taking her medication and indeed needed help. Just as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I received calls from two other friends who were equally concerned. Jenn is so very lucky to have such a strong support network. Immediately we all knew the signs because we talked with her about her illness when she was well – so much better than waiting for a crisis.

Just Ask.

Be part of someone’s success story.

As the inaugural This Is My Brave show approaches, I marvel at Jenn’s success story. But so many people play a role in her story. I hope if there is someone you know or suspect is living with a mental illness that you can be part of their support network. Because talking is therapeutic – and therapy comes in many different forms.

As for Miley…she is still engaging in shocking behavior and singing some pretty catchy songs but I am done calling her crazy.

                                             ********

Erica blogs at ConflictedPixie.com and has recently become a stylist for KeatonRow. She created a fun look book of affordable special occasion spring dresses for me to choose an outfit for the show. It’s free to sign up and have Erica create a look book for you, plus the best part is that Keaton Row offers FREE shipping AND returns! Check out her blog today – budget conscious style for your home and self. Follow Erica on TwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

Comments

  1. I love this post, Erica! I have several friends who have been hospitalized for mental illness and I’ve been at a loss about how to talk with them about it. thank you! and aren’t decades-long friendships the best?

  2. Linda Killi says:

    Jenn, what a beautiful essay from Erica! you are so lucky to have such great friends! Erica, Molly, Kelly, Sara, Olivia…you are blessed!

    • Thanks, Mom! I am very lucky. And I know you meant Sarah and Alevia – :) …it’s okay, you spell my name wrong too most of the time even though your the one who added the extra “n”. I love you. xoxo

  3. Jenn and Erica, the gift of your friendship brought me to tears.
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  4. This brought me to tears… So powerful. It reminded me of when I was in the hopsital and my parents came to visit. There was so much pain in our lives, but at the time, I was oblivious… those are hard memories. My mother was trying to be all that she could be for me and I was pushing her away. I feel a blog post coming on! (lol)
    Anyway, Thanks for sharing. I admire your friendship and I loved reading Erica’s story.

  5. Awesome post. Awesome people. It seems there are no “right” answers on how to be a good friend during tough times — but being there surely makes a difference!

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Trackbacks

  1. […] Jenn also blogs over at http://www.bipolarmomlife.com and recently asked me to write a guest post on facing a mental health disorder from a friend’s (my) perspective. I was very happy to write it but I must say it was a lot harder to write than I thought because I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t such a good friend when Jenn first told me about her diagnosis. You can read my perspective here. […]

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