The following is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, BrainStorm: From Broken to Blessed on the Bipolar Spectrum.
I am lucky to have fiercely loyal friends. Joe says I’m the only person he knows who hasn’t lost a friend since kindergarten. A friend who is an astrologist says it’s in my chart. Somehow, I always seem to have prioritized my friends over my relatives, work, or hobbies. Seems I needed every one of them. It was triage time and my circles of friends, valiant, loving, compassionate and practical saved my life. As the depression took me deeper into the quicksand, they had me on a lifeline.
I’m part of a circle of seven women who have met the third Sunday of every month for twenty-four years. We’ve seen each other through birth and death, divorce and marriage, hospitalizations and healing, and all manner of personal failings and triumphs. Inevitably there’s an e-mail out from one of us going through a tough time, saying, “I don’t know how I’d make it without you all.”
When my time of descent came, these women showed up, big-time. Each in her own way, with her own gifts. Annette filled my freezer with homemade meals—ziti, lasagna, chicken—stuff that kids eat. She also dragged me to Dr. Perlman when it was time. Diane, proprietor of “organize thyself,” helped me find order in the household chaos. Jannie accompanied me to the hospital with Maya to see a pulmonary specialist, complete with Barbies, snacks, and books. Lynnie spent countless late-night hours on the phone with me, sharing her boundless well of compassion and insight. Morningstar took me on walks and sat with me, listening to music or reading poetry. And DJ held my hand and drove me to my first psychiatrist appointment.
There were also women apart from that circle—friends old and new from my rural town, a place where neighbors are short on pretension and long on acts of lovingkindness. Mara got me out weekly for long walks in the woods, listening with patience to whatever depressing tale I might offer. Patty brought food, gave me massage, told me she’d been there too and that I would come through this. Deva showed up numerous times, on a dime, when the kids or I were in a crisis: Maya to the ER for asthma, Deva there on five minutes’ notice to watch Sam. Lin walked the dog, offered prayers, listened without ever interrupting. Marilyn got me swimming—immersion was the most healing treatment I found—and her eyes locking onto mine, letting me know that she too was a member of the “To Hell and Back Club.” She’d been to the abyss with what she called “brain perseveration.” “I never thought I’d get better Sara. I did. You will too. I promise.” Though I didn’t believe that was possible, it was comforting just to be in the presence of someone who understood.
Then there were the women from out of town. Betsy, my college-roommate-turned-well-respected-clinical psychologist, who’d witnessed the start of all this—called me every Wednesday morning. Offering counseling strategies, opinions on drugs, encouragement that I was doing everything I could to heal and I should not feel shame. Mishy, who researched names of doctors in Boston, and made the two-hour drive out to our house to cook supper for my family. Nancy and Juanita, colleagues who lived on the opposite coast, offered to galvanize our entire professional network on my behalf. Andi, who called me every Tuesday morning, left roast chickens and noodle casseroles in the freezer, and made my kids laugh. Alisa did the internet research on my bloody fingers, brought me books and articles, offered to move in if we needed her.
Then there was Sara, who never let me go. Not a single day went by where she didn’t call to check in, strategize, advocate, make phone calls and organize all the women above. Sara, with her unique combination of constitutional optimism, boundless loyalty, problem-solving creativity and a loving, compassionate heart. She simply refused to believe—no matter how many days, weeks, and months went by, no matter how many healing modalities we’d tried and failed, no matter how defeated I was—that I would not get better. And she was dog-on-bone adamant about this.
“You are NOT going to be the only person who does not recover from this disease. We are not letting you go down. We’ve got your back. We will not give up until we find a cure.”
“But nothing is working. I’m so exhausted. I don’t know how much longer I can take this.”
“You are going to live, Sara. And you’re going to look back on this time with relief; wiser and sweeter for what you’ve been through. You are going to thrive again. I know it.”
You are blessed if you have someone in your life like Sara. She did know it, and she was right.
When things were at their worst and my circle of friends and family were truly worried about my survival, Sara organized an E-list of many of the people I’ve mentioned. She organized the triage team, some on food, some on kid-care, some on medicine, some on finding a therapist, some on finding the right doctor. All in contact to support and encourage each other. I never read these e-mails—I didn’t want to—but I knew they were happening and had a glimmer of hope that working together, these people could help.
And they did.
If you are suffering from any form of this disease, please don’t do it alone. No matter how full of shame you feel, call in the supports. Humble yourself. Say “yes” to any and all offers of help. You need these people, and someday you might have the privilege to support them in their time of need in return. And feel blessed for the opportunity and ability to give back. As I do now.