About Me

I’m Louise. Blogger. Wife. Designer of TruLu Couture Veils + Accessories.  If you’d like to know more, check out my bio.

Follow Me!



« Wearing White | Main | A Backward Glance »

Erasing the Distance

I have a very old, very dear friend. I remember late nights as 14 year olds, watching SNL, eating brownie batter and talking about boys. We went to different colleges and didn't see each other often, but when we did, it was just as if we were 14 all over again. We always picked up right where we left off.  She traveled to see me when I lived in San Diego, LA, Chicago and even here in Nashville. I was MOH in her wedding.

We no longer speak.

It wasn't because of something she did or didn't do. It's not because she's a mean, spiteful or bad person. She's not. What she is, is sick. Mentally ill. Diagnosed with manic depression and bipolar disease. The diagnosis came after what I'll simply describe as years of erratic behavior - lots of it self-destructive.  When you're a young person, you just don't recognize that a person might be mentally ill, particularly if you've known them all of your teen and adult years. It comes on slowly. When you start to realize that the wild-crazy-fun-party-girl attitude isn't so healthy for your friend, you start to intervene. You're the BFF, you're supposed  to intervene. Friends are supposed to keep each other safe and sound. But then the friend actually rebuffs your help and cranks up the crazy an extra notch - just because.

Then, in her late 20's/early 30's the friend starts to get that she might be a little off. She goes to therapy. Lots of it. She takes behavioral medications, lots of them. She's wicked-wicked smart and convinces different doctors to give her different meds, cocktail after cocktail. Some make her delusional. Some make her mad. Some make her very, very, very sad. So sad that she locks herself in a closet for a few days. You know, just to get it together.

And during all this time there are long, loooooong stretches of silence from the friend. It's like she's fallen off the face of the planet. Phones are turned off, messages go unanswered, emails fall into the abyss of nowhere - as if she no longer existed. And I think she likes it that way.  I think she gets so far down into the dark of her illness that nothing can get her out far enough or long enough to co-exist with the people outside her immediate family. When she does resurface, there are pages long emails or letters or cards that apologize profusely for her silence and that it will never happen again for I am the dearest friend in her life and how could she live without me?

Up until two weeks before our wedding, I could not decide whether or not to invite her. This is someone who was a part of my life for so long. Her presence is dotted by keepsakes of cards and letters and pictures. When she came to Nashville in 2005, she came to visit me for my birthday. It was a rough visit for me, as many of her visits can be. She was in an "up" manic state - constantly complaining about her husband and asking me for advice. At the time, I was starting to go through some of my own issues. I was edging into my own self-exploration of mind and body and really needed a friend. I needed her, but she was not there. The friend and girl I grew up with through first kisses, homecoming dances and prom, serious boyfriends and break-ups, family divorce and death - she was not there. It was someone else. I didn't want to deal with that someone else during my wedding, because deal with it was definitely what would have happened. I requested guidance of a mutual friend and she said, "Well, if you're not dealing with it, then I'll have to."

And she was right. And not that the mutual friend was being selfish (in case the comment sounds that way). She was protecting herself from the drama, the mania, the crazy. It was then that I knew I could not invite her. I felt that I was moving forward in my life. I did not want to include that part of my life in a new one that now included my husband. The decision pained me. I still wonder if I did the right thing. I sent the friend an email long before wedding invitations went out after I had received a very disturbing email from her, one that accused her husband of heinous acts and went on and on about her life and troubles and how she needed me. In my reply, I explained to her how I could not proceed with our friendship in the same way that we had for the last 15 years. I told her why. I explain how my needs, as a friend, were always secondary to her issue-of-the-moment unless it was something she could send a friendly card to cover her ass with. I basically told her the ball was in her court to try to amend our friendship based on guidelines I felt I needed to set. I haven't heard from her since. And that's OK.

The problem is that I never knew the signs from the start. Her family didn't. Her other friends didn't. Her boyfriends didn't. Not until it was way too late in the game. I look back now and wish I knew how to better handle the friendship and her mental illness. Damn, even now I wonder if I did the right thing. I know I did the right thing for me, but did I do the right thing for her? Our friendship?

I think one of the reasons I was unaware and quite honestly, in denial of her issues, was my lack of knowledge about mental illness. I have a family member who had some serious mental illness issues and actually spent time committed in a hospital. I was a young adult at the time and I remember being scared of this family member when I had never been scared before. That felt strange. Mostly what I remember is the the stress upon the immediate family. I remember seeing lots of eyes with dark circles. Weight loss. A staring off into the distance, as if trying to find a solution on the horizon. I wondered if my family member was in a One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest sort of setting. I feared a Nurse Ratched character would treat my family member unfairly. I just didn't know or understand.

All of this comes to the point of my post, which is a wonderful program a therapist friend of mine shared with me recently. It's called Erasing the Distance. Their goal is to "shed light on mental illness through theater."

Erasing the Distance generates awareness, disarms stigma, and ignites the healing process by:

  • Creating and performing professional theatrical productions based on the true stories of people’s experiences with mental illness.
  • Holding facilitated discussions after every performance so that audience members can dialogue within a safe forum.
  • Providing information, resources, and support from such respected organizations as NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) so people can access help if they need it.

Erasing the Distance can also create original productions to share the stories of your unique community.

The troop of actors performs in schools and churches and communitiy centers to education people both young and old. It creates an open atmosphere of communication, not one of fear or anger that mental illness so many times can create amongst  friends and families.

Erasing the Distance is something we can all be involved in. You can:

  • Join the conversation Visit their NEW BLOG where they share resources, news articles, photos, and events. Spread the word by telling your networks about Erasing the Distance. 
  • Professional actors To be considered at one of their upcoming auditions, please mail two copies of your head-shot and resume to Jessica Mondres, 4942 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60625. Email jessica@erasingthedistance.org with any questions.
  • Mental Health Professionals Submit a cover letter and resume if you are interested in joining the Mental Health Advisory Board or working as a trainer at a local high school touring locations for faculty and staff. Email jessica@erasingthedistance.org.
  • Hire them Bring a productions to your community. Contact Executive Artistic Director, at 773.944.5062 ×1 or brighid@erasingthedistance.org to discuss how you can help bring Erase the Distance to your school, faith group, or workplace.
  • Collaborate Create a customized production with ETD based on the true stories of your unique community. The first step is easy. Call or email Executive Artistic Director Brighid O’Shaughnessy at 773.944.5062 × 1 or through this form to brainstorm ideas.
  • Tell your story Stories are always welcome and considered for inclusion in upcoming productions. Please tell them more about you through their Submit Your Story form.
  • Donate Any amount helps a great deal! Click here
  • Volunteer your time Contact Jessica at 773.944.5062 ×3 or at jessica@erasingthedistance.org to discuss the possibilities. You could usher at a show, join the Board, or share a special skill.
  • Advertise Wear a free Erasing the Distance button and let your community know that you are open and willing to talk about mental illness. Pick one up at any of the shows.

There are so many of us that deal with friends and family who are mentally ill, but so few people talk about it. As a culture, we've assigned a stigma, a sense of shame surrounding it. These people are not "normal" so should be pushed to the back of society - where they belong, right? Isn't that what we've been subtly taught as a culture? Someone with mental illness can wreak havoc on a family. If the illness goes untreated, can be devastating. Education and communication is a way we can overcome some of these issues. This program doesn't cure the illness or make it go away. What is does is compassionately educate communities to better understand and encourage the healing process.

I'm helping by spreading the word with the power of this blog, by sharing my personal experience with mental illness - how it touched my life for so many, many years.  Has mental illness touched your life in a significant way? Do you think the power of education would better assist you in that relationship? How can you help?

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (11)

I lost 7 months of my life to Postpartum Depression. I also lost 3 very close friends. I am very good at saying how I feel and when you tell someone you...

1)wish you could give your child away, or
2) that you have come one credit card digit away from buying a one way ticket out of town, or
3) that every time you get in a car you imagine the oncoming traffic putting you out of your misery...

they don't handle that so well. Besides for my family, those 3 people were the closest friends I had at that time. I've never heard from them again. They never asked why I was so sad. They never gave me any sort of literal or metaphorical slap across the face. They just did the thing I wished I could do and disappeared. I don't blame them for leaving, but looking back I always wonder why NO ONE said anything to me.

I went to the doctor NINE times. And each time was sent home with a pat on the back and murmur of "parenthood is hard". No one asked if I had a support system. I didn't. I lived alone. Most days I didn't see another human in my neighborhood all workday. No one asked if my husband could take some time off work. He couldn't. And he had a 13 hour commute. My mother told me once to snap out of it. My sister told me to go shopping.

Just last month, I found out that during that time in my life, I made a 2 hour drive to visit some other friends, handed them my baby and slept for 5 hours, woke up and ate and then drove home. I have no recollection of that day at all. I so obviously needed help.

If just one person had said, HEY DAISY, this isn't how it should be - let's see about getting some help - I would have. I would have taken any help I could get. I begged for help and got none. Maybe they felt it was none of their business, or maybe they just couldn't see what was happening to me? I don't know.

I do know that since that day, not one of my friends has had a baby without getting the, "it happened to me and if it happens to you, I'm here" speech. They get phone calls and letters and if they fall off facebook or email for too long, you can bet I'm making sure (in my not so in your face way) that they are just at the bottom of a laundry basket and not the bottom of a giant black life sucking hole.

Thanks Lou...Good story.

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaisy

Great information!

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshley's Bride Guide

@Abby - I'm crying reading this because I had no idea. And I question myself still - should I reah out to this friend? It's not like I haven't - SOOOOOOOOOOO many times. I've reached out to her parents. Once to her husband - to no avail. I felt like I was talking to a pile of meat - no reaction. Maybe they were numb from the pain caused too.

It's funny - anyone who has a blog and knows their "stats" can tell a good blog day from a bad blog day. Usuallly a good blog day has lots of traffic and lots of comments. A bad blog day is slow on both. Today has been an amazing blog day in regards to traffic, but NO ONE is commenting. I guess people are still too trapped in social stigmata to comment? Too scared? Too ashamed?

Abby, thank you so much for your consistent honesty here. It's well intended and much needed. Communication is the big chunk in the dealing with these things. I am so sorry you went through what you did and that I never knew until after the fact.

Hugs to you then and now for the kick-ass mom you are to a bunch of mind-blowing boys.

October 27, 2010 | Registered CommenterLouise

I really like this thoughtful post. I have wondered, probably every day if my mother has some form of mental illness. But unfortunately any time I broach the subject of therapy she will scream and shout. She once suffered from extreme depression for approximately 7 years, and it's hard, she sought help at that time but it was mostly in pill form and I don't think she had adequate counseling. I can't help but wonder if she is still suffering in more silence. It's so hard to see this happen to the ones we love.

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenni

@Jenni - Thank you so much for commenting. My hope is that you can approach the subject of her happiness again - without the screaming and shouting. Hugs to you!

October 27, 2010 | Registered CommenterLouise

I believe friends and even family really don't see or fully understand the extent of another's pain. They see signs and symptoms, of course, and often have no clue what to do or say. and some just don't understand mental illness at all.

Abby's suggestions are wise. Check in with those you care about - whether the problems are related to mental or physical illness. A friend who is a breast cancer survivor was new to our town when she went through her surgery. She didn't know enough people to call on for help and no one called her. (I did not know her at the time.) My conversations with her taught me to try to connect with those who drop off the radar.

But then there are times when, in order to survive, we must separate ourselves from others. If they are taking us down, we have to do something - as kindly as possible.

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterflo

Hi Louise,

Little Spoon and I were out celebrating our two year anniversary (of dating) last night, or I would have commented sooner. After reading your blog entry, I wonder if your friend may have been misdiagnosed. True bipolar disorder usually responds at least fairly well to lithium or anticonvulsants. Their extreme behavior is also driven by equally extreme positive emotions (what's being described in the literature now as "positive urgency"), rather than extreme negative emotions (a neurotic kind of impulsivity called "negative urgency"). Cognitive-behavioral approaches for the mania of bipolar disorder often focus on compliance with medication and skills-based training to ensure people take care of themselves when they're really up.

Without knowing your friend's history, I can only surmise what might be going on here, but bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed when the real problem is one lying in the externalizing spectrum of psychopathology (that is, the tendency to act out negative emotions behaviorally, rather than keep them bottled up). One possibility within this spectrum might be borderline personality disorder. If I were to rate each symptom as being absent (0), possible (1), probable (2), or unscorable (-9) from this post (and some of the other things you've said):

- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment: 1. "When she does resurface, there are pages long emails or letters or cards that apologize profusely for her silence and that it will never happen again for I am the dearest friend in her life and how could she live without me?" She may be compensating for feeling abandoned with this behavior, or this may be a sign of another criterion below.

- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships: 2. See above, when combined with "there are long, loooooong stretches of silence from the friend," and "It was a rough visit for me, as many of her visits can be." They certainly seem unstable, and the emotions and attachment seem intense.

- Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self: -9. I can't tell from this post what her self-image is like; I can only see that she's an unstable friend to you, which is accounted for elsewhere.

- Impulsivity: 2. "The diagnosis came after what I'll simply describe as years of erratic behavior - lots of it self-destructive;" "When you start to realize that the wild-crazy-fun-party-girl attitude isn't so healthy for your friend, you start to intervene." This is the symptom that is probably most shared between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, to the point that the behaviors that count as symptoms of one disorder count as symptoms of the other.

- Recurrent suicidal behavior: -9. I haven't seen anything in this post to speak to self-injury one way or the other.

- Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days): 2. Mostly from this, which I attribute more to her variable mood than the specific effects of medication: "Some make her delusional. Some make her mad. Some make her very, very, very sad. So sad that she locks herself in a closet for a few days." This is what often gets people tripped up in diagnosing bipolar - the mood swings must last for at least a few days, and preferably at least a week (for mania) or two (for depression) for a bipolar I diagnosis. And these aren't swings with a lot of variability during the day - they're profound and consistent shifts in mood.

- Chronic feelings of emptiness: 1. "Phones are turned off, messages go unanswered, emails fall into the abyss of nowhere - as if she no longer existed. And I think she likes it that way." I'll admit that here, I'm making a substantial inferential leap that when you describe her dropping off the face of the earth, it's because she feels empty inside, rather than something else.

- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger: 1. "She was in an 'up' manic state - constantly complaining about her husband and asking me for advice." Irritability is one of the symptoms of mania, but it's not the only one, this sounds more like an externalizing peevishness than a bipolar goal-directed frustration.

- Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms: 1. "I had received a very disturbing email from her, one that accused her husband of heinous acts and went on and on about her life and troubles and how she needed me." Perhaps these are paranoid accusations?

Note that this is not a formal diagnosis of any sort, and you'll note that I haven't even said that any of these behaviors definitely make the threshold for any particular symptom. Only a careful evaluation (preferably by a psychologist instead of a psychiatrist) could reveal that. But borderline personality disorder has a very different sort of therapy that's indicated than bipolar disorder. Borderline personality disorder calls for dialectical behavior therapy, a more intensive (but still outpatient) kind of psychotherapy that's perhaps the best validated treatment for this disorder. Drugs won't help borderline personality disorder, though, and the multiple failed attempts at pharmacotherapy seem to attest that bipolar may not be where it's at for your friend.

This is also not to say that your friend can't be experiencing depression. Many individuals with borderline personality disorder also have episodes of depression, which might be what's going on when she drops off the face of the earth. The hope with dialectical behavior therapy would be to give her tools to deal with depression *as well as* to give additional skills and tools to deal with other extreme emotions and impulsivity.

During internship, one of the clinical symptoms I was advised to consider as an indicator that a patient may have had a personality disorder is the sense that you're doing something wrong, despite objectively doing things correctly by the book and the rules of logic and common sense. Should you reach out again? I dunno - for your sanity, I'd say that you've done all you can. She may have misinterpreted your need to set and obey limits (a skill that's taught in dialectical behavior therapy!) for something feeding into her alienation, suspicion, and mistrust of others. I'm not sure you could do anything differently and preserve your happiness. It may not have been the best thing for your friendship, but it's also unclear that there is a stable friendship there for which there could be a definitive "best thing."

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBig Spoon

My mom is mentally ill. Because of this, I thought long and hard about inviting her to our wedding. It sounds terrible right? But I know my mom. In the end I did invite her, even paid for her to come, and..she was about what I expected. She snuck out before dinner (though not before making a production of it, of course). I'm sorry about your friend. It sounds like you did all that was within your power to do to help. Sometimes, it's not enough. Sometimes, it's not your battle. It took me a long time and a lot of growing up to realize that I couldn't help my mother unless she wanted to help herself first. I'm still working on not feeling guilty for failing though.

And thank you for pointing me in the direction of Erasing the Distance.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkc

Lou, No crying! No more tears need to be shed over that!

I would also like to point out that I refer to those 3 people as old friends. Always. And with a smile. I know they left because they didn't understand or were scared. I really don't blame them now that I am able to look back understand what happened to me. I think that walking away when you feel like you have to is just good smarts. You have to protect yourself. And when any relationship threatens that, it's just proof to your own good health to be able to walk away.

You can wonder. You can hope. But don't beat yourself up about stepping out. Has to be done sometimes.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaisy

Sigh. Yes, I did say that about inviting her to the wedding, because I went through a lot of the exact same things that you did with her, and I too ended up giving up after years of mania and the depths of depression. I question that decision constantly. And you're right, I don't think we knew enough about mental illness at the time to have the right tools to deal with it. By the time we recognized the extent of her personal hell, it was too late to go back. I miss her dearly. She is a HUGE part of my adolescence and formative years, and I so wish we could all three sit down and have a cocktail and reminisce. She is the reason you and I are so close, and I wish the three of us could still have the bond that you and I do now, because it is one of the most important relationships in my life, no matter how much time goes by.

Love you, girl.

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Consulted Friend

@TCF/CozmoGrl - This comment made my cry. You're right, SHE is the reason you and I are so close. And wouldn't it just be so lovely for us to sit around and be the goofy girls we are? We could quote North & South, channel our inner Rosanne Rosannadan, and continue to make fun of those freaks from our biology class 20+ years later (some things never cease to be funny). We could gossip heartily about The Mikes, argue over who is the prettiest/smartest/thinnest and throwback a few Cosmopolitans while we're at it.

Indeed. I would like that. Very much.

October 29, 2010 | Registered CommenterLouise

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>