Loving someone with mental illness is complicated. I don’t want to say it’s difficult because loving them isn’t the hard part – seeing them hate themselves is. I met my best friend in seventh grade, but we didn’t get to know each other until ninth. She has this look about her, an emanating sharpness, that makes her seem intimidating – and being the crushingly shy adolescent I was, I avoided anyone who wasn’t utterly approachable.
She had transferred from public to private school then back to public school again. Needless to say, she’s always had issues in the disciplinary department. Her opposition to authority probably stems from her life at home. She used to tell me that even though her family might be people living in a house, that did not make it a home.
Freshman year, we had gym class together. Under the fluorescent lights, I saw her smile for the first time. I also saw the scars that ran down her arms and thighs. Suddenly, she didn’t seem so intimidating. Suddenly, she was as fragile as I was. Over the stifled smell of gym socks, we became friends – best friends. Full of secrets and unbreakable promises, we were connected. As we got older, the things that had once broken me turned into strengths. But as I got better, she didn’t.
Finally able to get away from her life at home, my best friend went to college as far away as possible. Like her, I had figured that once she got away from home, things would be better. But as she said, her house was never a home in the first place.
It was my second week at college when she called me. I was sitting in my bed catching up on the reading I had already managed to fall behind in. She had been at her school a whole two weeks before me, and we hadn’t been talking much – so the moment my phone lit up, I grabbed it. That was when she told me she was on a roof and that she was going to jump.
She has been in recovery for a while now. She did not jump, but that does not change the fact that she has wanted to die for a very long time. As someone who has struggled with sadness myself, I understand that it is not something that can simply be “fixed.” The social stigmas surrounding depression are almost as harmful as the illness itself. Why is the brain the only organ that can’t get sympathy for being sick? Depression is a flaw in chemistry – not in character. She will probably struggle with this illness for the rest of her life, but that does not mean she will always be sad. And as her best friend, I will be there for her through all of it. Loving someone with mental illness is tough, but my best friend and I are tougher.
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