Friendships and disordered thinking

Yesterday, I shared an article from Christianity Today about disordered thinking.  Today, I wanted to share my experience with disordered thinking–the story of me and my friend, and what I observed of her and learned from her while we were coming of age together.  To protect her privacy, I’ll refer to her in this post as Rose.  I think she would have liked that.

Growing up with Rose was exciting.  She was more passionate, more intensely relational, and more emphatic than anyone I had ever met before knowing her.  I believe she suffered from bipolar disorder for most of her life, but in the early years of our friendship I knew nothing about disordered thinking, and certainly not bipolar disorder.  Later, I learned more and could begin to connect the dots with regards to her behaviors; her frequently over the top actions, her all or nothing stance on many issues, and her desire to not be invisible.  Rose had been misused a lot when she was a child, and never really sorted out the abusers from the non-abusive in her life while she was wandering in the shadow lands.  She isn’t with us now, but the memory of her lingers.  She was a fierce and vibrant spirit in a sometimes insipid world.  I miss her and the energy she exuded whenever we were together.  For her, nothing was impossible.  You don’t meet many people like that these days, and as a child and teen I had few of them in my life.

Most of my close friends and family could think of a million reasons why something wouldn’t work, before they could consider even once that it might–Rose never approached problem solving that way. She was a dynamo.

Rose was in and out of the hospital as an adult.  She never shared with me her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but she had all the signs.  She tried to keep the hospitalizations a secret, fearing that if the knowledge got out, she would be stigmatized.  I never told her I knew about them, but I think she knew I knew.  We just didn’t talk about it.  What would I say?  What could she dare to share?  I wouldn’t have loved her any less if she had told me about her problem (after all, it’s not like she wanted to be unstable at times, or yearned to suffer from insomnia that went on and on, and on), but she couldn’t be sure of my reaction if she told me, so we just didn’t “go there.”  Now, I wish we had.  Maybe it would have given her a safe place to share her struggles.  Maybe…

When we were teens and my friend and I did normal, stupid teenager stuff, I found her manic episodes exciting. She had so much energy, so much zeal, so much passion for life; I never guessed it was because of her illness.

What did I know then about bipolar disorder.

Those of us who hung around together in the 70’s didn’t expect this to happen to our friend. We weren’t prepared. We didn’t know what to do when she got these unexpected and unplanned bursts of boundless energy. We couldn’t keep up with her.  The best we could do was hope that she was alright, and later, after we knew to do it, we prayed for her.

During those times we waited.

We watched.

The immediate crisis of hospitalizations and the stabilization process would pass, but the understanding that Rose’s life experience would probably always be like this stuck in my mind.

Could she change?

Did she want to change?

Was this hyper way of life, followed by horrid bouts of depression, all she’d ever known?

How was she able to live this way?

I think I asked all those questions, in turn.

If you didn’t get a chance to read Amy Simpson’s article in Christianity Today, posted yesterday, I hope you will find a few minutes to give it a quick read today.

I wish I could have helped Rose more.  I loved her and respected her person and her passions.  She was a good friend to me, and a wonderful confidant.  I’m not sure what my life would have been like without her, or how much harder coming of age might have been without her friendship.

Rose, girl, I love you!  You lived large all the time.  My life is a little less bright without you here, but I know we’ll meet again. Until then, stay strong with Jesus.


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