I received a call from an old friend yesterday. I met her when I moved into a new school in southern California in 1973. The two things we had in common then were our pixie haircuts and our love of Donny Osmond. She was the youngest of 5 with 4 older brothers, and I had one older brother so as the “only” girls, we did everything together that her over protective mother would allow. We were so close that we could have been twins. Twins will often say they have “twin speak” or have two bodies and one mind. I’m here to attest that “twin speak” can occur when your “sister” is born to another mother. Little did we know way back then that would end up having something life changing in common.We both eventually discovered that we were bi-polar.
In Jr. High my parents dragged me off to Oregon for a new business venture of theirs, and Briana remained behind. Her 4 older brothers kept tabs on her and when I was able to beg my mom to let me call long distance, we would catch up on what we were missing. I once flew down to see her, and when I got off the airplane stairs and crossed the tarmac to where she was waiting, we busted up laughing so hard that we caused a scene. While we were separated we had each grown enormous boobs and neither of us had a “decent” bra! Being able to borrow a DD “Brooklyn bridge bra” from your BFF in a pinch is not something every girlfriend can do.
Over the next 20 years I was in and out of California and we met up regularly before, during and after having our kids. Every now and then no matter where I was living I would wake up in the middle of the night with a start, knowing I should call her. Every single time that happened she would be in crisis and need to talk. Incredulous she would ask “how” I always knew. Call it what you like, intuition, twin-speak or a gut feeling, but the details I knew before I called her would spook you if you didn’t understand the Holy Ghost.
On one of these occasions, I discovered that she had just been admitted to a private, “secret” mental hospital in San Diego. I had zero understanding of the bi-polar diagnosis then but I well understood her wild highs – barreling down PCH at 90 miles and hour in her VW Bug with her head hanging out of the drivers window, screaming “WOOHOO LIFE IS AWESOME!!” during a “natural high”. I also saw the days she could not get out of bed, even if I had concert tickets to Tom Petty. She could beat herself up over the most trivial things and that would send her spiraling into the chasm of darkness. It could be months before she could be considered “healthy” enough to return to work. I asked her what I could do to help, and all that she could say was please just send her the readers digest. So I did. I gathered up a 100 pound box full and sent them with her mom. I felt helpless and bereft. She could barely stop crying long enough to talk.
Why is this relevant today? Once again, I had that “feeling” I should call. After having been “up” for almost a month (a near record for her) she had crashed hard. Her 22 year old daughter, Kyra, had moved out of the house 4 weeks prior but had stopped calling or texting. To her daughters credit, I told her, she was moving on with her adult life. I did not tell her that I was the one that gave her Kyra the shove to get out and into her own place. She had been care taking her mother since her birth, and I felt very strongly that she needed to grow up and get “gone”. “Gone” in this case was just about 8 blocks away, but still a giant step out into the world.
In the next hour I encouraged her to start being the sunshine in her daughters life, and not the rain and clouds, even if she had to “act”. Briana plead that there was no way she could do that when the depression took over. I told her if she could fake it until she makes it, she would hear more from Kyra than she could imagine. Drawing on some of my own mom experiences I asked her to take out a picture of Kyra when she was in grade school and to take a really good photo to frame after Kyra’s upcoming graduation. Her daily task was to look at those photos and say out loud “I did a good job, I raised an independent woman” and “ I am so happy that my daughter is strong enough to take on the world on her own”. I also asked her to get a picture or painting of the sun, so that when Kyra called she could always be reminded to be her cheerleader, supporter, listening ear, and her “sunshine”. What I could not tell her is that depression had robbed her daughter of a well and balanced mom, and a happy childhood and that it would be really hard for Kyra to keep reconnecting with her if all she ever met on the phone or in person was Briana as a total wreck. Briana would have to begin learning to meet her when she was up. Only. I also told her about one of my own coping skills, texting. If you just can’t fake it, you tell your kid that you aren’t in a good place to talk, and you’d be able to chat instead.
I did confide with her that my own experience recently had been just as hard. A few years ago we sent our youngest son on an LDS mission. Missionaries are encouraged to email home once a week, and then twice a year we would get a skype or phone call. I lived for those skypes because my son hardly ever wrote. He was a happy missionary but not a real talker. Briana was incredulous that such a thing even took place (even military men can call, text, skype and come back home for visits). I told her that for the first 6 months it felt like my son was gone forever. I was down, discouraged and sad even during the times that I was so proud of him that I could pop. He had gone out of our home and into a 16 hour a day job, managing other men and women’s schedules, meeting total strangers and experiencing near death experiences on a bike in metro Dallas. I explained that it took all of my efforts to not write him needy letters and emails. Instead I just smothered that boy with care packages. I’m pretty sure I kept Frito Lay and Pepsico in business single handedly for those two years, and it is my firm hope that one day when he grabs an Oberto bag, he will remember his sappy, happy mother. Being positive when it feels like the very last thing you can do is a gift we give to our children that they may not fully understand until after we are gone. Doing so is a sacrifice, and in my experience, sacrifice has always brought forth blessings. Maybe not obvious ones, or when I thought they should happen, but exactly what I needed at just the right time.
There are days in life when I find it difficult to carry the burden of bi-polar disease, but I’ve been incredibly lucky to have good mental health service providers and excellent medicine (which I take without fail). Even more importantly I have had God. He has had my back though all of the chaos that I created long before my diagnosis, and during the fallout and healing that came after those storms. The gift of the Holy Ghost kept me from swallowing a bottle of pills, driving off a bridge in the cold darkness of January, and helped me find light in a darkness so thick that not even the flame of a candle could be seen.
As I continue to be Briana’s missing sister and confidant, I hope to be able to help her straighten her crown, not point out that her crown is a little crooked.
True friends are our loves and I like to think of this lyric :
The river is wide, I cannot see
Nor do I have light wings to fly
There’ll be a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I
My love is like the lofty tree
It shudders fears and then sways free
If it should fade when the summer’s through
She’ll bloom again when the spring shines through
For Briana, I hope that one day, it will always be Spring.