This has been a rough week for me. I’ve probably spent more time crying this week than I have in the last five years or so, and yet, I don’t think any of the people I have spent time with have seen it. I don’t know what it is, but I have a very difficult time crying in front of other people. I managed it once in Menninger, and it was because of something that seemed very sad at the time. But this week, my crying has been before people arrive or after they leave, often at night when I’m drifting off to sleep. But that’s incidental. What I’m really writing is to tell you about my friend.
When I came to Menninger, I was kind of scared. Here I was, locked in a small unit with 16 or so people I didn’t know, who I knew nothing about other than that they had mental illnesses – and my last experience with that hadn’t gone well (see my previous entries discussing my quintuple-felon roommate at the previous acute care facility). I’m an introvert by nature, so I was hesitant to try to reach out to others, and it seemed like a lot of people were just content, at least at first, to let the new guy spend a little time on his own before maybe trying to draw him into conversation.
Not Alice. Alice wanted to meet me, and then play Monopoly with me, and she wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that. She just came right up to me, introduced herself, let me introduce myself, and asked if I wanted to play. I said sure, and that’s how we met; she was this attractive young woman who seemed a bit far away at times, but she said what was on her mind, and did what she wanted, and she made me feel welcome, like I was part of the group. It took me a few more days to get used to everything, but she was my introduction to HOPE, and the idea that there was, well, hope.
Alice had her own issues, like we all did; her medication seemed to change a lot, and so her behavior could be kind of erratic – sleeping most of the day one day, laughing and crying the next. Sometimes what she wanted to talk about didn’t make much sense. But when she wanted to talk, she had passion. She didn’t want to do things the same way all the time. She got annoyed with social niceties, like a standard “What’s up?” or “How are you doing?” greeting, and so she told me that if I was going to keep trying to talk with her, I needed to come up with something different. It was odd, but i was in a mental hospital – and it was a fun challenge. How many different ways could I find to greet someone?
I enjoyed getting to know Alice, because whatever she was, she was never boring. She had a keen interest in reading, and she seemed to feel frustrated that she didn’t have what she wanted to read. One of the things she did like – as I found out on my first day – was playing games. Jenga, ping-pong, Monopoly, Skip-Bo, Bananagrams, we played them all – and I never once beat her at anything. It may not have been a great job talent, but she was great at games. Games really seemed to focus her, and some of our most interesting conversations happened while she was demolishing me in one game or another. But eventually, Alice decided she wasn’t getting the help she wanted from Menninger, and made the decision to leave, even against her team’s advice. Because we had some connection, I was the only person in the unit she told, and she asked me not to tell anyone else, which was a hard secret to keep, knowing that other people who liked Alice’s company would miss her.
But she left, and went off to live with family for a while. We kept in touch via e-mail, and it seemed that even outside she wasn’t happy, though she did enjoy being able to listen to music freely again. When I went to the step-down after Menninger, she ended up making the decision to try the step-down, as well; she came in a month or so after I did. It seemed that she felt she had too little to do, and that really made her feel unstable, so she tried the step-down. It was great to see her again, but after a short while it seemed like the step-down wasn’t agreeing with her, either. I did get to try some new things because of her; she recommended a good sushi place in Houston, Miyako, and it was because of her that I ended up trying out What-A-Burger for the first time. But I didn’t listen to her when she told me that she didn’t want a birthday present, and when I got her one anyway she got upset with me, and we didn’t speak much after that.
The not speaking much wasn’t because of the birthday present, I should clarify; she got over that relatively quickly. But I think she began feeling enclosed by the step-down in the same way she had been at Menninger, and that really began to bother her. It was hard to watch, because she was my friend and having a hard time, but I didn’t know what I could do, if anything. Eventually, she ended up leaving around the same time as I did, and we drifted apart. The last time I spoke to her was on Facebook back in December, and shortly after that her Facebook page disappeared; she started it up again, but I didn’t know. And so I didn’t see the amazing things she ended up doing.
Reading her articles in Houstonia, and seeing the YouTube videos of her poetry readings, I see the Alice that I only got bare glimpses of in treatment – in between bouts of mania and depression, for a few hours at a time, maybe a day at most, you could occasionally see the woman she could be, and became – smart, funny, eloquent, full of life, with a way with words that I’m not sure I can rival on my best day. I’m happy that, for at least a while, she managed to find a way to express that side of her, to show others what we, who had seen her at her worst, only got brief moments of. I wish I could have gotten to know that Alice, the one who seems to be free of the crushing burden of mental illness, because it seems like she made such an impact everywhere she went that everyone feels her loss personally.
Mostly, though, I wish my friend was still here. She was only 23; there was so much more of life for her to see and experience. I know how terrible it can be, and I don’t begrudge her what she did; there’s only so much pain, so many feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness, one can feel before they just can’t stand to do it anymore. I think about her, and I cry; I’ve had to stop three times while writing this just to get myself back together. But even crying, I can remember her; in one of the e-mail she wrote to me, when I mentioned crying, she responded, “Remember, crying can be cathartic. My eyes never shut for rest more peacefully than when I’ve bawled them out.”
Wherever you are now, Alice, I hope you are at peace. I hope you don’t begrudge me my tears, and I hope you find something amazing to do.