There is a beauty in broken things; or how to have a friend with suicidal ideation….and how not to take it (too) personally

I’m not writing this week – this week my amazing, courageous and resilient best friend is writing a guest spot………

I have been thinking about writing a guest blog for X for some time now but it was her “Diagnosis and a donut” post that really sparked off my internal responses. It was the lines from her quotation that read

               ‘….they end up taking vacations in psychiatric wards….emerge looking good, raising everyone’s hopes. Until the next let-down, real or imagined, the next excursion into self-damage. What they don’t do is change’

In that quote I am the ’everyone’.  I am the one who allows their hopes to be raised every time X has a period of respite from her relentless suicidal thoughts. I am the one who believes that this is going to get better, and tells her that, particularly at those points when she cannot believe that such a thing can be. What I object to is the phrasing let-down. Do I feel ‘let-down’ when X is suicidal? As if she is doing this specifically to disappoint me, or the medical services, that she is being deliberately obstructive to her own progress? NO. NO. NO. I have learnt to accept that part of the cycle as much as the periods of respite. I’m not here for only the good times. I don’t only care when she is able to meet me or call me or when she is performing well and is capable. I also care when she is at her most vulnerable, most catastrophic, least lovable. 

For me it is the broken people who most interest me, the people who are able to own the cracks and fissures in their good intentions, those who have suffered seem to me to be those who can love.

X once said to me that if she did end up committing suicide and I had to stand at the head of her coffin while glib words of comfort are spoken I could comfort myself with the knowledge that I was not to blame. That I had tried as much as I could, that I could be satisfied that I had done my utmost. I was, and am, strangely comforted by this. I think I feel comforted because I can believe her when she says it. I have tried; I have employed almost every trick in the book; I have called every 12 hours when I have needed to; I have told her every time I speak to her that I love her. She knows I value her and yet she also knows that even if she did this terrible thing I would still love the X that I had and I would cherish the memories of trips to New York and building snow penises and that incident with the pineapple. None of this can be taken from us – the time we have spent laughing and crying together. If the forces of love can save a person, she surely would not be at risk.

I remember the first few months of knowing that X was suicidal – the threats of “visiting the European City of Culture” – our oblique reference to X’s suicide plans – and I was angry. Angry, scared, bewildered, and yes, I was angry at her. I was jealous of the suicidal feelings taking her away, stealing her from me! Why wasn’t I enough to save her? We have been best friends for 30 years, is that not enough, god damn you selfish cow! How can you think of doing this, what about the effect this will have on me, on your god-daughter -!! What more can I do, what solution can I find, what private care can I find for you, who can come and stay to keep an eye on you? What doctor do I call? The conversations where I forced an unwilling promise from her lips that she wouldn’t do it tonight, that I had 12 hours, or 3 days or a week where she promised she wouldn’t. Worse still are the conversations where she refused to give the promise. No matter how I wheedled and raved and stormed and persuaded, she could not promise. For X is an extraordinary creature in that she does not break her promises. I have used this character trait to manipulate her for my whole life; as a teenager I could persuade her into all sorts of trouble simply by extracting a promise of attendance without revealing the purpose. I am more aware of this nowadays, of the impact those promises have on her. I seek them only when I strive to protect her from herself, but she’s wise to me, sees through my manipulations and there are times she knows that I cannot possibly understand, because if I did I would not want to extract this promise from her. That if I understood I would allow her to fall into the void, to end, to stop, because if I truly loved her I would not wish for her suffering to be extended by even one hour.

So yes, I am glad I don’t understand. I am glad I cannot believe that death is the answer for her. I don’t want her to suffer, but I do want her to be content and happy and loved and successful and all the things you wish for those you love and I steadfastly believe that she can have those things but that first she must survive. I know that X can change, that she has changed, that she has learnt to accept that ‘not awful’ might be the best she can hope for on many days of the week and that it is a blessing to be ‘not awful‘. I am glad that I do not consider her a lost cause. I am glad I do not feel ‘let-down’, rather my resolve is quickened, strengthened, distilled into a more potent tincture. I take each lesson that each cycle has taught and try to bring it with us on this incredible, awful journey.

Would I swap X? If I had known this pathway was before us when we first began our friendship, would I have shied away? Do I regret that I have gotten in so deep with this cracked and fragile vessel? No. I don’t regret one moment of one day. X has filled the breaks and spaces in my life with the purest gold, repaired me with her love and accepted me with all my limitations and I have done the same for her. Over the years we have learned to be authentically broken before each other, to look head-on at the fissures and cracks in our lives and I love her more for the flaws and the beautiful imperfections, the quirks and the eccentricities. To have found within her the purest metal in the basest emotions.  As my beloved Leonard Cohen says, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. X is perfectly flawed, she requires a lot of love, but she gives me everything that I need in a friend, a sister, a kindred spirit – she can love me and find compassion for me even when she is in the deepest depths of despair and that gives me hope. As long as she can still feel me, hear me, can still answer the phone and read my messages, as long as we still have that, we still have hope.

Leonard Cohen – London 2008

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