Being the Crazy Friend, 101

Content warning: blunt descriptions of negative emotions and disturbed thoughts.

So you have a severe mental health condition.  You’re aware that it causes stress to people around you, and you’d like to minimize that, not only because you care about people, but because you realize that having zero friends will probably not help your mental health condition.  Here’s some wisdom I’ve collected over many years as the Crazy Friend.

Just follow these simple steps, and I can guarantee… absolutely nothing.  Right?  I mean, life doesn’t work that way.  But I’m pretty sure that at least some of this stuff will be helpful if you can get past the fact that some of it’s hard to hear.

Buckle up; here we go.

  1. Rotate.  Don’t go to the same person all the time when you’re Having a Moment.  I know that there’s that one person who always makes you feel so much better, but that’s all the more reason you shouldn’t drive that person to the point where she has an anxiety attack every time she sees your name pop up on her phone.  Give some other people a chance.  It’s okay to share your burdens, but spread them around as much as you can.  Don’t have more than one person you can share this stuff with?  That is probably a result of bad choices in your past that you needn’t dwell on, but should not repeat.  Get through this bad spell as best you can, and then once you’re in a place where you can do so, devote a ton of your energy to making more friends.  Please trust me on this one.
  2. Update.  If you have at any point told someone that you are feeling miserable, please remember to check back in when you are feeling good (or better) and let her know.  You don’t have to directly say “I’m doing so much better now!” especially if it you’re still wobbly, but make sure you don’t end on “I wish I’d never been born” and then that’s the last he hears from you for a week.  Find some time in a day or two to send him a stupid meme or a picture of the flowers in your yard.  Consider each Heavy Conversation to be a piece of your friend’s heart dangling over a cliff.  Don’t just leave it there.  Don’t wait until you’re 100% cured to relieve your friend of that suspense.  Give him some sort of hope, remind him that you are a person with layers and not just the Event Horizon of Despair.
  3. Try Other Stuff First.  Especially if you’re an extrovert, reaching out to a friend is often your first instinct.  But first try distracting yourself with a video game, running around the block, taking a hot shower, or doing something else to change your mood that is completely under your control and does not require others’ input.  First, because if you succeed, that means you’ll keep your friends a bit fresher and more ready for you when you really need them.  Second, because it will make you feel empowered.  Wow, I feel better, and I did that all on my own.  I’ve got this.
  4. Respect Individuality.  If you want cool, logical advice, don’t call Mr. Feels.  If you need warmth and affection, don’t call Ms. Pedantic.  Even if it’s Ms. Pedantic’s affection you crave, or Mr. Feels’ advice on what to actually do with your life, your desires are not going to magically change another person’s psychological makeup.  People respond how they respond.  Learn their needs and quirks, and love them for who they are.  Call up Mr. Tough Love when you need a brisk verbal smack in the face.  Don’t expect Ms. Squishy to do much but cry with you.  People are not a series of uniform receptacles for your feelings; they will react to your emotional chemistry in unique ways.  Make this one of the factors you consider when staring at your contact list.  What is it that will actually help you, and who is equipped to deliver it?
  5. Gratitude, Not Apology.  If someone sits patiently through a torrent of your misery, your first instinct is going to be to feel shame, to apologize.  I mean, good God, it’s been an hour, and they probably missed that movie they wanted to watch.  But your apology will not give them their hour back, and also, having a mental illness is not a crime.  You didn’t wake up today and decide to be miserable beyond coping.   So the proper thing to say, instead, is thank you.  “You were amazing.”  “Thanks so much for your patience.”  “Your insight is so helpful.”  Whatever is appropriate.  Be as specific as you can.  If the person didn’t help at all, or even unintentionally made you feel a little worse, consider at least that you just spent that time talking to someone rather than drinking yourself into a stupor and driving your car into a tree, and realize, that’s not nothing.  Thank them for their time, at least.  “I really appreciate you spending this time with me.  You’re a good friend.”
  6. When In Doubt, Don’t.  Friends forgive neglect much more easily than they forgive bad behavior.  If you’re worried that you’re so far gone that you can’t treat a friend the way they deserve to be treated, you may need to step away for a little while.  People are not painkillers, and until you realize this, they cannot actually help you anyway.  Maybe there is another way to get through this.  Unless you are making concrete plans to commit suicide or otherwise harm yourself, chances are you can actually get through whatever it is you’re feeling right now and out the other side of it with zero intervention.  It might feel urgently horrible.  You might cry yourself sick and fall asleep on your couch face down in Cheeto crumbs.  But then you’ll wake up and you’ll feel a little… different, at least, if not better.  Just wash your face, because Cheetos.
  7. And Remember This.  If you have friends, if there is one person who has ever given you his phone number, there’s a reason for that.  There’s something in you, somewhere, that someone wanted in his life.  We’re all pains in the ass sometimes.  I’d go so far as to say that each of us can, at times, be unbearable.  But remember, we are not defined by our worst days.  If you do your best not to implode your friendships when you’re at your worst, that means they’ll still be there when you’re ready to make people laugh, make them think, whatever it is you do that got you all these names on your contact list in the first place.  You may not even remember, now.  But they remember.  And they’ll wait for you longer than you think.

An update.

Hello my friends!  If you’re here it’s because you care, personally or professionally, and I deeply appreciate both.  I am also grateful for the buzz surrounding the World Fantasy Award nomination.  While I’m not on social media to see it directly, my husband has told me that there have been many supportive comments, and that means a lot to me.

Item # 2 on the agenda: if you have interacted with me at all in the last month, I’d like to apologize if you left feeling drained, confused, or vaguely unsettled.  My mental health is as bad as it’s ever been.  If you’ve interacted with me recently, you’ve been talking to a person who is in the process of drowning and trying to subtly use you as a flotation device without your maybe noticing.  That’s not really a thing.  I realize that now.  I’m sorry.

I’m redoubling my efforts to tackle this on my own, because my relationships are extraordinarily precious to me and the thought of damaging them makes me feel even worse.  By “on my own” I mean, not leaning on people who are not professionals.  I have spent a few weeks in vain trying to contact my last therapist; she seems to have left the last place she was working, and her voicemail box is full and not accepting new messages.  (My demons say, “she quit her job and withdrew from society after working with you.”  Very funny, demons.)  This means I have to start from scratch, but I’ve made appointments with four different therapists over the next few weeks to try to find another good match.

Some good professional news: I did manage to put the finishing touches on Impostor Syndrome in time for it to come out on schedule next spring, and I’ve already got another book in the pipeline to get back to work on once I’ve got my energy and focus a bit more under control.

On the physical health side, there’s more good news.  We have finally, finally isolated the cause of my headaches.  It is the cataracts, but it isn’t so much light-related as it is related to the compensatory thing my brain is doing.  Imagine looking through your windshield and having a smudge right in front of your face.  Assuming the wipers didn’t take care of it, you’d keep craning your neck this way and that trying to peer around it, right?  Well, imagine the smudge was a tiny dot on the very center of the actual lens of both eyes.  There’s nowhere to “lean” to get away from that, and yet your brain keeps trying.

Amazingly, mine mostly succeeds.  If I am looking at something stationary (say, a computer screen) my brain actually does pretty well at compensating.  But something like driving, which causes me to constantly shift my focus, means my brain is having to readjust its magical compensation-trick over and over and over again.  Eventually it just burns out and I’m left lying in a dark room wishing for an anvil to drop from the sky and end my misery.

The fix: cataract surgery.  The doctors are finally starting to agree on that.  I have one more appointment in October, and then they will probably be willing to commit to a surgery date.

So, solutions, both mental and physical, are in the pipeline.  It’s just a terribly long wait, and in the meantime I am miserable!  Huzzah!

But everything is temporary.  Everything.  Kind of a poignant thought in times of happiness, but a lifesaver in times like these.  What I’m feeling now will, eventually, be one of those memories I can look back on and say, “Thank God I’m not there anymore.”  Sometimes I think that’s what times like these are for.  So that we can remember, in good times, not to take them for granted.

I love you all and look forward to the day when we can have fun together, when I can be a shoulder for you, or just be a general presence in your lives.  No ETA yet, but we’ll get there.

Why I Won’t Be At the Nebulas.

I’ve tweeted a few times, but I wanted to make a more formal statement that people could find more easily.  The heading could also be “Why My Website Is Out of Date” or “Why I Haven’t Answered Your Letter Yet.”

As many of you know, I have Borderline Personality Disorder.  I’ve been in treatment since around 2004, and have had it pretty much licked since about 2013.  So much so that in the back of my mind I thought I was “cured” and could go about living my life the way “normal” people do, and let all my various medicinal self-care rituals slide, bit by bit.

Then November happened.  For a month or so we were focusing mostly on dealing with my intrusive thoughts of suicide.  I am not a suicide risk–because of my children it is not an action I would ever perform no matter how much I desired it–but it’s amazing how much one’s life can be disrupted when every thought is answered with “What’s the point?”  We got through that, and things were looking up.  Had a wonderful trip to Detroit, Toronto, and Ottawa in January for my birthday.  Then I finally finished the very belated draft of my third novel.

And then all hell broke loose.  We’re still not sure what’s going on.  There are physical symptoms at play too, and we’re trying to untangle cause/effect.  It’s possible there’s something physically wrong, and the stress of it is making my mental state more fragile.  It’s also possible that the BPD relapse has caused so much continuous stress that it has begun to affect various body systems.  We’re doing all the things wise people do, making all the appointments, etc.

But I don’t feel safe traveling and socializing professionally when both my physical and mental health have, over the last month or more, consistently unraveled at even the slightest introduction of stress.  Right now we are metaphorically installing padded bumpers in my life on all the sharp corners until I remember how to walk straight again.  Reducing responsibilities, simplifying my social life, all of that.

The bright side is that I’ve been here before, and I actually know all the steps I need to take to get better.  But it’s also a situation where a lot of those steps are things I can’t do until I’m at least a little better.  So it becomes a sort of triage situation.  And I don’t know how long it will take.

As of this moment I feel optimistic about 4th Street Fantasy in June, but I’m almost certain I won’t be worth much of a damn to anyone but me before then.  My apologies to anyone to whom I made commitments, and to any people who worry I don’t love them anymore.  The love is still there, but it’s packed away in boxes until such time as the simple daily maintenance of existence doesn’t feel quite so grueling.

Have no fear; I’ll definitely see you on the other side.