Mean Girl to the Rescue!

How'm I gonna save the world when the world ain't ready?

Friday, May 19, 2006

May 24

You may have seen me reference my bipolar ex-boyfriend, P, here and there on this blog. He committed suicide almost 6 years ago, and this May he would have turned 36. Until I met my husband (otherwise known as the most patient man on earth), he was one of the few people, and certainly the only man, whom I felt understood me.

P and I met in February 1993. My friend Frau Doktor and I went dancing at a club called The Bank, which had been, naturally, a bank before it became a dance club. It was my favorite club at the time. She was dating her now-husband and I was living with my then-boyfriend, much to my parents' dismay. I was working a retail job after having dropped out of college, and they felt (perhaps rightly so) that my life was going nowhere fast. Moving in with J.D. didn't help the matter.

P had dated a co-worker of mine from a bookstore job I'd held perhaps a year earlier. She was a sweet Southern girl with a drinking problem who felt trapped in her relationship with her live-in boyfriend, Vidar (I think he was Swedish). When she told me P's name, I realized he was the former basketball hero of my parochial high school alma mater - his name was gold in my neighborhood. She and P ended up having a bad breakup, but she stayed with Vidar, probably because he had money. So I knew who he was when I saw him smile at me that night. I suggested to Frau Doktor that she flirt with him, since he was the sort of handsome that you see in Ralph Lauren ads. She laughed; she was happy with her boyfriend, but she agreed that anyone would think he was attractive. The next thing I knew, P had grabbed her and asked her to bring me over to talk to him. He didn't remember me, but I didn't mind, and we talked about movies, saying we should get together to see Mike Leigh's Naked. My boyfriend was the furthest thing from my mind.

"Fast" girl that I was then, I looked up his number in the phone book and left him a message a few days later. I'd given him my work number, but I was terrified he wouldn't call. That was how the relationship started; I have no one to blame but myself.

I ended things with J.D. about a month later, and dated P for the next 9 months, moving home with my parents (who still weren't happy with me, exactly, but thrilled that I had begun to date a nice Irish Catholic boy from the neighborhood). P's mother was slowly dying of cancer (though we didn't know then that she would die), and mine had been a breast cancer survivor for a year, so we bonded over that and many other things we had in common. I felt nervous, but happy in his presence. I didn't quite understand why someone like him wanted to be with someone like me, but I was happy he did.

I'm not really sure where things started to fall apart, or why he started exhibiting strange behavior - he became intolerably moody, and would vacillate between needing lots of space to "think," and coming to my house or calling very late at night, insistent on seeing or talking to me. I was fairly unconcerned with what I should be getting out of the relationship. My whole mindset was that this was the person I was Meant To Be With, and I would do anything to keep him happy, even if it meant subverting what I wanted out of a partnership. He decided that we saw too much of each other because of his "gluttonous" tendencies, and that he was was miserable if he wasn't able to see me every day. Things devolved quickly from there, and he dumped me, apparently to remove the source of the problem.

Every once in awhile, I'd see P on the street while I was walking somewhere. He had a habit of turning up like a bad penny every couple of months. No matter who I dated, I still felt like I was in love with him and always would be. It all seemed very star-crossed at the time. When I did see him, I was rendered nearly incapable of functioning, such was my emotional upset. It was not a good way to be. I gradually got over it, as more and more time elapsed between sightings, and eventually I reached a point where seeing him just made me feel a bit odd. I still felt overly fond of him, but it was less crippling.

Perhaps eight years after our initial relationship, we ran into one another on the street and got to chatting. I felt proud of myself for being able to do this, stand in the street with my ex who had decimated me, nattering about work and what was new. I had missed him as a person after having made him into some kind of runaway Golem, feeding off my romantic despair. He was still frighteningly smart, and having dated any number of dumb guys in the interim, I enjoyed the witty conversation I was able to have with him, which is probably what led to my dating him again.

This time, it was tougher. Gone were the issues with having to see me every day, but there was a very high level of commitment there that I couldn't match. I was gun-shy, terrified of having my heart broken a second time. When he revealed to me that he thought he had a chemical imbalance that led to acute depression, I wanted to help, but there was little I could do, except talk to him, and encourage him to talk to his family and continue to see a therapist and take medication. From that point on I felt as if I were the only person keeping him anchored, and I wasn't able to do a very good job of it. He went from delirious happiness and gregariousness to dark depressions in which he wouldn't leave his apartment for days. I felt more and more stifled, and poorly-suited to helping him get better. I recognize now that his behavior was classically bipolar, but he was not being treated for it. I tried to get him to discuss the possibility with his therapist, but he didn't agree that manic depression was his problem, so he refused. I got a call from an ex-boyfriend wanting me back, and used it as the excuse I felt I needed to bow out of the relationship, an act that makes me burn with shame when I recall it now. A day or two later, I received a very long email from P, advising me that I would soon be hearing about his untimely demise, and that I could go ahead and blame myself for having caused it through my pretense of caring, my callous betrayal. I called my parents and had them contact his father so he couldn't actually hurt himself, and he was placed in care at a facility not long after.

I didn't hear from him for a several months after that. Occasionally we IM'd or emailed one another, and he told me about how he had tried to cut his wrists and wore sweat bands constantly to cover the scars. I shouldn't worry, though, he said, he was doing well, and he knew better than to do anything like that again. I told him to call me if he ever felt like it was going to happen again, and he promised he would.

In September of 2000, we met up for an afternoon as friends, over Labor Day weekend. We had a nice time, just chatting away and having lunch together. He had put on some weight from the anti-depressants he was on. He wanted to tell me about why he had attempted suicide, but when I turned to listen to his story, he clammed up. I tried a few times to get him to talk to me, and then dedcided that he would tell me later, when he was ready. We sat in silence for a little while, and then he left. I never saw or spoke to him again.

A week or so later, I got a call from Frau Doktor while I was at work.
"They prayed for P at mass this past weekend," she said. "But, the thing is, they prayed for him as one of the recently deceased."
"Oh, there must be some mistake. I'll call the church and find out what the deal is."

It wasn't a mistake. P had carefully taken everything out of his wallet except for his ID and a note indicating that his uncle (a police officer) was to be contacted, and stacked it all on top of his coffee table. He didn't leave a suicide note. Then he walked to the train station that was about a block from his apartment, and jumped in front of the last scheduled train of the night.


If you have a friend or family member you think might be bipolar, please be a better friend to him than I was to P. Contact the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and get help. Not a day goes by that I don't wish I had.


At 7:26 PM, Blogger Tits McGee said...

Jesus, Mrs. H.

Thank you so much for sharing this. I lost a dear friend to suicide, too, and know the hole it leaves, and the regret.

You'll be in my thoughts this week.

At 10:08 PM, Blogger mama_tulip said...

I know two people who lost someone to suicide. I have a friend whose brother committed suicide recently, and Dave's best friend committed suicide when his girlfriend broke up with him about 8 years ago.

Both my friend and Dave were deeply affected by these losses -- not only by the loss, but by the way in which the lives were taken.

I imagine this wasn't easy to write, but I think by writing it you're addressing a subject that isn't easily talked about. Thanks for sharing such a personal story with us.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Arabella said...

I admire you very much for writing this. It must have been incredibly difficult. You've mentioned P on a number of occasions, and I know that his death had a huge impact on you. It was helpful, as a friend, to hear the story and to understand what you've been through.

PLEASE don't blame yourself. This is clearly a case of someone who suffered from a severe chemical imbalance. It is as sad as a loss to cancer, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, or any other illness. Unfortunately, the symptoms of chemical imbalances are frequently harder to pinpoint and diagnose than for many other diseases.

You've done a tremendous service in posting this. Perhaps it will encourage others to seek the help they need.

At 12:07 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

I came here once and read this post, but I couldn't comment. The image in my head of your friend walking to the train station, knowing what he was about to do, was just too much for me. I came back to read it again, and I just want to say that it must have been hard for you to write this. I hope someone reading this post gets help for themselves or a friend.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous TB said...

I'm so sorry. Bipolar is a horrible disease. Jeff's sister was diagnosed a year ago after being sick for over three years. It ruins the lives of those who suffer from it. The suicide rate is so unbelievably high and for those that live with it and suffer, life becomes a series of lost moments. Bipolar takes everything away.
I'm sorry you lost your friend.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Tink said...

Thank you for sharing your story. One of my best friends growing up was/is bi-polar. He could be so cruel and so sweet. It was like you were his best friend and his worst enemy all at once. He hated taking medicine because it "numbed (his) mind." I haven't talked to him in a year. It became to difficult to cope with.

He reminds me of my uncle. He was bi-polar too. He killed himself by lying down on some railroad tracks with a pillow. He had two kids and a wife.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Katherine said...

holy crapola, that left me totally speechless. gah. Sorry you had to deal with that; I hope you don't think you could have done something to prevent it. It sounds like he was very, very sick.

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

Depression is scary. It's a disease that hasn't been funded for research, popularized, or understood. I've suffered from depression and its worse than any other medical issue I deal with because when I'm depressed, I LOSE MYSELF. It's like you die without dying.

My friend, Mike on the Bottom, is a journalist who has written about this. He also edits an e-zine called Remedy Find that helps deliver relevant info to people suffering from depression.

E-mail if you're interested in reading his articles (which deal with suicide) or my writing on the topic. I'll send you links.


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