Often, after one develops a mental illness, one may lose friends. This happened to me. I lost a childhood friend who was with me when I experienced a nervous breakdown. I was in New York City when it happened. I completely and totally lost touch with reality.
Pam was driving me to the airport, and she had the radio on. I kept hearing the DJ mention my first and last name. This was sending me into hysterics. Of course, the DJ was not saying my name. I was mishearing or hallucinating or a combination of both.
Pam was very disturbed. She could not figure out why I wouldn’t, couldn’t stop laughing.
“Laura.” She kept calling my name. “Laura, what’s wrong?”
Finally, we arrived at LaGuardia. I would learn later that she didn’t want to drop me off at the airport, didn’t want to leave me. But I insisted that I was fine.
Somehow I made it on the plane. I sat there drinking fizzy soda, burping one huge belch after another. I was relating this to the experience in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in which Charlie and his grandfather were floating toward the huge, dangerous roof fan. The grandfather discovered that when he burped, he would float down a little, would lose altitude, so to speak. I kept thinking that if I kept burping, I would come down from this strange high I was feeling. It didn’t work. People around me just thought I was a huge, belching slob.
When I got home, my family tried to nurse me back to health, but I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t sleep for eight days. By this point, I was severely delusional, thinking it was the end of the world, and I could save my friends from doom if I read their names and addresses out of my address book.
That same day, I found myself in the psych ward, where I would stay for two weeks. My psych ward stay was a story all of its own.
I think Pam was afraid of me after that. She’d seen me at my psychotic worst. I wasn’t the same girl she grew up with. I was a little insane.
I saw Pam a few times after I got out of the hospital, but then she kind of disappeared. This was in 1991. I went back to teaching in Pennsylvania, met my future husband and life straightened out for me a bit. But we kind of lost touch.
In 1997, I contacted her to invite her to my wedding. I heard nothing. At this point, I knew our friendship of 25 years was officially over.
I felt terrible. I felt abandoned, misunderstood. And I was angry. I wouldn’t do that to her. So I got used to life without her. I never called her again, never wrote, never tried to contact her.
And then, the Internet came along, and Facebook. One day, I got a friend request from her. I was in total shock. Of course, I friended her. And suddenly, we were friends again. She apologized for her prolonged absence. She didn’t make excuses except to say that she hadn’t had her life together and was lying low.
We met in New York City in 2014, the last place we’d seen each other. It was glorious to see her. It had been 23 years. She looked wonderful. It was like we hadn’t been apart.
She took me to a beautiful garden near the LaGuardia Airport. We sat on a stone bench and caught up. She was in the midst of getting her PhD in Literacy. She’d married a great man. I had adopted a little boy from Guatemala and had been teaching writing part-time for many years.
There was so much to catch up on, but we didn’t have much time. I had to fly out in a couple of hours. When it was time to go, we were better friends than we had ever been.
After that visit, we kept in touch by phone and Facebook. We had long conversations about work — literature, writing, teaching. We were practically in the same business. I taught writing, and she taught reading. She finished her dissertation and got her degree.
I saw Pam recently. I was in Rhode Island, visiting my husband’s family for Christmas. She and her husband had moved to Connecticut. They drove up to our hotel, and we went to lunch. We laughed and talked. Our husbands seemed to like each other.
When we were about to depart, she hugged me and said, “I’m so glad you’re in my life. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Sometimes after we become mentally ill, we lose friends. But sometimes, they come back to us.
We wished each other happy new year. We had a bright future together. The rest of our lives.
Friends hugging photo available from Shutterstock