I called her China. She was fragile as a teacup.
As high school besties, we both were quite sensitive to the world and the comments made by others. I remember talking to her in the school cafeteria, with her pale blue eyes welled up with tears about our mutual friend who was so very intelligent, smart but not about the impact her words might have on her friends. She had said something to China that hurt her to the core. I don’t remember what was said but I do remember saying this, ” You are like a teacup, delicate, fragile and beautiful, Heather is on the other hand like a tin cup, useful, durable, and plain. We teacups have to stick together” From then on she was China to me.
My most favorite memory of this woman was one summer day, when I looked out my front window and saw her on the handle bars of her then boyfriend’s bike, riding up the street to my house. She was laughing with her hair blowing in the wind. She had on jeans and a white tapered button down shirt. Such a classic look. That was the China that I knew and loved. Carefree, joyful, with her own unique style, unafraid to be herself. When they arrived at my house and I gave her a hug, I noticed how strong her body odor was. I just thought, hot summer day, riding bike, sweat is ok. It never occurred to me how often this was the case with China as I accepted her for who she was. It wasn’t until I was a mother and had a daughter of my own who began not to care for her own hygiene that I remembered my friend China.
China met a wonderful man after we graduated who seemed to “get her” We all loved him, he was wonderful to her. The day of her wedding I dressed in tourquoise with a silk flowered tapered jacket. I went solo. When I arrived to China ran out to me and said you have to be in my wedding. She threw a bouquet in my hands and the next thing I new I was getting my picture taken with the wedding party. She dressed like a hippie girl with a wreath of flowers in her hair. Then she moved to California.
One year later she returned for the “visit” My friend and I hosted a dinner for her and I picked her up at her mom’s house. The dinner was bizarre, as China talked nonstop for 5 hours, until her voice began to get hoarse. I drove her home and watched her walked to her mom’s doorstep. Then I went home. She did not go in to the house, but began walking from her home to downtown, which was approximately 6 miles. She ended up on one of the bridges over a raging river, and was going to jump. Two boys saw her on the bridge that night and talked her down. The next morning I received a call from the hospital psych ward telling me that she had requested to see me. I was 19 years old. I had never known anyone with a mental illness and had no clue what to expect. I didn’t even know she had mental illness there was no label. I was directed into a room that was locked and was let in. There I found my delicate teacup, wrapped in a straight jacket sitting in a padded room. I sat down and I can only remember saying, “what the hell China?”
I cannot remember what happened after that, and I never knew what happened to her nor did I see her again until 30 years later. Now as a mother of a daughter who has gone through the mental health system. I have a good idea of what happened to China. She was probably prescribed a shit load of meds in the hospital which took her way down off the manic cloud she was riding and most probably rendering her “blotto”. A term used in the mental health industry to describe patients who have been way over sedated purposely with antipsychotics to the point of drooling so that they can begin to heal. She was then most likely sent back to her husband but he was not able to manage her care. Followed by one break after the next each one more severe until she was finally stabilized with Lithium. Which was one of the causes of her recent death. Long term use of Lithium will cause permanent kidney damage.
I last saw her when I was working at a state psychiatric facility and she had a severe break. When I saw her name on the census, I called one of the nurses on that floor to see if it was indeed my friend. The nurse described by saying, “well you know she probably could be a model” I knew then that it was China. Later after she was stabilized she was moved to my floor. Our initial encounter was not good as once she recognized me she began to profusely apologize and then she said something I will never forget,
“at least you had a life”
I transferred to another floor to reduce the chances of upsetting her again. But one day when she was “well” and out in the day room. We bumped into each other again and had a short but nice visit.
I learned of her death yesterday.
My own daughter refuses meds. She began having side effects after four years of taking an antipsychotic and antidepressant. She got off of them one summer, which is when she is the most stable, and now considers them poison. The guidelines and regulations have grossly changed since my China was committed to her first institutionalized setting. With the idea of integrating those with this type of illness back into society. It is a good idea, but the way it was done in our state was simply to close down wards and take away funding for most help agencies.
That leaves the mentally ill out on the street living under bridges or in their mom’s basement.
It is a crisis, in that there is no where to turn when your daughter, or best friend disappears right before your eyes and there is nothing you can do to make her come back.
I am on suicide watch today. In my own home. My daughter feels she has suffered long enough with this mental anguish and wishes to not live anymore. “Get some help for her” people say. Okay.
I am the one helping her.
If there is no help for those with mental illness except life threatening drugs, and if a little exercise and some sunshine helps even for just a short time,
that if with daily practice these little activities could create new brain pathways to relieve the suffering of those with this disabling disease what a wonderful world it would be.
Today the sun is shining, so I think I will see if she wants to go outside with me. Sunshine is the natural vitamin D source which is one of the natural mood enhancers. That is one reason why people suffer from SAD seasonal affective disorder.
I also know that doing some physical activity creates a new brain pathway that even if for only a few minutes gives her relief will perhaps become a habit for her and eventually create a new life of joy. Today we will dance. We will share the sun and we will remember China.