If you’ve been isolating for a long time, you pay a price when you go to a support group: you give up your ability to not feel for others. In some ways, this is pain that you don’t want in your life: it brings tears, anger, and frustration. Yet, like the side effects of any treatment, those issues are trivial when you count what you gain. You get out in the sunshine. You make new friends. A constant stream of new and interesting people enter your life. And you grow beyond the fuzzy-wuzzies and touchy-feelies that many outpatient programs push just to get you out of there to a place of genuine affection and compassion for others. You are not the only resident of the asylum anymore.
I’ve been worried about a fellow support group member who had a fall a few weeks ago and hasn’t returned. This bipolar broke down after her boyfriend dumped her. She did a few lines of meth. The last time I saw her, her head sagged forwards and she gripped the sides of her chair as if the floor would heave up and throw her against the ceiling..
I hope she hasn’t given up.
It’s insipid to invoke John Donne, to say that “no man is an island”; I’ve been hearing the Code Blue warning over my head’s hospital intercom, however. I’m worried. I don’t call her a particular friend, but she’s bipolar. And I feel obligated to look out for her, to encourage her.
But she’s disappeared and no one has her phone number.
Many years ago, I had a problem with a person who wouldn’t disappear. This woman was overwhelming me with her busy-body-ness. In my frustration, I asked my wife to approach an older member of the Quaker Meeting we both attended at that time. I was in a crisis because this first woman was driving me mad and I felt guilty that I didn’t like her at all. What the older woman said to my wife remains with me now. It didn’t make sense at the time, but now I share it when someone in a group complains to me about somebody else.
She told my wife to tell me this: “You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to love them.”
In the wet holes of my disease, I found it impossible to separate the two feelings. What she said made no sense. But I could see that she knew her soul and she knew mine.
In my rise to stability (which is always uncertain), I believe I know what it means. My feelings about this young woman are neutral. We’re different people. Yet even the most annoying and stubborn people in support groups deserve dignity simply because they are human. When someone falls, we all fall.
It’s Code Blue for her, for me, and for you.