I’ve known her my whole life, and loved her just as long. Or at least, I thought I knew her.
Looking back, I realised I’d only ever known part of her. I didn’t truly see her until we were in our late teens. As kids, we were forever falling in and out of touch, but somehow we’d always find a way back into each others’ lives. I found comfort in that. It gave me a sense of stability, but also a fear what a life with her would look like.
I’d like to think we have a friendship that time nor distance can tear apart. It gets like that when a person has been there from when you were babies. I was nineteen when I learnt of the darkness and pain hidden so well within her slight, fragile frame. I was nineteen was when I saw the demons she fights every day.
I’d always been intimidated by her natural and immense talent at anything she touched. It was overwhelming to me that one person could be so brilliant.
I hadn’t seen her, or her family, in years. I went one day to watch her busking at some markets. She ran up and hugged me as if we were kids again. But there was a pain in her eyes I had never noticed before.
When she was twenty-one, a life of sexual abuse became too much to hide. It broke her down. She spent over a year in and out of hospital as we sat by watching, unable to do or say anything to stop the pain.
Wherever I went that year, I was haunted by the sight of it all. I knew she’d attempted suicide several times. I sent letters, emails and text messages. No matter where I was, any chance I could get, I would say goodnight. Even if it was her morning. I was only able to sleep at night thinking I might see a reply when I woke up. What kept me awake was being sure that one morning, I would wake to find her no longer in my life, or my world.
But she fought. She held on, and kept living
I’ve battled with anxiety my entire life. For the better part of my twenty-two years, I’ve managed to control, hide and tolerate it. I’ve spent my life ducking in and out of the country, spending long, strenuous days working outside to ensure sleep that night, clouding and drowning my days in a haze of cigarette smoke and beer. This worked for a long time and I could hide my fear, except from those who knew me best. We all had our coping mechanisms and vices. I think I just chose mine to be public.
My biggest regret in life is leaving when she needed support the most. Broken after a two year relationship suddenly ended, I fled to New Zealand, keeping myself isolated and alone. I spent my days writing and my nights walking the broken city until the early hours. Yet still, before I lay down to sleep every night, we would say goodnight.
We knew the pain was there for both of us but we chose to ignore it. “Goodnight, love you.” That said it all.
She got worse, and eventually stopped talking to me. I barely heard from her or saw her anymore except in sunshine filled Instagram photos and light poppy music videos. I suppose that’s the power of social media. But I knew that was just the mask she chose to wear.
Still I remember the day she said she loved me after I told her the same. Both too fucked up to be in a relationship, we left it at that. The odd hug or touching of knees here and there, but that said it all.
Then she disappeared again. I got worse, and she got worse.
In her worst moments she prayed for death. In my worst I was too sick to get out of bed. I left my job, moved back in with my family, and lost my life. Unable to sleep or eat, I knew this was a small portion of the pain she was experiencing.
For so long, I hid from the world, living in social isolation. Still I did my best to be there for her, but with each unread message, my battered soul just continued to fall apart.
Her strength and determination amazed me. There she was, so much worse than I was, putting on this mask and making her life seem so “normal” even if she was ignoring her friends and living a life of doctors and pills. But no matter how hard I tried, a voice in the back of my head screamed. With each unread message, it just screamed.
Fuck you, I’m sick too.
I hated that, but I had no control over the feeling that I was just her plaything, picked up and tossed aside as desired. But she’s back home now, starting a new chapter in her life, so they say. I just hope I can be part of the novel.
She’s getting better and I am too. But I’m also stuck rereading the past chapters of my story, haunted by past mistakes and failures. But I can live with that. I can channel that into words and images, and for the first time in months, I feel like I’m living again. Forever altered by my illness and experience, but able to feel similar to who I used to be.
In ancient shamanic culture, they believed that mental illness was the symbol of the shaman, and out of illness the afflicted will eventually emerge. They will return, stronger and more themselves than they have ever been. It was often called the “initiation”, and only those who make it to the other side can become healers.
In Buddhism, mental illness is seen as a karmic debt from past lives, the mistakes of prior souls. Once you’ve settled the score, you are able to move on towards your higher purpose in this life.
I hope – for her sake and mine – that there is some truth in this. That one day, we will each emerge from these voids we call lives, and truly become ourselves. Whatever that entails. Whoever they may be.
The end is yet to be written in both our lives. For her, for me I truly hope the story changes from here.
If you happen to read this, goodnight. I love you. My oldest friend.