Today is the birthday of two good friends of mine. Andrew and Danny, twin brothers. I rarely remember my friend’s birthdays without the assistance of Facebook, but today is special to me for another reason. A year ago today Danny, on his birthday, had lunch with me at a little Mexican restaurant in Central Square, then walked with me to Cambridge Hospital, where I admitted myself to the Emergency Room. He stayed in the waiting area for 3 or 4 hours before I could get a message to him that I was apparently going to be there a lot longer. A few minutes later a nurse let him into my room and he gave me a book to read, even offered to give me his phone as I hadn’t had one for nearly a year at that point.
It’s a beautiful day up here in Vermont. I am sitting at a little cafe in an industrial park near my work. I have a blueberry muffin and an apple juice. The muffin actually didn’t look too great when I ordered it, but it’s amazing. Still hot from the oven. I’m dressed well, and my hair doesn’t look awful either. I’m clean and relaxed and looking forward to work. I am happy. The moment I am in right now is so far from the moment I was in a year ago.
When I was at my worst, I distanced myself from most people, but some of my friends have a particularly amazing quality where they don’t care if I refuse them, avoid their calls, or don’t respond to emails. And ex of mine once complained that now that we were together her friends invited her out less frequently, and implied that she had turned them down too many times. In contrast, my friends would invite me out, and even when I refused them every night, week after week, they’d still ask me to join them the next time.
I have a talent for making friends and building networks, but that doesn’t actually explain some of the friends I’ve ended up with. The majority of people, the larger expanses of my networks are hurt when I don’t communicate with them. Reasonably, they feel slighted when I refuse and rebuff them and yet they can see me quite publicly talking to someone else, while still ignoring them. This is a miserable thing to be in the habit of. It reveals that portion of me that is, in fact, a miserable person. And yet, there are about a dozen people in my life for whom that prejudice does not seem to abide. That they like me is not inexplicable. I am self-aware, but not overly humble. I’m pretty fun to be around! And clever, too. What is hard to explain is why they’ll put up with my selective misanthropy. The cost-benefit analysis of loving me has much thinner margins than just hanging out with me at a conference.
And yet they persist.
In the spring of last year, as my depression skidded along, my disinclination to see other people reached new heights. I would take most of my meals in the middle of the night, so as to avoid the people I lived with. I routinely locked the door to my bedroom while I was inside, though no one had ever tried to open it. I would go thirsty rather than go to the kitchen if I heard anyone out there. And these were people I liked! People I bragged about when I was not with them.
Danny & Andrew would routinely invite me out for coffee or lunch or a drink. I usually refused, but two or three times I forced myself out. Each day with the two of them stretched on endlessly. Once I was with them I felt those miserable places in me fade just enough that I could shout over them. We’d get lunch, be about to part ways and I’d say “Let’s play a board game” or we’d go out for a hot dog and end up making fancy cocktails and sitting on the porch talking and arguing all night. Those days were rare, but precious and so I clung to them.
In the aftermath of the hospital Andrew wrote me, saying he previously thought I was just a messy person, he didn’t realize that I was such a mess. He told me he wanted to help and that I didn’t have to lie to him. In response I told him, in detail, what things had been like on that morning.
“I got to that place where I became completely unfeeling. Just, oblivious to emotion altogether. Incapable of making simple decisions and more and more contained to my own bed… I Just sat with myself one morning, completely confident in the belief that nothing was ever going to get better, that this would be my entire life and that the time had come to take drastic action.”
What I did, though, was reach out Danny. I asked if he was working from home. He was. I wished him a happy birthday, then said “I feel like a dick asking this on your birthday, but do you think you could go to the ER with me in a little bit?” He agreed without question. It took me another hour and a half to compose myself, shower and put some clothes on. He met me at that Mexican place. I ate a burrito and we talked idly. Full, and committed to my course of action, we started the 15 minute walk. I believe it was a hot day in Boston. I think I remember feeling bad I was having Danny walk in that heat, but I don’t really recall now. He told me he had no concept of what was going on with me, and I thought that made him an amazing friend. That entirely devoid of context or empathy, on his birthday, he would, without question, drop everything to walk with me.
When we got to the hospital things started moving fast, but without end. Eventually I was released to Amy’s care, but only for the evening and even that took quite a bit of negotiation. I had been at the hospital for around 9 hours at that point, maybe a little longer. We went directly to meet Andrew and his girlfriend Katie. That morning Katie had invited me out for a birthday drink with Andrew. They very kindly accepted me and my mess of a day into their quiet celebration. The next morning Amy & I returned to the hospital, as we had agreed to, where I was admitted to a Crisis Stabilization Unit.
I saw Andrew and Katie down in Boston a few days ago. They made me delicious food and we laughed and yelled and said how much we missed living near each other. Danny’s out in Austria now, learning German and potentially contributing to the safety and survival of the world. Andrew has been one of the people helping me dig out from the Kickstarter debacle. He has put up his own money, a huge amount of time and a lot of energy keeping me going.
So, today is that day. One year later. And while I am sure I’ll always remember it in the context of my decline, from this point on I will only celebrate it as the birthday of two of my friends.
Happy birthday, Danny. Happy birthday, Andrew. Thank you both, so much.