Watching the Darkness

I have a friend.

The kind of friend where you say, we can never not be friends coz we know too much about each other.

I have a fear about this friend.

I fear that one day, while in the Dark Place, the lure of resting and leaving it all behind will be too strong. That one day, maybe under the influence of something, a single decision will take my friend away forever.

I’ve had this fear for a long time. I don’t mean to sound all up myself and mysterious here. It’s not as if it’s the first thing I think in the morning and the last thing at night. Days, weeks and months go by where this fear is forgotten and dusty in a corner of my mind but every now and again, when she struggles and slips and falls, this fear falls too and for a while it’s all I can see.

This last week, I faced my fear. Something happened. My friend is still with me, but only through the quick reactions of a stranger. A stranger I will never know anything about, but for whom I have a gratitude too great for words. A single split second decision to step forwards off the curb, a decision made for reasons unknown to even my friend, she doesn’t know why she did this and it could have taken her life. The quick reactions of a stranger stopped her, pulled her back and enabled my friend to be able to later talk to me about it.

When my friend struggles with the Dark Place, she withdraws from me. I almost always know something is going on (almost because I’m sure there are times I’ve not been aware of), there’s usually enough subtle little signs that something is wrong – texts sent by mistake, conversations not finished, replies not sent, plans to meet cancelled over the course of a week or two, but I never have enough information to know what is going on. I have to wait. I tread that fine line with social media where I keep in enough contact to remind her that I’m here, but I don’t turn into a nagging stalker adding to the guilty pressure and just making things worse. Always there’s the wonder about whether there’s a magic phrase that I could type or say that would make it all better and if the fact I can’t find this phrase makes me a bad, uncaring and selfish friend.

I know there’s no phrase really. Doesn’t stop me wanting one.

I think I understand maybe some of why she can’t be in contact with me at these times. I’ve thought a lot about this because it can feel so hurtful at times and because I know this isn’t about me at all. Despite my best efforts not to, my fear overwhelms my ability to remain non-judgemental and in my desire for her to be well and happy, I can’t help but worry about the decisions being made. Despite my psychotherapy training and my best efforts, we are not counsellor and client in this respect and there are very good and strong reasons why counsellors cannot and should not counsel their friends and family. I think I do judge the decisions that get made at these times, but I don’t think I – and I dearly hope I don’t – judge HER as a person. Although I recognise that it might be impossible at times to separate judging the actions from judging the person.

I’ve had my own journeys in dark places, I’ve made enough of my own decisions while there that I hope can give me the empathy I need to come to a place of better understanding – we soothe our pain the best we know how at the time. That is at the bottom of our actions and reactions I feel and sometimes all we know and all we want is shutting out or numbing the pain with things and people and situations and objects and stuff. Numb it in this second, and this one, and this one, and this one. And so it goes on.

Ultimately, I want her to face and feel her emotions because I honestly believe that’s the only way through and out – and how fucking scary must that be for her? I’m basically shoving her in front of the end of level nasty with no weapons or armour at all then slamming the door shut on her escape route. No wonder I get avoided at these times!

Because we are so close and I know so much about her, it must be so much harder for her to ignore the emotions that are threatening to engulf her. At the very moment she is needing to consider the most base choice we all have – the choice whether or not to stay alive – here am I coming down firmly on the side of living and through my own fear I am constricting her from considering the other choice equally. And I know through my counselling training how important it is for both sides of this choice to be considered, just as I know I will never be the person my friend is able to do that with.

And it hurts. Of course it hurts. I’ve had that weight in my chest over the last week, it’s more effort to breathe, I stop every now and then while the emotions have their way with me. My friend, my close friend, my Sister-Friend is hurting in the worst way possible and I can’t do anything. I’m kept outside behind a pane of frosted glass, I can’t touch, I can’t hear and I can barely see what’s going on for her, I just know something is. All I want is to take her from that Place, wrap her up in love and nurture, keep her safe until she’s strong enough to walk forward again but I also know that to do that, or to attempt to do that, would also disempower her, take away her choices and ultimately, all her decisions need to be her own or they mean nothing. She can’t choose to keep living because she’s kept away from the decisions that may end her. She can’t choose to keep living because those around her tell her too. She has to want to, has to feel it’s worth it.

And that’s something I can never help her with.

And lastly, regardless of how much pain this causes me, this isn’t about me. Never was and never will be, neither the route into the Dark Place or the path out of it has anything to do with me. This isn’t meant to be a self pitying post “wah wah my friend is hurting wah wah see how good a person I am by how much I suffer over this” because that’s just martyrdom bollocks. But my feelings are real and as such they deserve and need a place in the world. Where my feelings don’t belong is on top of everything else that my friend is trying to hold up right now, she doesn’t need or deserve that extra weight. By allowing, accepting and giving my reactions – all of them, even the selfish ones – a space and the time they need via this blog post, I hope to then keep them out of my interactions with my friend so I can concentrate on what she needs right now. Even if that is space and silence from me.

If she does read this – if you are reading this, petal – know this exploration and it’s publication to be read by friends and strangers isn’t about making sure you know my feelings, it’s not some passive aggressive way of making my hurt known to you – I know you know this already, I know it’s already a weight for you and I wish I could relieve that somehow – ┬áit’s my continuing quest to lay myself open and congruent and transparent to myself and others, to lay out emotions like a picture at our feet to be examined in the hope they become less scary in the day. I believe truly and honestly that only by shining a light on the dark corners of our mind can we move forward, and how can I ask anyone else to think about doing this if I don’t do it myself? So here I am, shining a light on a part of my mind that’s dark and confused. I’m not sure this post is wise actually, I fear causing harm by it. But I’m going to do it as I think by doing this I uphold my principle of being open and honest. I just hope I’m right with that and I’m not just being a self pitying whiner.

I just need to explore this somewhere and like previous posts on anxiety and the like, I refuse to believe this is an isolated situation and that by blogging about it, by being open and honest with the contents of my head, maybe someone somewhere will find some comfort here that they aren’t alone.

If you recognise yourself in these words, then know I empathise with some of your pain, it’s a damn fucking scary path to walk when someone we love is confused and hurting and we can’t do what society and culture insists are the only ways to help. It’s a dark and unmapped path for a large part, but there is literature and theory out there that may help us all to understand a little more, to develop awareness of how to help them rather than try and alleviate our own fears and pain. Find a safe place for your feelings that’s away and secure and contained, do your best not to judge, either them or yourselves in this. We struggle with this because it’s hard not because we’re failing.

And I need to keep reminding myself of that.