Character: Build It Here
When a Friend Breaks Down
Mostly logging trucks traveled on Hunter’s Star Route when I lived in that remote region of Eastern Washington in the late '70s. My kitchen windows rattled as they passed by. It was rare to see a car on the road, much less have visitors. So I was surprised one cool spring morning when I heard a knock at the door. Standing on my porch was Sheila, a friend who lived in a town about twenty-five miles north.
She didn't look anything like herself: uncombed hair, no makeup, an old t-shirt, dirty jeans and bare feet. She pushed me aside as she walked in saying, "Get over it. This is how I look without makeup. I'm hungry. Fix me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."
Right then and there, I knew that Sheila hadn't stepped through my door. This person was nothing like her. She sat at my kitchen table staring out the window. I cut the sandwich into four squares. As I set the plate on the table, Sheila barked, "No! I don't like squares. I want triangles."
Sheila is eight years older than me. Seeing her bizarre childlike behavior was more than confusing. It was scary. I had no idea what was going on. As the day unfolded, the situation with Sheila got steadily worse. By the time evening rolled around, she was blasting ‘60s rock from the stereo while dancing in her underwear on my coffee table reenacting her days as a go-go dancer in San Francisco. I tried calling Sheila’s husband, Ron. No answer. When Jack got home that evening, he immediately knew what was wrong with her. He had worked as a counselor for troubled teens a few years back. He responded to Sheila with kindness and understanding. She calmed down a bit and asked me to give her a bath.
Eventually Ron returned my call. He didn't want to come get Sheila. He said that things were too crazy and he couldn't handle it. Thus began a period of two weeks that Sheila stayed with us. Our four small children took it all in stride. It was pure fun from their perspective to have Sheila around. However, it was almost more than Jack and I could handle. Like the night we woke up to find the front door wide open and Sheila walking down the middle of the road with only a t-shirt on at 3:00 a.m. Anything could have happened. That road cut through a valley populated with bears, cougars, and coyotes.
Friends and neighbors found out about Sheila’s escapades during her stay at our house and expressed disgust at her behavior. They said things like, "She just wants an excuse to party" - or - "She's not fooling me. What a brat."
I always replied, "If she had the flu, you'd be bringing her chicken soup."
They didn't want to believe that there was such a thing as brain flu. Statistics reveal that over one-fourth of the population suffer from some form of mental illness. The cruel stigma associated with mental illness causes people to go to great lengths to disguise it. Can't let their employer know. Can't let it come up during a court case. Can't let the neighbors know. Can't even let their own families know. Can't let anybody know. So they go on undiagnosed. Mental illness without treatment just gets worse. It doesn't go away on its own.
Sheila had been masking it as long as she could. It took the whole two weeks for me to convince Ron to take his wife to the hospital. She was diagnosed with manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder) and was put on lithium. The medication brought our sweet Sheila back. I’m glad that modern medicine came to her rescue. I thought about people living long ago who suffered without medical care or people today who simply cannot avail themselves of effective treatments.
If you’d like to find out how you can advance mental health research, check out the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF), formerly known as the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). It is the largest donor-supported philanthropy for psychiatric research in the world. 100% of all donor contributions for research are invested in NARSAD Grants leading to discoveries in understanding causes and improving treatments of disorders in children and adults, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress. Since 1987 the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has awarded more than $300 million in over 4,500 NARSAD grants to more than 3,700 scientists around the world. BBRF strives to reduce the pain and debilitation of mental illness through its leadership in funding scientific research on the causes, treatments and prevention of serious psychiatric disorders.