DEAR ABBY: We have a friend who often comes to us for advice, but never seems to take it. She keeps making the same mistake over and over again. How do we get through to her? — FRIENDS WHO CARE IN UTAH
DEAR FRIENDS: Candidly? Realize you can’t get through to her because she’s not really seeking advice. Rather than listening, she’s venting. Because of the friendship, listen when she “dumps,” but refrain from offering wisdom you know will be disregarded. (c) DEAR ABBY
It can be frustrating to be in the position of wanting someone to help themselves and having to watch, helpless, while they do nothing at all.
I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but here it is again. I used to be friends with Femke, a woman who had delusional disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), if I recall correctly. Unmedicated, she’d go into these manic periods which felt like pure heaven and bliss to her. I get it. I do. I’ve experienced mania, and it feels wonderful.
There’s just one little problem with the manic experience: the inevitable crash. You know, when your life comes tumbling down, and you’re left to pick up the shattered pieces of your damaged psyche? So. Not. Worth. It. (For anyone who’s into Tarot, the card of the Tower comes to mind. My name numerology adds up to its number of 16, and so does my mother’s. It’s a whole karmic thing.)
Every time Femke went off her meds (as soon as she was released from the mental hospital and left to her own devices), she’d completely lose touch with reality and wind up in the hospital again. And I should add that her life wasn’t all about her. She had a five-year-old son whom she’d fought for custody of (his father was an unfit parent, from what I was told), but the little boy often had to be raised by Femke’s dad, the loving grandpa, because Femke was constantly winding up in the mental hospital.
Now, I love the mental hospital as much as the next person. Maybe even moreso because the food is divine, for one thing, and who doesn’t love movie night? But if you’re going through this pattern of: mental hospital → getting released → throwing the meds away → engaging in God knows what sort of illicit behaviors → back in the mental hospital, then you’re doing something wrong. At a certain point, there has to be some personal accountability.
Femke wasn’t motivated to do the right thing for her son. Instead, she was addicted to the mania. It was ridiculous. I have no clue how her doctors found medicines that normalized her mental and emotional state, but her meds worked like a magic charm. She never complained about side effects. She only complained about missing the high of being unmedicated.
Her alleged issue was that the Bible claims that taking psychiatric medications is wrong, she said. That was what she told me, so I researched it. Apparently, the Bible was referring to street drugs, or using drugs for highs just for recreational reasons. I told her that and sent links to my sources, but she didn’t believe me. It was a long time before I realized that she didn’t want to believe me. The Bible thing was her convenient excuse.
So then it happened. I got a message from her saying, hey, guess what? I’m back in the mental hospital. And I’m thinking, really, they allow cell phones and such in the mental hospital? (I’ve never really used a cellphone, and my last admission was back in 2006. My mental hospital had landlines, and that was good enough for me.) I sent her an encouraging message, like, hang in there, you’ll get better, you can do it, and so forth.
This is where the story gets incredible. Femke emailed me a week or so later while still detained in the mental hospital. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it! The head nurse forgot to give me my meds just now. I’ll be high soon! Oh, I can’t wait!
I was floored, and it put me in an awkward position. Nurses never forget to medicate anyone. As if! They’d get fired for that. But I knew what the deal was. The nurses were onto Femke. They wanted to know if she’d ask for her meds in the absense of being made to take them. It’s her whole issue! Let her out of the hospital, and those meds are getting tossed. So, how could they release her in good faith?
What was I supposed to do? I wasn’t about to tell her that her nurses were testing her. That was supposed to be a freakin’ secret!
So I did the only thing I could do: I wrote her a very forceful email insisting that she go and ask for her meds, because she needed them, forgetful nurses be damned. I was like, now, you need those meds! The nurse would want to be reminded to give them to you, so go ask for them! Don’t you dare skip your meds for any reason.
We weren’t friends after that. Yeah, you had to see that coming.
I think there has to be a point where the disapproval is going to end things. It gets old. She knew what the responsible choice was, and she refused again and again to make it. I couldn’t live with watching her do that (especially since she had a young son), and I’m sure my disapproval was unhelpful for her, as well. While I most certainly wish her well, I’d be afraid to find out what her life is like now. This was years ago, and I’m afraid she’s probably still making bad choices.
It’s hurtful to watch someone you care about make bad choices again… and again… and again… and again. Maybe the letter writer’s situation is different than it was with me and Femke, but… as awful as it is, that level of frustration can end a relationship. At this point, the letter writer might want to be more forceful with her friend and spell it out in no uncertain terms. At least then, she will have done everything she could.