My Friend Jeff
 
My Friend Jeff ~

It was 1992 when Jeff attended his first Bipolar Affective Disorder Support Group meeting…a charming young man with dark crinkly hair and fathomless deep dark eyes.  At this first meeting he revealed little of himself, other than to say he had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder many years before and had had many hospitalizations.  He also revealed that for many years he had self-medicated with alcohol.  Mostly he listened throughout the evening and it was difficult to tell if he was shy, bored or perhaps depressed.

At the end of the meeting he approached me and asked if I had time to go somewhere for "a quick coffee", he had some questions he wished to ask.  I agreed and met him at a coffee shop not far from our meeting place.  We talked, and shared over endless cups of coffee…the pot was bottomless and neither of us even noted the waitress refilling our cups so intense was our conversation.  The closing of the coffee shop in the wee hours of the morning sent us home, both of us with the feeling we had met someone very special who truly understood!  We had exchanged phone numbers but I really was not expecting him to call, just hoped that he would be at the next meeting in two weeks.

To my surprise he phoned the following day and we chatted for an hour on the telephone and made arrangements to meet the following evening for coffee again.  This was the beginning of a developing pattern.  From that time on there was rarely a day went by that we either did not meet or talk to each other on the telephone.  Some days we would go somewhere and walk and talk, other times a coffee shop was our meeting place, and still other times (rarely) I would go with him to a bar.  I didn't drink, and urged him not to because of the medication he was taking, but did not resist when he really wanted to go.

One day, early in our friendship, he told me that his mother had committed suicide when he was three years old.  He remembered it!  He told me he was outside playing and his baby brother was sleeping in the carriage in the yard, when he heard the shot.  His dad, a teacher, was at work.  He ran into the house and found his mother in the basement and ran to a neighbor for help.  Though his dad later remarried and had two more sons, Jeff never truly felt he belonged.  He had never seen his mother's grave and we went out to the cemetery to look for it.  When we finally located it his eyes filled with tears…I opened my arms and we embraced…holding each other tightly…as I tried to transfer some of my strength and deep sympathy to him.  That hug was the beginning of many…and a changing point in our friendship. 

He married young, at the age of 18, to his high school sweetheart and went to work at the city's main industry.  He was a hard worker and successful at his job.  He loved his wife and simply adored his two little girls.  He would tell me how he would love to spend special time with them after dinner, bathing them, and getting them into their pj's for the night and reading to them each night before bed.  His voice grew husky as he described it and I could hear the tears in his voice. 

They were together for ten years before the stress of his illness and drinking led to a marital breakdown.  His wife took the children and moved over a thousand miles away and Jeff was crushed.  His bipolar episodes came closer together and were severe.

Following the divorce he was involved in three short term and ill-advised relationships.   In our conversations he talked about these relationships.  As a matter of fact we talked about everything, our deepest thoughts and feelings were bared.  No person had every known the inner me as he did, and I had never been attuned to another's feelings as I was to his.

When I was in hospital he visited regularly, often twice a day.  When he was in hospital I did the same.  I remember one time when he was manic, and had gone on a rage the night before.  He had been asked to leave an establishment and had kicked in the plate glass door as he left.  Before the police arrived he had broken several doors and windows as he made his way up the street.  He was taken to the psychiatric unit and was in isolation with nothing more than a mattress on the floor.  I kneeled down beside him and asked what I could do to help.  He had not eaten, and his mouth was so dry from medication he could barely speak.  He said that he needed a cigarette, and I got the attention of one of the nurses and pleaded with her to bring an ash tray and allow me to give him one.  I also asked for a glass of ice water.  I promised to remain and watch him while he smoked and finally permission was granted.  Once again, I kneeled beside him and helped him to a sitting position and held the ice water to his lips.  At first he turned his head away, then as the cold sweetness touched his lips he drank deeply and greedily.  I gave him a cigarette…then another, and watched as he slowly quieted.

These scenes or similar ones were repeated many times.  The blind leading the blind some might say, first him supporting, then me as the occasion warranted.  Sometimes we clung to each other like rats sinking in a sea of misery.

In the Fall of 1993 Jeff sunk into a severe depression.  We were in constant communication, and having attempted suicide myself just a year earlier I recognized the signs.  I listened, I tried to encourage him, but in early Winter I received a phone call from the girl he was living with telling me he had jumped in the partially frozen river, but was home.  What should she do?  The zipper on his jacket was frozen closed and icicles were formed in his hair and on his lashes.  I told her to get him into a warm bath and as soon as he was warm and dry to take him to hospital.  I spoke also with him at this point and told him it was best, and that I would meet him there.  He was there just a few days…and convinced the doctor he had learned his lesson, had found "God" and was fine.  He was released.

Less than a month later, he called again in crises.  I picked him up and delivered him, psychotically depressed to the hospital.  After 48 hours he was released.

He had been phoning me every morning and I had been seeing him every evening by this point.  One night he told me in a sad voice that he could not fight any more, that he had made a decision to end his suffering.  I did not argue with him.  Simply said that if that was his decision, there was nothing more I could say or do, but that I understood from the bottom of my heart how he was feeling. 

Our evening ended with a long fierce hug.
 

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