friendship

"Making my baby's blanket just might have saved her life."

Of all the things gifted upon the birth of my second daughter, Kitty, this is the most special: A baby blanket handmade by my friend.

My friend who has nimble fingers, a love of the arts, and the patience of a saint to crochet rainbow squares hour after hour. My friend who is the champion of the underdogs. My friend who has an innocent, tinkering giggle that can suddenly change into a deviant’s chuckle. My friend who has a grin that lights her whole face up and in-turn, the faces of those around her. My friend who will always ask how I am before I get a chance to question how she is. My friend who has Bipolar II.

When I was five months pregnant, she wanted my opinion on wool colours. We sat down to discuss the blanket combinations on her back deck. There were laughs and chats. Then, eventually, she told me she hadn’t been doing too well. And by ‘too well’, she was battling the depression she’d been diagnosed with in her 20s, and which

continued to rear its head in her 30s.

Her husband left as we started discussing it. I thought he was leaving us to it. Girl talk, you know. But, a month or so later, she’d find out he’d reached his limit when he called it quits. I know he loved her, but I guess saying ‘for better or for worse’ is easier than living it. Who knows.

Two weeks after our wool discussion, it became too much and she admitted herself to a private hospital. A wonderful psychiatrist listened, and therapy helped. Crocheting my daughter’s baby blanket kept her hands busy and her mind doing the equivalent of lap swimming: just follow the line and zone out.

She was wearing maxi dresses all the time which wasn’t odd, because show me a girl who doesn’t love a long, flowing frock and I’ll show you a liar. Then she told me they were easier to hide the cut marks.

In hospital, being surrounded by other people who understood allowed her to let it out. There, in that safe place, she was diagnosed as NOT being depressed, but having Bipolar II. This meant she’d been trying to win an uphill battle due to an incorrect initial diagnosis of her mental health. Years of taking meds that weren’t actually delivering what was needed.

Perhaps I’m generalising, but people like me, we don’t ‘get it’. I don’t understand mental illness. I haven’t lived it – either myself or within my family. Even if I imagine what it would be like, I’m not fool enough to think it would come remotely close to the reality.

My friend is the closest I’ve come to seeing the constant fight against oneself, even though she does a DARN good job of hiding it. In fact, it’s like she’s a star in a movie called I’m Fine, Thank You and her acting ability would rival Cate Blanchett’s.

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Her issue to overcome is self-hatred.

Just think about that: hating yourself. Can you imagine living with such loathing?

Constantly second-guessing.
Being anxious.
Panicking.
Worrying.
Hurting.
All the freaking time.

She’s told me how tiring and boring it is. The same ol’ same ol’. And that’s when the bad thoughts enter, stage left.

But she has to keep swimming. Head down, bum up, paddle, paddle, paddle.

After all, it’s not like a broken leg, is itWell, miss, you’ll be in a cast for eight weeks but with some physio and taking it easy, you’ll be right as rain in three months. There’s no timeframe for mental illness.

After the Bipolar II diagnosis, she had to swap to a different family of drugs which, from my understanding, is hell on Earth. However, once the new meds kicked in, she started to feel on a more even keel. She could talk without crying. She had strength in her voice again.

And little old me – naïve me — thought:

Great! She’s recovering. Hoorah for drugs!

So, I should have known when she didn’t respond to my birthday call in early February. Or the message I left a week later. But today, the penny dropped. I’d been so caught up in my little world that I didn’t put two-and-two together. Why was she so quiet?

I tracked down her sister via Facebook and asked that simple question: is she okay?

As it turns out, no. Yesterday, she listened to her sister and admitted herself to hospital again to get help, which is pretty bloody wonderful if you ask me — to know yourself so well that when the struggle starts to become too much, you can put your hand up and wave furiously for help.

There is no shame in asking for help.
There is no shame in having a mental illness.
There is no shame in being broken.

What IS a shame, and I’m tearing-up as I type this, is wondering if she will EVER love and likeherself, and understand why others think she’s one helluva fabulous lady.

A lady who crocheted a blanket for my baby with love, patience, and care while sitting in a hospital room withdrawing from drugs, mourning her marriage, and willing herself to carry on.

And that is why her blanket is my favourite gift, and why I’ll take such pride telling Kitty about the woman who made it for her: my friend.

Just. Keep. Swimming.

If this article has brought up issues of mental health for you or you're currently struggling with a mental illness you can always contact Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au (13 11 14) or Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au (1300 22 4636) or the Black Dog Institute: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au for help and support.

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