Fear, anxiety, friendship

One of my very best friends is in the process of long-term recuperation and rehabilitation from a very serious illness. His return to health has been an arduous journey and is not over yet, but he has been improving and all our hopes are for a full and complete recovery. Along with that, though, we are really hoping he will be capable of flying home within the next month.

Not going to lie – it’s been extraordinarily difficult for him to go from strong, active, and vibrant to this point of weakness, much less active because of his health, and having to fight to recover in all sorts of ways that are unfathomable and unimaginable to me. As far as mood, it’s been an almost textbook cycle of anger, depression, resolve, and wanting so badly and trying so hard to get back to baseline normal. Physical recovery and moodiness aside, there is a cognitive relearning curve in many areas that has been occurring concurrently.

He is family. M and I would no more turn our backs on him than fly to the moon by flapping our arms. Does not make it all rainbows and unicorns to cope with and to watch despite our care and commitment.

I preface it this way for a couple of reasons. It seems the closer we come to his return, the more unraveled he seems to be becoming. Thing is, I don’t care what he looks like – how skinny, how hairless, how much muscle he has lost. I don’t care about his memory loss and what he has had to struggle and battle to recover. I don’t care if he wallows in self-pity and must try to climb out every single day. I don’t care about any of that at all. I want him to be healthy, be all he can be, and his recovery is just short of miraculous in how far he has come in 9 months. Being him home and nearby where we can help and hang-out and communicate in more efficient and effective ways that the geographical distance presently allows is our ultimate goal. The rest we can cope with and fix. In a lot of ways he sees it, but depression, anxiety, and fear make him unpredictable in how he may react.

My Pollyanna-ness gets on his nerves; I know it and try to temper it. However, we tend to communicate primarily via email and online chat, occasional Facetime, text, phone call. I have ongoing concern but am not hovering and wringing my hands over him. Don’t want to see or read my sunnier outlook? It’s fine to delay or even delete my communications. It’s also fine to tell me to shut the f**k up. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and as I said, he’s family; he can say that to me without penalty or long-term hurt feelings on my part.

But our affection and respect is mutual. I know this, and I know his situation and circumstances are unusual. I make huge allowances and give him a whole lot of leeway.

The last few weeks, though, have been trying. With my work-related situation, he has been a most supportive rock and sounding board for me. It is part of what makes him special to me, that he is so stable and sensible much of the time. Outside of me and my issues, though, he’s been a pain in the ass. He’s been alternatively empty shell bright and fluffy to surly and snarling in general conversation. Frankly, I generally prefer the surly and snarling; I can work with that by snarling back. The bright and fluffy? I may as well be chatting with the cardboard cutout of him about the f**king weather.

Over the weekend he sounded in good spirits, but almost too good. Flying is painful for him, makes his brain literally hurt from the pressure. Knowing he was boarding a plane causes anxiety and fear, which he of course does not want to flat out admit, even though it’s the big giant dancing pink elephant in the room. I get it; I didn’t push. I also restrained myself from asking yesterday how the flight went, instead asking him about a Jordan Peterson video series on biblical stories, wondering if he knew it was available and/or started listening. He barked back that he wanted to “put a bullet in his brain to make the pain stop and I wanted to know what he’s listening to?” That’s actually fine – pain talking; I am also grown-up enough of a big girl and can take it. I didn’t reply right away, knowing his head is hurting and not wanting to make the situation worse. Told M that flight had not gone that well, and figured I would write an email instead. Before I got an opportunity, though, got another text that stated “Don’t fucking email or communicate with me any further. Done for now.”

Ouch. Rational Pollyanna in me understands this is pain talking, but it smarted. I resolved to honor his wishes, and when his head stops aching and he wants to talk, I am not going anywhere and we can and will hash it out. Family is family; we say shit we mean in the moment and regret later. Unfortunately. And if this is the worst way we treat one another (and it pretty much is), we are surely not that bad.

So there’s that.

Then this morning while I am at the gym, M gets a phone message from a hospital in Berlin regarding friend J. M had been outside feeding/playing with the cats and getting Cheepers situated in his cage when the call came in, so he came back to a voice mail asking us to call. M texted me and I immediately ceased what I was doing and practically ran out of the club. By the time I got home, M had returned the call and was told it was a next-of-kin notification that friend J was safe, being treated, and his doctor had been contacted. Unfortunately, there was no consent to share information about his condition, but it was policy to notify us.

Under the best of circumstances, this would freak anyone out. Family member in a hospital in another country – fear, anxiety, worry are all normal emotions. Unfortunately for me, this brings flashbacks to the dreaded school phone call regarding my daughter, perfectly healthy 12-year-old, falling ill at school on a Thursday and being told less than 24 hours later that she is brain dead and not going to wake up ever again. My emotional reactions are overreactive and warranted. The fear – oh my, deer in the headlights has nothing on me in this situation.

While we are frantically calling his regular physician to try and find out what’s happening, friend J calls himself when he learned we had been contacted to explain that had happened and reassure us that he is fine. Simple accident – woman fell into him, he fell over and banged his head on a doorjamb. Because of his ongoing recuperation and head injury, his coworkers insisted he be seen by emergency doctors. He was to be released soon and is fine.

I listened. He sounded normal, angry with the staff, assured me that it’s nothing serious. I listened, said okay, handed M the phone and went to throw up. Fear and anxiety released.

In the moments between the hospital conversation and him calling, our last interaction played and replayed in my head. Would his harsh, angry, frustrated-with-his-life words be the last thing he said to me? Is this what 25+ years dissolves into?

It was several moments of awful, hollow feelings. So many years, so many good times, great memories replaced with his last couple of messages on his part and retreated silence on mine.

No clear answers. I don’t want to be angry with him, yet I am. I don’t want him shitting all over me because he’s having a hard time, but I’m allowing it right now. It seems we still have time to sort out the sibling crap in our relationship. But for a few minutes this morning, I had the dreadful certainty that I was going to be living with my regret for all I coulda/shoulda/woulda said.

I do not want to ever live with regret. But my emotions are as highly reactive and hair-trigger ready to fire as they ever get, with this week’s final days on the job and dealing with this today.

I am going to let this sit awhile. I am not going to reach out directly, because my feelings are pretty raw. What I would likely say right now – you’re a selfish, self-centered jerk engaged in an ongoing pity party and I hate you right now – is mostly unproductive.

And now I’m really, Really angry, the kind of angry that comes from a big giant scare and the relief that it was a false alarm. Since he also reads this blog from time to time: I’m really angry and it’s all your fault, you ass. Doesn’t mean I won’t get over it, forgive and forget. Eventually. But interactions with me could be HELL between now and then.

But right now, friend J, I hope you stub your toe or get an irritating hangnail.

5 thoughts on “Fear, anxiety, friendship

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