I had a close friend with mental illness who passed away recently. She always talked about wanting to share her story, but never really had the opportunity to do so. So I’m hoping to share at least part of her story for her, and in part the story of our friendship. I met Unique when she was 15, as one of her camp counselors. Somehow a friendly e-mail after camp turned into 14 years, thousands of hours on the phone, and a long-distance friendship that had more an impact on my life than anything I ever could have imagined.
When I first got to know Unique she was living at home in a very difficult situation and dealing with depression. In the few years that followed, I watched her deal with worsening depression, her first suicide attempt, multiple psych hospitalizations, and moving into foster care, then a nursing home, and then eventually the first of many group home placements. For the rest of her life after that, Unique moved into a series of group home placements all over the state. Because she had a physical disability but didn’t have any cognitive disability, those placements meant that she was usually living with people who were much older than her, and much lower functioning than her, which brought along its own set of challenges.
For the first few years Unique was pretty stable. She had her ups and downs, but she did the best she could to make a life for herself and make the best of the situation. Eventually things started to go downhill – the suicidal feelings came back, she had her first psych hospitalization in years, and that started a whole new period of her life. For the next few years it was a constant cycle of hospitalizations, dozens of them. At one point she stopped making sense, which turned out to be her first episode of psychosis. It lasted for a few months, and once she got through it and was more back to “herself” again, she had started to hear voices – constant, incessant voices that were shouting at her all the reasons she needed to kill herself and what a horrible person she was. She was living in a very rural area at the time, and didn’t really have access to the supports she needed – the staff had no idea how to support her, and the hospitalizations just kept continuing.