Thoughts by Richard Bleil
My friend would have referred to her as “delightfully neurotic”. I was a sophomore in college when I met her, and she seemed to have taken a liking to me. She worked at the front desk of the dorm I was in and was almost certainly more sexually advanced than I was. It’s not a surprise since I wouldn’t lose my virginity until two years after college. She and I were friends, and she was very flirtatious, but I was too naïve and far too insecure to see it.
When the summer rolled around, we exchanged telephone numbers for our parents’ homes (yes, this was before cell phones). As it turns out we grew up fairly close to each other. No doubt, our high schools met on the football field every year, but, of course, I didn’t go to the games. I was very excited because she said “yes” when I asked if she wanted to get together in the summer. And, yes, I’m the kind of guy that actually would, and did, call. But I could never get ahold of her. In today’s vernacular, she seemed to have “ghosted” me.
The following year, I ran into her outside of the library. She ran up and hugged me, but I was still upset and didn’t hug back. That’s when she explained that she had had a nervous breakdown at the beginning of the summer and didn’t recover until just before the autumn quarter. Unfortunately, at the time I lacked both the emotional intelligence to get past my own hurt for having been disappointed by not seeing her, and the understanding of mental health issues to truly understand what this meant.
By “nervous breakdown”, she tried to explain, she apparently curled up in a corner of the grocery store and just started rocking and crying. She says she doesn’t really remember it, but that was what she was told. Unfortunately, I am the kind of person who dwells on mistakes of my past, as I am doing today (and why you are reading about this today). A nervous breakdown is a form of anxiety or panic attack, in her case severe enough to land her in a hospital for the summer.
“Neurotic” is the right term to apply as well. Neurosis refers to a mental disorder like anxiety and panic attacks, which several of my friends unfortunately suffer from (as do I if we’re being completely honest). My friend used the term “delightfully neurotic” when referring to another friend of mine, but no doubt he would have applied it to her. I know he meant no harm by this term; it’s trying to put a pleasant spin on what, as it turns out, is a very serious condition. Both the young woman to whom he was referring and this one were both charming in their own ways, and very sweet, which is what he meant by “delightfully”. But to say “delightfully neurotic” comes across as if to say that the mental difficulties of others is a form of entertainment for the rest of us. My friend would not have found her episode in the grocery store amusing.
She did the right thing. When I couldn’t accept her explanation, and get past my own immaturity and issues, she disappeared from my life. I deserved no less, and believe me, the loss is mine. I hope she has settled into a happy life, wherever she is, and I pray that my response didn’t push her over the edge to do something self-destructive, but since I never heard from her again, I really don’t know. It certainly wasn’t my intent even then.
For my readers without a neurotic disorder, please be kind and supportive, and at least as understanding as you can be. Without struggling with issues like anxiety and depression, you really cannot understand how it feels, or what it is like, but it’s not easy. Avoid saying that you understand but do let those willing to open up to you about it seriously. Show your support, and if they ask some form of help from you, please accept the request with grace. My actions were a shining example what to avoid. She needed understanding and acceptance and found me cold and self-involved.
If you suffer from these conditions, please know that you’re not alone. A lot of people will not understand, and while I cannot ask you to be “okay” with that, please don’t take it personally either. Without going through it, some people just simply don’t understand, and cannot separate actions based on panic attacks from their own disappointments. I am ashamed of my actions, and I’m certain that I always will be.