Sunday, October 16, 2016

When a friend commits suicide

Note: This is my personal perspective about the suicide of a friend.  I hope that I have written it respectfully and truthfully.  It is as it happened.  I mean no dishonor to her memory or to her family.  Maybe it will help someone understand bipolar disorder better (?).

My former flat mate (that's Bridish for roommate) died this past week on the 11th of October, 2016.   I referred to her as "Dorothy" in some of my previous posts after Dorothy Zbornak of the Golden Girls.  If you follow my blog, you will  know, I don't use real names in my blog and I'm not here either.   Dorothy, the Romanian, and I were all sharing The Romanian's small apartment for a while after I got kicked out of my former place in Rumaithiya.

We referred to ourselves as, "The Golden Girls."  It was fun living together for a while, even though Dorothy and I were under extreme circumstances, the comraderie made it ironic and funny.  We were forced to sleep in the same bed in the small apartment.  Every night, I would draw the imaginary line on the bed that she was not allowed to cross (sometimes, we would find her huddled on the edge of the bed in fear of repercussion). We all giggled about it like teenaged girls going to sleep after a slumber party.  We arranged our suitcases under the bed like in a dorm room and shared the one bathroom.  But we all got along and we all slept well at night.

Dorothy was essentially homeless (although she didn't leave much of a "home" - sleeping with no bed on the floor with a blanket and not much else).  It was "company accommodation" - not much more than an empty apartment in the same building where her she worked for her former employer, a law firm.  When their business relationship ended (she wasn't getting paid and working 18 hour days, eating a roasted chicken every few days), The Romanian and I took her in.  I eventually found my apartment and she moved in with me (with only 2 suitcases and the stray cat that I had found and she took in).

Dorothy had a history of bipolar disorder episodes.  I didn't know until she had moved in with me that she had tried to commit suicide only 4 or 5 months before I met her.  D had a life of secrets as The Romanian and I quickly discovered.  Neither of us are the kind to judge or ask too many questions.  She wasn't willing to tell all; instead, she gave out few secrets and to other friends a few more secrets. It is only now, after her death, that I am starting to  piece together the puzzle that was her life.

D was kind to everyone.  Went out of her way to help others, even if she often couldn't fulfill her promises.  Her work as a paralegal through a series of several law firms allowed her to help both friends and strangers (me included) with our legal cases (which is how I first met Dorothy). Unfortunately, follow-through wasn't always her strong point. Neither was remembering agreements that had been made verbally. Or the fact that oops - that lawyer wasn't actually a lawyer, but a law student and therefore she couldn't possibly follow my case.  Que sera -  my bad for not doing my own research or doing things correctly.

She told me that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and that she got into black moods where she felt like she just couldn't get out.  At one point, she told me about her failed suicide attempt by slitting her wrists (her best friend found her).  I thought (mistakenly) that since so many things had changed in her life for the better, this was a closed chapter in her life.

I didn't know very much at all about someone with bipolar disorder.  I knew it involved mood swings, but in the months before she moved in with me, I never saw any of it.  I saw a little bit of what could be termed "irrational behavior" but nothing significant enough to cause alarm.  Things like Dorothy not wanting to be confrontational and to avoid contact (and sometimes you just need to face up to it) or clinging irrationally to boyfriends who had done her wrong. Things that can be overlooked.  Other things bothered me:  Everything official had to be in my name because she didn't have any form of ID; no passport, no Kuwait civil ID card, no drivers license. Nothing.  I worried that the police would pick her up and deport her.  I nagged her constantly about getting a new passport and couldn't understand her constant excuses and delays. (Only after her death did I learn why.)

Dorothy was always laughing.  She had a great, hearty laugh and a funny sense of humor. She was great at giving others advice (even when her own life may have been falling apart).  Friends could talk to her for hours.  She seem strong and confident and someone who you could easily confide in.



At home, she lived in her pink bunny onesie and when she wasn't wearing that - it was PJs and her piggy slippers (I saw them in her apartment) that she adored.  She drank tea and smoked cigarettes and when she was around at home - was either watching rugby, Briddish serials on her iPad, or on her phone.  I see her still running around the apartment like this.  (And I know in my heart that she wouldn't mind me posting this photo as these were the things she loved.)

When we moved into a larger apartment, she would go into her room for days and lock the door, close the shades and turn off her phone.  She wouldn't come out for anything - not food, or even (as far as I could tell) to use the bathroom.  This would come after seemingly normal days at work (we worked in the same building and she didn't own a car, so I would take her to work and we would discuss our days).  I was really concerned several times because she was drinking pretty heavily; even kept alcohol in her bedroom.  I just chalked the alcohol up to being British/Welch. :)  But as it became more frequent, I started questioning if she was ok - or if she really liked me at all as she seemed to be ignoring me by doing that.  After days of this, she would emerge like nothing ever happened.  But it started freaking me out.

D and The Romanian started to go to parties together and not tell me.  Leading me to believe that maybe D really didn't like me after all.  After she dissed me on my birthday, I asked her to move out.  She took it much better than I would have expected.  In a happy voice, she said, "Oh that's ok.  I wanted to tell you anyways:  I'm moving in with my boyfriend.  We need the extra privacy anyways, so it all works out."  10 days on, I hadn't seen much of her because she was back hybernating in her bedroom.  (She must really hate me.)  I sent her an e-mail, pouring my heart out and saying that I'm just not used to living with anyone and my idiosycracies shouldn't make her uncomfortable in the place where she lived.  No response.  (She really must not like me.)  She moved out with nothing more than a note to say goodbye.

I attempted to reach out to her for the following month-plus.  She had lied about moving in with the boyfriend.  She went to stay with The Romanian for a while until she found a furnished apartment close to one of her best friends.  I went to The Romanian's and had coffee and Dorothy acted like nothing had happened.  Same when I went to see her at work.  It wasn't until I went to follow up on my legal case (former landlord case that has been dragging on), that I was informed by the firm that my agreement with Dorothy was not consistent with their understanding; that I would have to pay 1,500 KD to continue the case.  As you can imagine, it was a little disappointing.  That was the last I heard from her (late May, or June time frame).

She continued to be friends with The Romanian and everyone else.  She was close to the lawyers she worked with and Dorothy had a good social life.   I backed away and did my own thing.

If you saw D, you would thing, "Wow. This is a professional woman who really has it all together."  Always wearing business suits.  Worked for a prestigious law firm.  Always looked impeccable.  Spoke professionally and very well mannered.  Always laughing and the hit of the party.  Always made everyone - regardless of their social status - feel comfortable.

Appearances can be deceiving.  Never judge.

I received several calls from the lawyers at her firm around 11pm on the 11th of October.  I didn't answer.  I thought it might be something regarding my case.  Then, I thought better and called back.  Dorothy hadn't called into work for several days and was behaving strangely.  She posted strange messages on social media (although she was Muslim, she posted the shuhada, confirming that she was Muslim) and sent messages to several friends early in the morning saying, "I love you.  Please forgive me.  I'm sorry."  The 3 young female lawyer friends and the receptionist at her law firm got worried and went to her apartment to check on her.  They found her body, hanged.  D had taken the time to write a note (in a dying declaration, blaming her boyfriend and also including words for her family) and to send out the messages just prior to her death.  She chose a time and a method to ensure that she would not be found and revived (this time).  It had to have taken planning.

I wasn't shocked.  I go into "emergency-deal-with-it"  mode and then I break down later.  I guess I knew in the back of my mind that she would try it again.  I didn't want to believe it because she was such a happy-go-lucky person in so many ways.

I know Dorothy's boyfriend, He is a sensitive, quiet man.  I don't know the intracacies of their relationship (you never know what happens between a man and woman), but my gut instinct was that he would be grieving.  I called him and sent messages as soon as I heard, but with no response.

In Kuwait, suicide is considered a crime.  It doesn't happen here very often; when it does, it is usually a domestic worker in a horrible situation, but hardly ever a Westerner.  If there is a "dying declaration" in a note, blaming someone the victim feels is responsible, that person will be treated like a criminal.  In this case, M, was shown the crime scene photos (I feel as either a form of punishment or to see his reaction) and was questioned for several hours.  It was blaringly obvious from the types of medications D was taking and from the scars on her arms (and probably medical history the authorities had obtained by that time) that the only blame was on poor mental health.  M was inconsolable.  The police didn't tell him about the note blaming him, however, some of D's friends have been sending him messages, blaming him.  Perhaps he wasn't the greatest boyfriend in the whole world, but he's not to blame for her death.

The same question I've heard from many of her friends, spoken over and over again, "Why? Why? Why? Why?"  or "Could I have done anything differently?  Maybe I could have helped her."  Nothing could be done.  No one could save her. If someone is at such a low point where they feel they should take their own life, unless you are standing there and can physically take a weapon out of their hands or resuscitate them somehow, you can't save them.  And even if you do that once, they will find a way to try again.  They need PROFESSIONAL mental healthcare help.

Since this tragedy, all of us are now learning more about bipolar disorder.  In hindsight, I can see some of the signs.  Staying in her room for days was her inability to deal with stress.  And although she was helping people, I'm sure that working at a law firm was probably stressful and detailed.  She grinded her teeth very loudly at night.  Probably another sign of stress.  Alcohol, smoking, risky behavior - all signs.  (But - nothing every crossed the line with me or seemed too terribly abnormal.)

I have had crying bouts on and off.  The most difficult thing I've had to do was to pick up her cat at her apartment where she died.  I gave Louie to D.  I couldn't just leave him.   I was shaking as I entered the apartment, but still clinging to composure.  When the cat started wailing and looking around for her, pleadingly; that's when I lost it. The cat carrier was misplaced, so I had to hold him close to me.  He had never scratched me in his life, but I am now left with scars in several places. He fought not to leave her home.  And it broke my heart.  Louie is doing better now.  He's back with Mikey who he grew up with (and fought with like brothers).  Louie is a great guy and now I'm wondering if I will keep him permanently or not.  It is a moral question.  Why wouldn't I keep him?  I would have to give him up when I move back to the States.  My whole family is allergic to cats (including me, but for some reason, I've never been allergic to Louie and that is very strange).  I am worried that he will be bounced around to too many homes also.  He's been a witness to his mom's death. He's been traumatized.  I could feel it - even when I got him home.  I think he needs time in familiar surroundings to get okay again.  Maybe I'm over-thinking it - I don't know.

Dorothy left behind 4 children that she talked about constantly.  They are all living in the UK.  I can't begin to imagine what they are feeling.  She loved them all dearly and also talked about her sister in Saudi Arabia.  I am now getting to know some of her friends from other periods in her life and they are all kind and decent people.  It is all indicative of her kindness of heart.

Dorothy's story has been all over the newspapers and social media.  Not because any of her friends spoke to the press about it; but because crime reports are made to the media by local police.  Some of my friends (not mutual friends) start with, "Oh... I didn't know she was the one you were talking about..."

This is the third suicide in my life I have dealt with.  (Well, officially, Shamlan's murder was declared a suicide, but it was still murder.  And I didn't know until years later that it was murder, so to me, it was suicide.)  2 months after I learned that Shamlan had "committed suicide", a friend who had asked me to marry him, Hilal, (officially) committed suicide by jumping off an overpass.  He had come to me, days before, crying and I couldn't comfort him.

So, I had a good understanding of how to cope. The stages of grief for me were:  1,  Questioning why.  2.  Assigning blame  3. Waves and waves of grief that continue to this day.  So, I get it that some people are blaming.  I have been asked by several people recently (and I am sure that I will be asked more):  "If you were her friend, why didn't you do something to help her?"  You can only do what you can.  I offered many times to drive her to a mental health hospital for counselling.  All refused. All fell on deaf ears.  All were brushed under the carpet like there wasn't a problem.  And the next day, she would be back in her business suit, meeting with a client, smiling and laughing.

I don't wish this on anyone.  It isn't easy.  Like everything else, you just try to get through it and go on.

9 comments:

J said...

Aaaah, sweetie. I too have a friend similar to D. She most likely has bipolar disease, and over the past few years I've been one of her strongholds. And, really, at the end of the day, there is nothing , nothing, nothing you can do for a person suffering because of it. You can only love them. And yourself.
What a friend you are!

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Darling, there's nothing you can do. really.

My mother is bi polar, and I had to let her go after numerous suicide attempts. No one, grown or child, should feel like it is their duty to staunch the blood, take out the bullets from the gun, talk someone down... I am sure one day she may very well succeed, and I'll try to blame myself then... but no one can force another to seek or to accept help, so no one should assign blame on failed or tired heroes, or on themselves.

I get you just deal mode;). Ppl think you're emotionless but your emotions are like a shockwave you're deaf to.

American Girl said...

As you know, I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm here if you need anything at all.

Should you choose to keep Louie during your remaining time in Kuwait, we will give him a forever home when you move back to the US. I too hate the idea he could be moved from home to home in Kuwait, or eventually even end up in the streets. Obviously, if her family in the UK wants him I'll gladly assist with the cost to ship him there.

<3

Sonia said...

Hello DG,

Am so sorry for your loss. I was in tears by the time i finished reading this post. I pray that God gives you the strength to cope with this loss.

Loads of love!

Stuart said...

Its never easy when you here about a friend committing suicide or going through bipolar disorder or any other things.

I am so sorry for your loss and that I am here as well if you need anything at all.

vinz-Q8 said...

After graduating all my classmates had quickly moved to seek their career and were successful in different parts of the world....this left me with lots of tensions and I feel I had experienced the same as 'D' and i still remember that i tried to make myself lonely for days in my room....I even stopped communicating with my friends or dear ones, but life was good to me and things changed suddenly in a positive way.

Today I am happy and never want to get back to those black days in my life.

DG, i know how you feel ! God bless you.

LWDLIK said...

So very sad I'm sure she is at peace now. So sorry for your loss be strong. This is not a good place to have bi-polar disorder, just a few years ago I went to visit someone dear who had been admitted to the Psychiatric Hospital after a particularly heartbreaking episode. Not a nice place. She is fine now as long as she takes her meds. Since them I have heard of two other people who went off their meds to catastrophic ends. Mental illness here needs addressing big time.

Katherine said...

Hi DG. Am sorry to hear about your friend's suicide. I can understand the difficulties you went through and how hard it is or was to help someone with bipolar disorder. I was a mental health nurse for many years before coming to Kuwait a couple of years ago. Bipolar disorder is treatable and manageable for many people. It's not easy but with the right medication and support people with bipolar disorder can still lead full and meaningful lives. Let's hope with more awareness that people with mental health issues can get the help they need.
Wishing you all the best...
Btw I enjoy your blog. Have been reading it for some time now but this is my first comment as mental health care was a big part of my life.

Liesl Leuthold said...

I'm sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. I know this too well. I've been touched by it also. Prayers for you.