For thirty-seven years I’ve had a friend who, like most of us, has experienced many ups and downs, joys and disappointments in her life. We’ve been there for one another through whatever life has brought our way.
Over the years, she’s become less sociable, more reclusive and her thought processes have become less understandable and farther from what would be described as typical.
I’ve written about my difficulty understanding her before and shared that she made a decision, many years ago, to be as different from her family, from what they expected of her, from everyone else, as she possibly could be. Not different in a “uniquely individual” kind of way, but different as in the opposite of everything society expects from us, accepts.
Lately, I’m finding myself increasingly frustrated with her. I don’t understand where she’s coming from any longer. I can’t even rationalize most of what she’s saying or reconcile it with reality.
Last Thursday we had an incredibly frustrating visit.
She’s taken to complaining about every ache and pain she experiences, carrying on as if she’s suffering from severe illnesses. Discomfort in her shoulder translated into a torn muscle, then a torn rotator cuff, then torn tendons, though she refused to talk to her doctor about it and the pain she’d claimed to be experiencing simply went away.
Thursday she announced she was worried that her knee would lock up and she’d fall. I asked her if that’s happened, had she fallen and she said no, she just knows it’s going to happen because her knee is stiff.
When she walks, she takes tiny little baby steps, shuffling her feet. I asked her if something was wrong, knowing she’s diabetic and that tends to bring about trouble with the feet. She said her feet hurt and she couldn’t take a longer step. I asked her if she’d talked to her doctor and she told me no, it’s nothing. If it’s nothing, why are you complaining about it?
I asked her if she was taking anything over-the-counter for the pain she’s been feeling and she told me no, “medicine doesn’t work.” I asked her if she hasn’t taken anything, how does she know it doesn’t work and she responded, “I refuse to take the recommended dosage.” I asked her if that didn’t explain why she’s had bad luck with meds not helping, if she’s not taking the recommended dosage.
I asked her if maybe it was time to talk to her doctor about her feet, because of the diabetes and she said, “any time I’ve mentioned anything to the doctor I’ve been told it’s all in my head.” I asked her when they said that to her and she said she told her doctor she wasn’t breathing. She’s said this before, but I asked her what exactly she means by wasn’t breathing, did she mean having trouble breathing? She got very frustrated. “When I was just talking to you, for like a whole minute, I didn’t breathe once.”
She went on, “you know how I snore, well sometimes I wake myself up, but not from the snoring, I wake up because I stopped breathing. I know I have sleep apnea.” I asked her if she realized that breathing is involuntary, it happens, even when we’re not aware of it, we don’t have to consciously think about breathing. She got very upset. I suggested to her that she had to be breathing if she was snoring because snoring is caused by the air we breathe vibrating in the back of our throat. She insisted, “I’ve watched my chest and sometimes it doesn’t move, I’m not breathing. I breathe shallow to begin with, but lots of time I don’t breathe.”
If you tell your doctor you don’t breathe and they tell you it’s all in your head, that seems completely understandable to me. Most of her aches and pains seem to be typical to aging. Any symptom she experiences immediately indicates a serious illness or disease.
She was having her apartment cleaned on Thursday because there was a Codes Dept. inspection due on Friday. She walked the cleaning crew through her apartment explaining what she wanted done and asked them to excuse the condition of her apartment, as she’s lived there 3 years and has maybe cleaned the bathtub and the sinks, mopped the floors perhaps two or three times. She explained that she couldn’t see the reason for cleaning because it all gets dirty again anyway. She was not embarrassed, she expected them to understand her thought process and agree with it.
She described her bathroom ceiling as “brown” and covered with something. The cleaning crew informed her it was covered with mold. I asked her why she would let her ceiling get in that condition and she said she wasn’t climbing up on a step stool.
She complained that her kitchen sink was filled with dirty dishes and she would have to wash them before the inspection. She’s only one person, I asked her how many dishes there could be because she eats out or has delivery every day. She hates to cook, by her own admission and her stove top hasn’t worked properly since she had a grease fire on it. She’s told me in the past that a month passes sometimes between dish washings. I asked her why she doesn’t just use paper plates and paper cups and she raised her voice, “I do!” I asked her the next logical question, then how could she have a pile of dishes in her sink. She said it was pots and pans. Again, I asked her the next logical question, if you don’t cook then how could she have all those pots and pans waiting to be washed. She got very agitated. “I don’t want to clank and bang them together washing them and disturb the neighbors.”
Every time she comes to my house she brings a backpack filled with food, drinks, books and electronics. She complains about how heavy the bag is and how much it hurts her shoulders and back. I’ve asked her numerous times if it’s so painful, why does she load it with so much stuff and carry it around everywhere. She never really has an answer, other than “I need all those things.”
Every time she readies to leave my home she lets some of her things, either in my refrigerator or somewhere in my house, complaining that the pack is just too heavy. I’ve asked her not to leave things because when she leaves things in my fridge it makes it difficult for me to put my own groceries away and to access them from my wheelchair. When she leaves her things sitting around my house it affects my accessibility/mobility.
Thursday she announced, before putting her backpack on that she was leaving some tea in my fridge. I asked her why. She said so she could drink it next time she comes over to visit. I pointed out to her that she always brings more drinks with her each time she comes so I don’t understand the point of leaving things in my refrigerator.
She insisted her bag was too heavy to carry. I asked her why it wasn’t too heavy to carry all that stuff with her when she came, why it was too heavy to take stuff home even though she’d emptied a lot of the things from it while she’d been here. She raised her voice and said “It was heavier when I brought it.” I said that’s exactly what I said, if it was heavier then, and she could carry it, but it’s lighter now and she is unable to carry it, that doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve about heard all the nonsensical thinking and excuses I can tolerate. The way she thinks isn’t practical, rational. It’s crazy-making.
I’m feeling as if listening to it, entertaining it, is enabling her.
I don’t want to abandon her, as she doesn’t really have any other friends, but I have real things to concern myself with, that I try not to obsess about, stress over. I’m trying to reduce the anxiety in my life, so I can physically and emotionally feel better, but once a week, taking this journey with her really isn’t healthy.
I’ve considered telling her I need a break for a bit, as she’s “taken breaks” from our friendship from time to time for various reasons she’s not shared with me. I’m just concerned about her overall well being. I really don’t know what to do. I know I need to do something, I’m just not sure how to proceed.