I had a coworker one time who initially seemed to be a ‘normal’ everyday person and LVN (licensed vocational nurse). I got to know her family, and we worked well together. She was supportive of me when I had been going through some of the eating disorder stuff. For several years, the friendship was close and the boundaries weren’t dysfunctional. We were friends- not mutual ‘therapists’.
Then she started going through some things that I was in no way equipped to deal with. It’s one thing to be supportive, but it’s quite another to be asked to participate in the chaos. I’d visited her in the hospital when she decided she was going to have an eating disorder and was being tube fed (she had never had a history of eating disorders until her late 30s- possible, but not the usual age for first onset). I encouraged her during ‘recovery’. There was an awful lot of work she put into having an eating disorder that was unlike anybody else I’d ever seen in my years of eating disorder treatment; I probably saw a few dozen ED patients during those times…’P’ made it her life’s work. Not something that was controlling her thoughts. It’s hard to explain- but it was different. She recovered when she got tired of Slim Fast. She sort of stablized out, and resumed her life as a nurse, mom, and wife.
Then one day, she called me and asked if she could come over to my apartment. I told her it was fine, though I was rather preoccupied taking care of a nine day old baby- he’d been adopted by a coworker at my then current place of employment, and I was the designated babysitter while she was working. I wanted to be fully attentive to him, as well as knowing that his mom would be calling to see how he was doing. Because he was adopted she didn’t have the maternity leave of several weeks. Anyway, ‘P’ came over. She walked in and asked me if I’d tell her kids that she loved them; she was going to kill herself. I was instantly livid.
I’d dealt with suicidal coworkers and patients before. Professionally, I knew the resources that were available, and who I needed to contact. On a friendship level, I was outraged that she even thought that what she was asking was OK. I had a newborn in my arms, and a crazy person in my living room. There was no question whose best interest I was looking after. I told ‘P’ “sure, I’ll tell them”, and I escorted her to her car, got her license plate number, and called the police. I then called her psychiatrist who told me I was the third or fourth person to let him know she was running around telling people she was suicidal. That made me even more angry- but I’d notified the proper people. She was their problem.
I’m not insensitive to suicidality- not at all. I’ve been there. I’ve overdosed to the point of being comatose for three days, waking up in ICU and not knowing what was going on. I still don’t remember wanting to die. I remember being overwhelmed, but not wanting death to be the outcome. I know the internal struggle to find some way out of intense emotional pain. But this was different. I don’t think that the vast majority of suicidal people are ‘crazy’…not by a long shot. This was behavior that is SO indicative of borderline personality disorder, which is an extremely difficult disorder to deal with. The hot-cold, sick-well, black-white thinking and actions are exhausting. The person is in legitimate psychological pain- and they spread it around whether they mean to or not.
There is no healthy relationship with someone who is a borderline…other than to back away and leave that part of their life to the professionals. Folks with BPD create crises in their lives, and involve whoever they deem to be on their ‘good list’ (that week). If there is some sort of perception of that person not seeing things their way, then they’re on the ‘bad list’. And it flip-flops all the time. Working with borderlines was tiring enough when I was getting paid for it; having one outside of work involved in my life wasn’t going to happen when it got to the point of her ‘playing’ with suicidal comments.
I got a message on my answering machine later that night saying that she was sorry to have upset me, and that the police were there when she got home from my apartment. I never had voluntary contact with her again. She did surface at a nursing home I worked at, but quit after a couple of weeks: no call-no show. I was asked by my employer what I thought about ‘P’… she was a good nurse, but her personal life was a train wreck (she had a LOT of unresolved childhood trauma issues- which I did hope she got help for, but she didn’t need to be responsible for nursing home residents)…. I just said that I’d always thought her penmanship was really good. I wasn’t going to tell them about the psychological issues since she wasn’t still working there. Had she continued to be in charge of elderly patients, I’m not sure I would have had a choice but to report her instability due to the rules of the Texas Board of Nurses. And yet, she had never let her patients suffer… she was a good nurse. It was iffy territory. It wasn’t fair for her to put me in that position. I’m a loyal friend until someone plays with crisis situations as if they were games.
I’ve thought about ‘P’ over the years, and hope she found some peace and was able to work through the things in her early life that were genuinely horrible. She was in a lot of pain, and had some tragic things happen with one of her three kids. I’ve wished the best for her and her family. The last I heard, she and her husband that I knew divorced (a borderline wife would have been really hard), and she’d remarried. That was at least 20 years ago. I hope she found some sort of calm in her life, and a realization that she didn’t need to create chaos for people to care about her. She had some wonderful qualities. But she was in so much pain…it was more than a friend could handle with any sort of healthy boundaries.
Edit- I looked for her in a Google search not long ago, and found her obituary. Her life hadn’t been peaceful since she was a child. I’m no advocate for suicide, but I know now that her pain is gone. I hope her kids know how long she hung on. Sometimes, childhood trauma is just too much to fix.