Essay mental health awareness week View

Wish I Was 19 Again

An honest, heartbreaking story looking back on a changed friendship.

tw: bipolar disorder

by Anna Ridley

We met when we were seven. The teacher asked the class for a volunteer to show her where to put her coat and bag. My hand shot up as far as I could reach. The teacher chose someone else. I was so jealous. I wanted to show the new girl around. I wished for her to choose the coat peg next to mine so we could be best friends. It wasn’t long before we were playing tag in the playground, giggling about boys, and our pegs were next to each other in the cloakroom.

We were inseparable from that point on. We had the same, quirky sense of humour, we loved writing and making up stories, we put on drama performances for the school, and we saw each other every day.

We both came from big families so we understood each other’s chaotic home lives. While we had a lot in common, our personalities differed. I was quieter, more sensible, and a little shy, while she was a little louder, a little clumsy and a bit lazy. She liked guys with curly long hair who played guitar, I liked guys who were tall and worked in sensible jobs.

When we were 18 years old, we decided to move to Bath for a year before she went to university. By chance, we got jobs in the same bar, and enjoyed the best 12 months of our lives. We partied, met new friends, dated guys, wrote comedy sketches, laughed every day, and cried when she left to go travelling to Asia.

Three months. It was the longest time in our friendship we had ever been apart. When she came back, we met up in our home town before she went off to university. She’d cut all of her hair off and was wearing an orange sarong. We said goodbye, knowing that in one way or another, our lives would be changing forever.

ninteen

I got a phone call four months later from her mum. She was in hospital and she’d suffered an “episode” at university. Her mum told me that she’d been smoking cannabis nearly every day in halls and had had some kind of manic depressive episode. During her time in Asia, it turns out she’d been smoking cannabis every day. Before Asia, she’d smoked it about twice in her life.

A few weeks later, she was transported to a hospital in our hometown. A mental hospital. I went to visit her with her sister and mum. She had chopped all of her hair off again and dyed it red. She’d had pretty, long, curly hair before that. She was ranting about anything and everything. Talking fast, then giggling hysterically, saying “I’m not mad am I? You know me, this is just the way I am.” Then, she would go silent and her gaze would stare right through me. Her eyes had lost their sparkle and she seemed disorientated. They told me they were still working on getting her the right drugs to stabilise her chemical imbalance.

She was diagnosed with bipolar and had been sectioned under the mental health act. She was in hospital for months. Her family fought for her to come home when they felt she was getting better. Once she was home, they couldn’t cope with her unstable moods, and eventually she was sectioned again.

I tried to see her regularly. It was like talking to a child. Going along with her stories, laughing about things that weren’t actually funny, and agreeing with her that she wasn’t ill. The friend I had known for years was still in there, but I only saw glimpses now and then. She was like a different person. I wished she could be normal again.

In the years that followed, she was in and out of various hospitals, pushed from one place to another. There were times when she improved so much that she was almost back to normal. When we were 33, she had been out of hospital and without an episode for 18 months. I was so proud of her. I was convinced that she had taken control of her illness, accepted it and was moving forward. Her sister was getting married and she was going to be a bridesmaid. The stress of the wedding seemed to be too much for her, and even though she showed up for the ceremony, it went downhill.

She has now been in hospital for three years. She can’t seem to improve this time. It’s either due to the wrong treatment, or she’s just haunted by her past. When we talk, she just says she wishes she was 19 again. She was 19 when she got ill. I wish we were 19 again.


Anna Ridley

A travel writer with about 12 years experience in writing news, guides, and features, lives in Cornwall by the sea.

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