Monday 6 June 2016

We Haven’t Sunk Yet: Caring for My Bipolar Best Friend at Home and Abroad

Three years ago this week, Fran was on board the RMS Queen Mary 2, en route from New York to Hamburg via Southampton. It was the start of a three month European tour that we knew would seriously challenge her mental and physical health—and our friendship.

I tracked the ship’s position and on board webcam several times a day. With each hour that passed, my best friend was closing the three thousand miles that had separated us since we first met online two years before. We were excited at the prospect of meeting face to face in Southampton, but we had never been as out of touch as we were through this week of the crossing.

On board internet was prohibitively expensive, so our usual instant messaging, voice, and video calls were out of the question. We had arranged that I would send Fran a single text message each morning and evening, so she did not feel alone and isolated from the outside world, but it was too costly for her to reply. The week at sea was a lesson in trust and a powerful counter to codependency in our relationship.

In some ways, it was probably easier for Fran than for me. She was at the start of her adventure, acclimatising both to the cruise and to the experience of being on vacation with her parents for the first time in many years. We’d had only four weeks to prepare, almost every moment of which had been focused on preparations, packing, and planning. We were both uncertain about the months ahead but for now, she was aboard one of the world’s great cruise liners, with staff on hand to take the strain, good food, and space to herself.

Fran loves to travel when her health and circumstances allow. In contrast, I am an armchair adventurer, more than content to be her virtual travel buddy when she’s away from home. I’d accompanied her on trips to Spain, Panama, and Costa Rica—but we had always contrived to stay in touch. This was different, and I found it hard.

One dear friend helped me when I was starting to stress about it. She reminded me that when someone struggles with self-management the way Fran does, it can be a powerful thing to allow them to handle things in their own way. Fran knew I was there. My simply being there provided a sense of stability as she set sail—literally—from the routines and support systems of home. She needed me to be there—and to allow her to be where she was. That insight was a gift to us both. It reassured me in my role as Fran’s support and caregiver, and also freed me to be myself. We would meet in just a few days, when the Queen Mary 2 berthed in Southampton. For the time being, that was enough.

I received one text message from Fran, halfway through the voyage. It read: “We’re over the midpoint.. It’s very hard to sleep.. I’ve been walking and cycling daily.. Eating more than I should.. It’s delicious.. It’s a lot of fun.. Hi to everyone.. We haven’t sunk yet..”



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