As a global-scale tragedy plays out on the world’s stage, I am aware of the colossal loss, but only barely. This is the kind of thing that would ordinarily render me nearly helpless with empathy.
Last year, as Haiti’s tragedy unfolded, I could hardly function. I was glued to the TV and the computer - uh, I mean the newspaper, — desperate for information. For several days, all I wanted was breaking news, more stories, new images, updates. I monitored my favorite news organizations and made donations to relief efforts. I tried to make sense of Haiti’s pain.
The Japan crisis should bring out the same in me, but no. This time, when the unthinkable event hit, my heart was already broken by a different unthinkable event. I don’t have room to worry much about poor Japan because I am already devastated; I am already overcome with sorrow. On the smallest possible scale, the scale of one single human being and a few people who love her, a place that exists in my world but not yours, a crisis is raging.
A girl I love, a smart, sensible, funny girl Chris and I would do anything on Earth for, has been shaken to her very center by a terrible out-of-the-blue event, a personal earthquake called a psychotic episode.
In the same way that after a seismic event people often look back and muse that, now that they think of it, there weren’t any birds calling that morning, or the dog seemed restless, Chris and I are realizing that a few out-of-character events were piling up, as quiet as the absence of birds. These things were wanting to be noticed, but we only grasped their tragic importance in retrospect.
Now Chris and I are studying up on bipolar disorder and visiting a small person in the hospital who might as well be speaking Japanese for all the sense she is making. We are learning about causes and risks and medications and the importance of being a compliant patient at the precise time your brain is telling you something else.
We are learning what it means for a young person who is all but alone to have no insurance, to not qualify for Medicaid, and to need care that costs a few grand a day, not to mention that she will need a good psychiatrist and daily medication for the rest of her life.
We are trying not to think that the girl’s life will be irreparably damaged by this earthquake, in spite of stories we hear about suicide and drug addiction among patients trying to cope.
We are encouraged because we know that people with bipolar disorder can live great lives and do great things.
We see friends with the condition laugh and work and care for their families. We are grateful to the people who have shared stories with us this week. They give us strength and hope, things we plan to share with our darling friend when she makes her way back to us.
My wishes for this special girl: a college education that’s only deferred, not derailed; friends who can breach the chasm and make her feel their love and support; a functional and kind health-care system; a happy life with few aftershocks. Please, God, a happy life.
This week I am struck by how flexible our English language is and how certain words can describe two disparate, terrible events. Earthquake, tsunami, explosion, devastation, meltdown. Both stories leave me with crushing sadness, creeping dread, and a broken heart.
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.