To my calm in the storm that is mental illness, from your best friend Ariana Godoy
Below, she writes to a friend who has stood by her side in one of her darkest of times.
Because you’re my best friend, I think you already know what I’m going to say. You know my story. You know me down to my core. But I’m going to say it all anyway.
At this point, I haven’t seen you in person in four years. Being on separate countries was never part of the plan, but I’m grateful that our friendship remains strong despite the distance. It seems I’ve found more reasons to be grateful for it with every passing year since I met you, the extrovert who lived one street over from me, in kindergarten. (Mariana and Ariana — it was fate!)
One period of time does stand out more than others, though.
After my dad died, I was broken in a way I didn’t have words for, and you stood by my side while I found them. For that, I’ll be forever thankful.
The stomach issues that started not long after we buried my dad were the first symptom. My mom thought I’d picked up something from the week I spent in the ICU watching the man I once thought to be invincible fight for his life, looking sick and weak in a hospital bed.
Then came the panic and anxiety attacks. I didn’t know what they were. I always thought I was dying. I would suffocate, feeling like I desperately needed the CPR I saw doctors give patients in the ICU over and over again. Dinner time was especially tough. Every day around the same time, I felt like I was going to choke on my food, and it was hard to eat.
There’s an image burned into my brain of you trying to find a car to drive me to the hospital time and time again. From parties. From hangouts. From everywhere. That’s when I became that person no one wanted to hang out with or invite anywhere. The girl who was always sick. The girl who someone would have to drive home or take to the hospital. I would have fully turned into an outsider, but you remained my sturdy bridge to life.
There was a time when leaving the house was hard, but you’d encourage me to go places, assuring me that if I felt off, we’d leave together. No questions asked. No judgment.
Mental illness is so lonely, sometimes especially in a group of people. But you never let me hold that weight; instead, you literally gave your hand to hold. There were times when I held onto it for dear life, and to your promise, we’d always leave together.
I remember seeing a dozen specialists and getting every scan known to man, only to get a physical bill of clean health that baffled them. Then, a cardiologist suggested I should see a mental health professional.
This was 2011. We have all come a long way since then in how we all talk about mental health. Sure, the shift toward more substantive conversation about the issue had started at the time, but as you know, our beloved home is far from progressive.
Campo Lara — in Zulia, Venezula — is tiny, isolated and hot. Like, other worldly heat. Being so small, we were always a little behind the times. We didn’t have the internet when everybody else got it in the city. The fight for mental health awareness was, at the time, being lost.
If you went to a psychiatrist or a psychologist, people would say you were crazy. Even I wasn’t very trusting of my psychologist in the beginning. But you’d tell me that the mind can get sick like the body. “We’re going to get through this,” you’d say. We.
If you weren’t there, if you weren’t the person that you are — this calm in the storm of my trauma — I wouldn’t be here today. It was that bad.
For as much as you’ve always been my anchor, you’re also my opposite in so many ways. I’ve always been a sensitive person who felt a little too much. An introvert with a writer’s stalker-ish tendencies, such as my love for people watching. You’re the soul of every party, with an enviably clear mind and a grounded heart. More superficially, remember when I went through my emo, Avril Lavigne phase in high school? That’s when you were really into pink.
But I’m thankful for our differences because I’ve learned so much from you — most of all, the importance of just being there. Some people think helping someone else is about fixing — “What can I do to make you feel ok right now?” Not every situation has words or needs them. Sometimes, sitting beside someone and giving them a tissue to wipe tears while they cry is more than enough — it’s everything. Or when the only words that need to be said are, “I’m going to help you.”
I love you, Mariana. It’s why every one of my books has someone like you in it. You’ve been everyone from a best friend to a main character. When I write a character who knows unselfishly how to be there for someone else, it’s always you. I know you’ve told me never to use your actual name, but I have to say, I think I will one day, even if you kill me. But I promise, they’ll be great — just like you.