It is easy to forget she has a mental illness. It is easy to chalk it up to being eccentric, being quirky, being a little egocentric and entirely too smart for her own good. It is easy to laugh off the semi paranoid comments and the avoidance of interpersonal contact as That Is Just The Way She Is.
But then there are the reminders that this is really mental illness. Reminders that just because you have felt depressed about the loss of a boy, or job, or have declined an invitation to a party because you just don't feel like mingling, you do not have any clue about the depth of despair that is clinical depression, nor do you know the paralyzing fear, the fight or flight response in overdrive, of a full blown anxiety disorder.
It is clear when she says she was so depressed this week she really wondered why she was here. She feels like a waste of skin. She feels worthless, incapable of making decisions and finds no joy in anything. Her mother is the same way, only she drinks to dull the pain, to quiet the voices that tell her she is worthless and unlovable. Mom uses her vast knowledge of Henry James to keep people at arms length, attempting to make them feel small while trying to bolster her own fragile ego and keep people from seeing that she is actually afraid of everything, of breathing, of living. Mom is killing herself slowly and she can only watch when what she wants most is a loving, laughing mother she can talk to.
Anything can be frightening, and is. So many opportunities not taken, words not written because she is afraid of being ridiculed, or worse, discounted as a hack with no talent. She is a writer who doesn't write. Her twin sister makes a living writing, even if it is JUST technical manuals for a governmental division. It is writing. She feels like a failure, but even with medication and the attention of a seemingly competent therapist, she makes little progress.
This is hard, when the reminders are there, to know where to help, if help is even possible. To say the words you want to say without sounding idiotic, condescending or insipid. To reach out a hand in a way that won't push her further away, but allows her to feel like you are a safe place to be. At least she told you that is how she felt, at least she still came to dinner and ate your food and laughed a little. She can be so annoying and entertaining, generous and selfish all at the same time, but you would not want her to not be here. So you keep the door open, and call to make sure she is still there, and hope she knows she is worthwhile.