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Friendship and Mental Health: Priceless

Bette Midler’s hit song of 1973, “(You Got to Have) Friends” includes the following lyrics:

Standing at the end of the road, boys
Waiting for my new friends to come

I don’t care if I’m hungry or bored
I’m gonna get me some of them

For so long, these words described the life of my son Ben, as he restarted his emotional life after multiple hospitalizations with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia.

With the exception of what I’ve come to think of as the three “recovery time-out periods,” when Ben stopped taking his medication and wound up back in crisis/hospitalization mode, we have watched Ben put the pieces of his life back together, one by one, at his own pace.

The picture these pieces now form is different from the old one (his life before the illness began to develop), but still beautiful to us, compared to what might have been if Ben were not in treatment.

In these eight years, he has slowly rebuilt his life in several areas: community (starting with the group home where he lived for many of these years), college, sobriety, family relationships, money management, and the latest piece: successful part-time employment.

(Excuse me while I pause for a moment of immense gratitude.)

But, for such a long time, there has been a gaping hole that we all – especially Ben – hoped a piece would someday fill: Friendship. Ben has been lonely, hungry for friendship beyond his family, for so many years. But – as with all these pieces – patience and perspective are required to find the right fit, and a comfortable level of progress.

friendsinfieldFriends from Ben’s past, before the illness, still love and care about him; however, they seldom call to just hang out, go to a movie, invite Ben to a party. The differences between them are just too great now, and the last thing Ben needs is to feel like someone is doing a “good deed” by spending time with him. On the other end of the spectrum, Ben also doesn’t yet fully embrace the community of people he met during hospital stays, in the group home, and in mental health day programs.

Ben wants to make friends on the basis of who he is right now – don’t we all? – his personality, interests, and accomplishments. His schizophrenia? When/if he chooses to disclose that is up to him – though, since he hasn’t fully accepted it himself yet, I’m not sure exactly what he discloses. Lately, he seems slightly more comfortable , as he’s attracting more friends who stick around anyway.

This week Ben and a new friend, Evan, did the simplest of things: drove to a nearby city and had dinner in a local college hangout. This may not seem like a big deal – but for Ben, there were so many pleasures that had been on hold for years:

He finally has a friend his own age – after years of living in a group home with middle-aged men.

This friend has with his own car.

Ben was able to budget for ten bucks to eat out, plus money to contribute for gas.

And – as we discovered later that evening- this new friend learned that Ben must be home by a particular time to take his meds- and he did not care.

This is another of those ordinary miracles, as was the one last month when Ben went to the mall with some friends he met at school – one with cerebral palsy, one in a wheelchair. Ben, like his friend Evan, does not care about those things. He likes these friends for who they are, not because or in spite of physical differences. They do share the experience of having had to rebuild their lives, yes, with new or unusual pieces in the puzzle. Ben, slowly, has been making progress in rebuilding that relationship piece. At the end of the road, his wait has been well worth it.

He’s got friends.

4 thoughts on “Friendship and Mental Health: Priceless”

  1. Good for Ben. Moving to a new town with depression is hard. I talk to a few old friends from my school years but rarely see them. But this new years eve I was invited to a party that a woman in my support group was throwing. It was the first time in 6 years I had been invited to someone’s house.

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