Dixie Peach: The Fixer

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Fixer

I'm one of those fixer types. I see something wrong with a friend or family member and I want to fix it for them. It's not because I think I have all the answers - it's because I can't bear to see people out of sorts or in needs or standing on the tracks as a freight train bears down on them. I want to move them out of harms way or take on for myself what they can't bear or whatever it is I have to do to set their life back into balance again. I have a hard time sometimes recognizing the difference between lending a hand and really helping and simply taking on something for someone and it not being able to make any real difference.

Kirsten is a good friend of mine and B's. She's B's oldest friend. She was his girlfriend from the time he was 16 years old until he was 19 and they've remained close over the years. When I first moved to Germany she reached out to me immediately and did all she could to make me feel welcome. Kirsten was one of the witnesses at our wedding and to B and me she's like a sister. And now I'm scared we're going to lose her.

Kirsten has always been a driven sort of person. She's a great mom - her daughter is 20 and is a wonderful young woman - and she's always worked hard at her job. Even when they've cut back her work hours and increased her work load, she's worked her heart out to do her job right. She remarried 7 years ago and her husband (and I'll admit it right now, I'm not really crazy about him) works in another city that's about 70 miles away and is only home on weekends. They built a house about 6 years ago and like with all houses, it's a lot of work to maintain. Kirsten would never think of letting her house look like crap so she would spend her time away from work keeping it clean and the garden looking good. She so seldom has an idle moment and while some would just let something slide, Kirsten won't.

About two years ago things started getting harder for her. She's always had a delicate stomach and it's always been easy for her to lose her appetite. Pressures at work got worse and she was doing all she could to keep up with what was expected of her and not put one toe out of line lest she lose her job and that would mean eventually losing her house. Keeping up with her house was always a challenge and her husband never seems to be very interested in pitching in with yard work. Kirsten was always busy and we wouldn't see her very often. We would speak on the phone but that was the best we could do to keep up with one another.

In February Kirsten had some time off from work and she came to visit us and it was a shock. She was so thin and drawn looking and while I tried to pass it off and act like she didn't look bad, B knew something was really wrong. Kirsten told us how busy she was and how she wasn't eating well and how exhausted she was all the time. We didn't speak to her again for a while - Kirsten would work all day and then when she'd get home she go straight to bed so it was hard catching her when she could talk - but then she called for B's birthday last month. Instead of the bright, talkative Kirsten we knew, we were talking to someone who sounded as though every word spoken was an effort and who had to be prodded into talking. Normally when talking to Kirsten one can't get in a word edgewise but this time she was the opposite. And then I got scared when she told us that since the last time we'd talked to her she'd lost another 12 kilos and her clothes - what would be a size 4 in the US - hang on her. Every time she eats she gets violently ill and she is down to eating only a bit every couple days. It's not that she doesn't want to eat - she's afraid to eat because it makes her sick and hurts.

Kirsten's on sick leave from work now and goes every weekday morning to a clinic here in the city to receive psychological treatment because there's nothing physically wrong with her to keep her from eating. She's depressed and has anxiety over work and her home and I can't help but think it's killing her. Kirsten is on medications to help with this and has her daily therapy sessions but any progress is very slow to come. We spoke with her today and she could hardly talk but she did say that for the first time today she spoke in group therapy - spoke for an hour - and it felt good to her. But she's sad and it broke my heart to hear her crying on the phone. Kirsten isn't a crier. You could hammer her with a shovel and she wouldn't cry but she cried today.

We tell her every time we speak to her that she means the world to us - that she's like family to us - and that we'll do whatever we can for her. We tell her not to worry that the grass has gone brown and that she hasn't planted any flowers and not to sweat what the neighbors might think. We tell her that she's more important than any house or job and that she's got to care for herself first. We tell her that she can call us any time she needs to talk and that she's never a bother and that we don't care what time it is. We tell her that if she needs me to come over there for anything to just call us and I'll get my MIL over here and I'll come to Kirsten. We tell her not to give up and to let the therapy and medications work and that it can take a long time but she can get the relief she needs.

None of it feels like enough. The fixer in me wants to take all this pain and fear away from her. The fixer in me wants to cut through the morass of depression and make her understand that nothing matters but her. And I know I'm not going to be able to fix this for her. It scares me to have to realize that I can't fix this for her no matter how much I want to do it. I know I can't just talk someone out of depression and then there's that little bit of very recognizable Kirsten that depression hasn't snuffed out - the prideful Kirsten that doesn't like to ask for help or favors anyway.

I get so worried that her therapy and medications aren't going to work fast enough. I get worried that Kirsten will become discouraged and give up. I get worried that she'll starve herself - that her body will shut down bit by bit until it's too late to bring it back. I want to scream that I have to watch this and know I can't just take it way from her not matter how much I want to. Isn't that the most sinister part of depression? Of any illness really? Having to watch it slowly chip away at someone you care about while you hope they can recover before it's too late.

I can keep telling Kirsten that we're there for her. I can keep encouraging her to not give up. I can try to encourage her to learn to change things in her life so that she can manage her depression but I can't fix it for her. I can lend a hand but I can't do her recovery for her.

I'm going to Kirsten's house on Sunday for about an hour for her birthday. I want to be able to look in her eyes and tell her as plain as I can that we're not giving up on her and she can't give up on herself either. I hope I reach that bit of Kirsten that's deep down inside that can recognize that we love her and won't abandon her. Because if we lose Kirsten I'll never be able to fix that.

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Blogger Hilda said...

I'm sorry you're wrried and I'm sorry your dear friend is in pain - both ohysuically and emotionally.

What about her daughter? Can she help? Maybe she can get to her by making her feel needed and loved, or take care of her if that is what is needed.

I'll keep you and your friend in my prayers...

10:51 PM  
Blogger Dixie said...

Her daughter is helping her as much as she can but she's also got her Abitur next week and she's studying for that like crazy, else she can't go to the university this fall. It's already taken her forever to finish school because she missed a year when she was hospitalized for a problem with her leg. The idea of her daughter screwing up this test makes Kirsten frantic.

I appreciate your prayers, Hilda. You're so sweet to offer them.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Oh, Dixie! I am so sorry about this. I wish I could make everything better for all of you (yes, I'm a fixer too.)

Kirsten's weight issues sound like my sister's -- she has Crohn's disease. Is it possible her eating problems are actually physical as well? Of course, I don't know, I'm not a doctor. I was just struck by the similarity.

I'll be thinking about all of you.

1:25 AM  
Blogger sari said...

I'm adding my prayers as well - I hope that Kirsten can find some help and that she feels better soon.

3:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're a good friend, Dixie. I feel badly for your friend and I don't even know her. I agree that it is upsetting and frustrating to watch something painful happen to a good person whom you care about.

I will send prayers and energy her way as well... and some to you and B, because you need people caring and supporting you, too.

4:56 AM  
Blogger christina said...

How tragic to see a friend in such distress. It's always the good people, isn't it? And I can imagine how helpless you feel when there's nothing really specific that can be done. I hope you'll all be able to hang in there...

7:37 AM  
Blogger Princess Cat's Pajamas said...

(((((Kirsten and Dixie)))))

Depression and anxiety can be so hard to cope with... I remember a time during my BA where I was so anxious that I physically could not eat. Applesauce was the only thing I could keep down, and not very much of it at a time. Luckily, the doctors figured out a good cocktail of meds to keep me on an even keel, and I've been on more or less the same meds since then.

I hope the doctors are able to help her get this under control quickly...

You're such a good friend.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Adam Thornton said...

Sadly, people suffering from serious depression cannot be fixed quickly. They can only be fixed if they have a good support group and if they are willing to work to "get well again."

It sounds like she's blessed with both: she obviously has a loving family, a wonderful friend in you, and -- equally important -- if she's actually making some progress in group therapy (however small) then she's willing to work. It doesn't sound like she's the kind to give up easily.

It also sounds like she prides herself in being self-sufficient, so it may get complicated if her pride is hurt...she probably doesn't want to feel like a burden or a sympathy case. If so, try to judge when it's best to help, and try not to make her feel like your life is being too disrupted.

It really sounds as though she's ready to start recovering. The first thing she might need is to just feel like she's on her feet again, like she won't just collapse and die. Then, obviously, she needs to confront the problems that brought her to this place.

Good luck to all of you.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Dixie said...

Thanks for all the encouraging words and good advice. I appreciate it very much.

I'll see Kirsten day after tomorrow and I think I'll be able to get a better idea of how things are going with her. I know recovery will be a long process for her and I want her to know that we'll stick with her though it all.

Thanks again, everyone.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Twango said...

I'm keeping Kirsten in my thoughts and prayers. Keeping you and B there too.

4:10 AM  

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