I struggle with December. As the month approaches, my spirit turns bittersweet. I’ve always thought it was the sentimentality of the season or the rain. 

And then I remember my friend Bonnie. From third grade through high school, we were inseparable.

Naturally, we moved on. Though we hung on as best we could, understanding perfectly well what a risk it was to be out in the great, big world without anyone who knew us before. At least we still had each other. 

As the years went on, I thought about her less, but I worried about her more. But as long as the therapist was helping, and Bonnie swore she was, I felt like she would ultimately rise out of depression, that it wouldn’t do her in. 

Her background was not exactly a recipe for success, but there she was — still the bravest woman I knew. I thought that if anyone could outrun her past and walk with faith through whatever the present held in store for her, it was Bonnie. 

 

Moving away

I’m not sure I understood then that when you say the word “depressed,” the people who love you start to worry. They may even take your sadness to heart until it becomes part of their own frame of mind, and that’s what began to happen to me. And I wasn’t able to say as much to Bonnie in a way that would make her less sad, rather than more — that much I did understand.

Instead, I moved away from our friendship. Slowly at first, and then, though it pains me to say this now, making a beeline.

When your first best friend is depressed, when she is increasingly afraid of failure, of defeat, of life pressing down tremendously hard on her — while you, on the other hand, want to seize it all with youthful enthusiasm — well, let’s just say her despair scared me silly. And I was too young to handle it. 

So I sought out friends who were more like the person I wanted to become: lighter, confident, impossibly positive.

Of course, all this is only clear to me now, in hindsight. 

When I received the call, 10 years ago, on Dec. 2, that Bonnie had taken her life, everything shifted around me. And, yet, as I looked out at the window, everything about my neighborhood remained the same — Christmas lights twinkling, the Space Needle aglow. And this is the cruelest part about losing someone: how the world carries on while you are frozen in time. 

Despite her sadness, Bonnie was also the kind of person who sincerely wished others well, and as a result, she was well liked. At her service, friends did what friends do: leaving flowers and food, saying things like, “She can finally rest in peace.” 

My first thought was, how could anyone rest after what she’d been through? Depression is not how any of us would choose to go if given half a say in the matter. But I began to steal a little courage from the words. They freed me from the constant nagging guilt: Why did I abandon her? 

So I clung to it. 

People can cling to all kinds of clichés when they are desperate, I found out. Still, if I were able to edit the words, I would say, “Rest, my friend, in peaceful silence. And forgive me for suggesting you carry on with your life while I carry on with mine.” 

 

Still believing

I am still a lot of other emotions come December, but I haven’t faulted myself (or not as often) for my determination to find a way of life that made sense to me — even if it meant leaving behind a disease that did not. 

Today, I’m less interested in blaming myself for all kinds of things beyond my control and more interested in all the various detours I needed to take along the way. 

And, on the verge of another new year, here is where I find myself: still believing I am capable of more, still determined to throw the curtains open and feel the warmth on my face, even on these darkest of midwinter days. But with more time, compassion and understanding for my friends who, for whatever unfair reason, cannot.

MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “Among Friends.” Visit her website: www.marylousanelli.com. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.