In the morning, I received the e-mail, as did many others. A colleague was soon to become a former colleague, off to some new something-or-other — what it was, she didn’t specify.
My first reaction, in a sense, was a sigh of relief. Same with many others. And then there was a little bit of guilt.
She had been an integral part of my mini-department. Many of us went to her wedding reception. We all hung out from time to time.
Then she disappeared for several weeks for an unclear reason. Then she came back, but something was off. She didn’t behave the same way. Often she was quieter, but sometimes she wouldn’t stop talking, sometimes angrily. She would send a lot of e-mails and start a lot of long, meandering chats.
Then one day, I was talking to her and she had, well, a meltdown, in which she acknowledged mental illness and really, really started oversharing. She acknowledged being suicidal from time to time.
This started a mess of several months where I and other coworkers tried to help. HR was involved. Meanwhile, my coworker started making increasingly bad personal decisions. She would Facebook-chat me late at night to discuss her poor choices and how she wanted to make more and her mental illness was to blame. I couldn’t get her to stop talking. I needed sleep. I finally blocked her on Facebook chat. My experience wasn’t unusual. We tried to help. We were rewarded with the unease of not knowing whether we were helping and not knowing whether we were being used. Meanwhile, she clearly wasn’t getting better and we felt powerless to seriously help her.
Finally, HR managed to persuade her to go on medical leave. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Theoretically, she shouldn’t be our problem for a while. She tried to contact a few of us, but we ended up having to freeze her out, believing that her talking to us was hurting both her and us.
After three or four months, she came back. But she wasn’t the same. She didn’t talk to, well, anyone. She just kind of faded into the background. I didn’t interact with her; neither did virtually anyone who tried to help her during those troubled times. We really couldn’t.
And then one day, out of nowhere, she said she was on her way out. I resolved to say my farewell toward the end of the work day. To wish her the best, and that she stay healthy. Maybe, perhaps, that I was sorry if I had failed her. But by the time I was done, she was probably long gone. Things were left unresolved. But maybe it was for the best anyway.