by Rosie Lawrence. CW: suicide, toxic relationships. Photography by Maria Ballester.
Amber and I became friends when I was in year 8, and she was in year 9. We met through a mutual friend and quickly became very close. We would text each other all the time, hang out at every break and lunch time, and before too long we were also having regular sleepovers at each other’s houses. From the outside, picture a perfect, ideal teenage girl friendship. At first, I was thrilled. It took almost no time at all for it to become clear that Amber was incredibly mentally unwell.
Amber would tell me in detail about her suicidal thoughts and about her past suicide attempts; she would fake pregnancies and lie to me about going into town, smoking weed and sleeping with tons of strangers. She once told me that she sold herself for the price of a camera. I did everything a dedicated friend would; I offered genuine support, advice, reassurance, concern. She wasn’t interested in my input, but would panic intensely if she felt my friendship drifting. She was deeply toxic and controlling. She would expect me to be constantly available to listen and sympathise, to offer advice for her to disregard. She would not be interested to hear about my own issues – my grandmother died and my parents got divorced during our friendship, and never once did she offer support on those fronts when I needed it from her. She would bend situations around to make me feel responsible for the way she was feeling. She once texted me to say she had taken an entire box of paracetamol and that it was nice knowing me. She wanted me to be the one to shoulder her burdens with her, and to be the one to fix her single-handedly. To this day, I don’t actually know how much of this is true, but at the time I chose to believe what she told me, scared out of my mind that she was actually going to kill herself. I only wanted her to be happy, and I tried my hardest, but it was never enough. On 29th April 2012, I wrote in my diary “I think my best friend Amber killed herself today. She texted me saying ‘I’m giving up on everything, I can’t do this anymore. Let’s just say, if it all goes to plan, I won’t be at school tomorrow’. Since then I’ve texted her 14 times begging her not to kill herself, but she hasn’t replied and I’m so worried I feel like I need to scream”. The next day she turned up at school and behaved as if nothing had happened. This was not an isolated occurrence.
I eventually couldn’t take it anymore, and a few months after that entry I had told her that I had to stop being her friend because I could not handle it. I was 14. She told me “I’m never going to let you go, you can’t get rid of me like that”. I was terrified. I confided in a mutual friend about how I felt helpless, like I was going mad and was frustrated with the situation; she found out and told me to leave her alone, that “you’re a fucking bitch, how dare you, if you find out I’m dead in the morning you’ll know why”. I remember not caring, telling her and finally realising for myself that I didn’t really have any part in this. There was literally nothing I could personally do to help her – I had exhausted the small, tiny pool of resources that I had, used up all my available emotional labour in supporting her for months and months, suffocating under her vice-like codependent grip. I was merely caught up in a bigger picture, shouldering her burden. I felt intensely guilty for prioritising myself and my own mental health, which by that point was a whole mess of its own from the constant fear and stress and worry, but I did it. It was potentially the best thing I could have done for both of us.
Reading my diary entries back, I want to scream at my younger self, who had written about how I was unable to handle it and trying to justify to myself why I had to go, beating myself up over not being able to help her. I can see how I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t a bad person for wanting out of her suffocation, and I want to tell my younger self that it is okay to leave a toxic relationship, even when it seems selfish.
Even now I can’t really think about it without getting a weird feeling in my chest or feeling physically sick to my stomach. In the light of the death of Mac Miller, people are taking it upon themselves to suggest that it is the fault of Ariana’s and hers alone for not sticking with him and being his saviour. How dare they? They have no idea what it’s like to be in that situation, and you as an individual can only do so much to help someone, especially when the problem was there long before you were. When you have tried as hard as you physically, mentally and emotionally can to help someone who just pushes you away, sometimes you just have to let yourself walk away and not let them make you feel like a terrible human being. It took a lot for me to finally walk away. I didn’t want to lose the friendship I had made with her, for it started out so well. I genuinely cared about her. But all things considered, it had to stop. When I finally left, she tried desperately to make me stay, trying to manipulate and guilt-trip my 14-year-old mind into staying. Thankfully I was able to stand my ground.
At the time this happened, I got over it seemingly quickly, relieved that it was truly over and done with. Time made me realise that that wasn’t the case; many of my behavioural traits are the direct result of that friendship. I get terrified when friends are feeling down, fearing a repeat of last time. I don’t engage myself too much in other people’s mental health, selfishly protecting my own. I find it hard to make close friends. I quickly feel anxious and cornered when people try to guilt-trip or pressure me into doing things, even if it’s just going on a night out. I recently blocked her on my Instagram, not liking the unsettling feeling that she could still access my personal life whenever she chose, taking the final step in removing every last shred of power she had over me. I know my own mind now, and have learned to be good at enforcing my boundaries as a result of that experience. I have done for a long time, and I more often than not would just rather be on my own so I don’t have to worry about what I am expected to do or say for other people. Is this a good development? I don’t know, but it works for me.
I never truly got over this, and I don’t think I will. But if naïve 14-year-old me can figure out that the world doesn’t rely on me and only me to sort out everyone’s problems, then maybe my future looks bright.