Gretchen, as in Gretchen Mollanen, wound up in the news again, this time in the context of the Tampa Bay journalist's journey of self-exploration and guilt following Gretchen's suicide.
My feelings on this remain as complex and perhaps as guilt-ridden as Tampa Bay Times writer Leonora Anton's. On the one hand I can relate to Anton's feeling of being left "stuck" in a bizarre conflagration of self-interest yet genuine, if not constrained, concern. For a long time, to me, Gretchen represented a romantic opportunity that she consistently discouraged despite episodes of dating where the barrier "more or less" existed. I overlooked plenty of bizarre behavior for the longest time in order to maintain her interest at any level, feasting upon her and hope, when the right course of action was the most obvious: Be a friend or leave, not stick around for just "one thing".
Gretchen and I enjoy one last cigar in Ybor City, Tampa.
That may be a little less damning than it sounds because over the course of 20 years there in fact existed a morass relationship of intense emotional bond, some physicality, but, through it all, a genuine friendship that culminated with her being one of the last people, along with her then boyfriend, to make it to Tampa from Springhill to see me off to my New York adventures. We had dinner, strolled Ybor, and remembered our time together at USF.
But "feasting" is an apt word to use because it is on that hand I find it difficult to give anyone a pass here. The main problem I have had since the story of Gretchen's condition broke is that it didn't exist. I don't mean that the condition doesn't exist (as the journalist checked on as a sort of convenient horizon), or even that Gretchen didn't have it. The condition does exist on the books, and Gretchen may well have had it absolutely. My point is that at the end of the day the story of Gretchen's ailment is not about an actual ailment but rather of Gretchen's conviction in having an actual ailment. No doctor ever said Gretchen had this ailment, no doctor could say it. However they did say she specifically had other disorders.
It's that fact that makes so much here wrong over wrong. Gretchen's conviction alone might be fine in just about any other context. To bring such a horrible compulsion to the public's attention was not something she did lightly ... clearly she felt it real and at wits-end about it. Gretchen confided her condition to me as she did to several of her friends (boyfriends if not casual ones) years earlier. But I was also aware of her wider general behavior, her actual diagnosis of OCD and border-line personality disorder, and, her penchant for being hounded by issues of sexual root, all of which preceded the time her condition took hold. For instance, years earlier, Gretchen also appeared on two Tampa news programs as the primary victim of one who was tricked into purchasing herbal supplements for natural breast growth. She had a knack for PR and she could swing it with alluring topics. She could have done a lot and might have if not for whatever curse broke her.
Horrifically when Gretchen confided her condition to me I didn't know what to believe. That isn't the most compassionate position to take by a long shot, but I understood, in the light of everything I just wrote, and other things that will never be mentioned, that her own perspective on issues involving even herself, was fragile. I researched OCD and a variety of other ailments and in doing so only reinforced my bewilderment. I just didn't know.
As far as I was and am concerned, that is to the extent that anyone can honestly take any of this story.
That isn't the worst of it. My own sense of the best motivation began to waiver when she e-mailed me begging to account for her condition in court as a witness because she had a falling out with someone who was to do so previously. This despite my having no first-hand way of confirming it other than "going along" with whatever she might be planning to tell a court although she assured me that she would help me in paraphrasing key points. Because of that, whatever doubts I had based simply on her known conditions, were only heated up by the apparent dance of strategery with which she wanted me to participate. This did not mean that she was making it all up, only that I was moved no closer to accepting her condition out of hand. When we spoke of it I would urge her to focus on coping if not cure. But she had seemingly given up wanting to cope or cure and only spoke of diagnosis as a means to convincing the SSA that she was debilitated. She seemed stuck to the forgone conclusion that it would never be treated away and now just needed financial support. Proof she was lying? No, it was proof she had given up to whatever she believed demonized her. Her priorities, to me, reflected that.
It is for all this that I am angry with the initial media report and subsequent coverage. It's a beautiful story if you accept blind recapitulation from someone suffering from other validated mental and emotional disorders as fact, first. Perhaps it is a beautiful story on any sufferer even if you exclude Gretchen from it, period. Were it not for the pressure of launching a new magazine, I stand with the same journalist who trolled Craigslist for something catchy on top in her own assessment that maybe all the gathered material might have been handed off to a psychiatrist first, and the story never run off his most certainly pointed assessment which would have been: You don't have a story because you don't have a source.
That's the gnaw.
In sympathy to the journalist, though, I have the same grim conclusion as the journalist's counselor. Sooner or later, Gretchen would have succumbed to her own hand or perhaps someone else's. The danger she posed to herself aside, she had a vicious streak when scorned. She turned informant once out of anger which led to someone's incarceration. She fretted over revenge constantly. She knew this of herself, once crying to me in a sobering moment of sincerity one night that she understood she would one day "get hurt".
Her last e-mail to me in June of the year she died ended with the note that she would "hang in" there which was her usual ominous play on words that in part kept me distant and afraid of interacting in the later years. You never knew if you were going to be the trigger by way of any response, or even none. Aside from being a little unnerved, I was not pleased with other facets of her business and my cool attitude toward her by the time she died showed it in my avoidance of calling or e-mailing her which included deliberately skipping the usual birthday e-mail to her in September. I only not feasted I suppose, I did not present when she might have most used even a simple hello if nothing else.
My real outrage is on why nothing was done despite the clinical diagnoses in combination with her previous suicide attempts. She was Baker Acted involuntarily once, but, it seems to me that after a certain number of attempts (two I'd say is enough as was in Gretchen's case) something more proactive should be done to monitor and protect a person against themselves. And yet from the story and personal experience, that's exactly what Gretchen feared the most. Any move to cure or treat her out of band with her own idea of what that treatment might look like pushed her deeper into the cave. There was never a psychiatrist or counselor who "understood" her enough to satisfy a positive outlook. And hence, the inevitable.