Yesterday being a holiday, I had the chance to spend a few hours in the middle of the day with a good friend. We braved the wind and paced the beach, talking while trying to avoid stepping on the jellyfish washed up on shore, sharing stories of recent and past struggles and successes. Back in my apartment, over lunch, she asked me a simple and yet deep question in a way only the closest friends can do: “How are you doing with your depression?”
It’s one of those questions that led to a meaningful conversation in the moment, and one that also kept popping into mind all day.
In the moment, I was able to tell her that it’s something I’ve actually been thinking about differently the past couple of weeks (how do friends know not just what question to ask, but when to ask it?). I’ve started to see that, looking back, I think I had little episodes going back to high school. There have been phases of my life when the episodes have been more and less frequent, but I can look back and see myself and feel myself in darker moments, not realizing then that there was a name to these moods.
I also went on to say, that this looking back has also caused me to look forward, and I realize that this is something I will always have, for the rest of my life. I told her, that in itself is depressing.
Nodding, my friend understood. “But, I remember when I had the moment of realizing I’d have to deal with depression for the rest of my life. For me, it actually became quite freeing. Because instead of trying to avoid it or pretend it wasn’t happening or thinking something was wrong with me, I was able to name it, which made me able to have a strategy to deal with it.”
A name. There is power in labeling and naming things. By naming her depression, my friend could then see it for what it is, something that takes management and control, and that gave her power over it. Most importantly, it allowed her to separate herself from her illness. She could notice it happening and not get down on herself for “letting it happen” or whatever other mind tricks we can play with ourselves when we’re trying to deny or run away.
This is the part of that question I keep coming back to—because of her own experiences, she was able to ask the question in such a poignant way: how are you doing with your illness?
She could have asked the same question about any illness, and that’s what made it so special. At the same time, she gave it a name, she didn’t avoid the word, it wasn’t a vague, “so how are you doing these days.” Being direct can be scary—too often, I think we dance around being direct in fear of making the other person feel bad or bring up a subject that’s tough to talk about. We also don’t always know how to receive the answer to those true questions. Her asking that question didn’t make me feel bad. On the contrary—her asking made me feel seen. And it opened up a conversation in which I could answer truthfully without burdening her with complaints and whining (which is how the answer to “how are you doing these days” can sometimes go). Yes, it’s a tough subject to talk about but it’s important to talk about (and in the long run makes me feel better).
Unlike my friend, my ability to name and experience that freedom didn’t happen in the same moment as realizing I’m going to be managing depression for the rest of my life. For me, it’s trickling in, starting with a warm feeling after our conversation that gives me hope that the freedom is slowly growing within me. It’s a slight change in perspective, a shadow of optimism I haven’t felt in a while.