My depression is out there – and I’m not sure I like it

I “outed” myself yesterday and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

I told someone new that I have depression.

 

Pause.  Deep breath.  REALLY deep breath.

 

I shared my secret with a friend named L.  She is an experimental friend for me – an attempt to try something new in my friendships.  For years, I’ve made snarky remarks about how I’m an isolationist and I don’t like people.  I’ve built a formidable wall around myself, and I’m damn proud of that wall.  It’s an architectural feat – a thing of beauty!  The few people I’ve let in have tended to develop into deep, intense friendships.  My most recent friendship like this ended very painfully (more on that eventually), and in doing some postmortem analysis, I realized that I tend to pursue friendships with people who are emotionally unavailable.  In many cases these are people who have very complicated issues of their own, and I end up in a dynamic where I’m providing unlimited support but receiving very little in return.  There’s plenty of further analysis to be done about why that is, but that’s for another time.

The point is that I decided recently that maybe I should try to find some different kind of friends.  Ok, it wasn’t my idea, but something that my therapist had oh-so-gently suggested.  A few times.  In a few different ways.

L is a good candidate for this social experiment of mine.  She is a positive, happy person – the kind of person I usually avoid like the plague, probably because it makes me feel awful about my own lack of positivity.  But L is honestly, truly a good person who happens to have a sunny outlook.  She’s a fellow preschool mom who called a few times to suggest we meet up for lunch.  For a while I didn’t return her calls consistently – she’s the kind of person who knows everyone and talks to everyone, and I didn’t understand why she wanted to bother with me.  She has a gazillion friends, so why does she need me?

But I decided to give it a try.  After having my last deep friendship end so terribly, maybe it was time to try a more casual friendship.  To take a few bricks down from my wall.  I tend to have an all-or-nothing approach, and it surprised me when my therapist suggested that I could take just a few bricks down instead of the whole wall.  Even more, if after giving it a try I still didn’t feel safe, I could put the bricks back up. In other words, I didn’t have to commit to L being my best friend of all time.  I didn’t even have to commit to having lunch with her more than once or twice.

So I finally started returning L’s calls.  And guess what?  It’s been an enjoyable connection for me.  L and I have a comfortable, easy rapport, and I appreciate the positive perspective she brings to things.  I’m not spilling my guts to her in deep, heart-wrenching conversations, but it’s not a superficial friendship either.  It’s somewhere in the middle.  And I feel both fascinated and pleased that my little social experiment has turned out well.

But then yesterday my experiment went awry.  I was scheduled to have lunch with L after a therapy session (dumb idea, I know).   I’ve been feeling like I’m headed for a depressive slump, and I wanted desperately to call her and cancel.  But I felt like that was the wrong answer, so I went anyway.

In the course of the conversation, L inquired about my morning and what I’d been up to.  I have no idea where it came from but I told her that I had been to therapy.

First pause.

L hesitated but she covered it up well.  I could almost see the thought bubble above her head:  What kind of therapy does she mean?  Like physical therapy?  Oh wait, no, she means Therapy Therapy.  The real deal.  Ahhhh.

She recovered quickly and asked with concern if I was doing okay, if there was anything going on.  And then I dropped another bombshell:  I have clinical depression.

Second pause.

Now she really hesitated.  And looked uncomfortable.  For a woman who always has a smile on her face and takes things in stride, I knew this was unusual.

I felt sick.  I didn’t know what to say or do.  I wanted to cry but figured that would make it all worse.  I didn’t understand why I had done it.  WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?

L simply said, “I didn’t know.”  And then “Does the therapy help?”  I went on to say something about how I need meds, and I combine that with therapy, and Lord knows what else I mumbled at that point.

L said she was glad that I felt comfortable enough to share that with her.  Then we moved on to other topics.  But I didn’t really move on.  I was stuck in the moment when I had shared this secret part of me.

I’m still stuck this morning.  I can’t understand why I did it, or where to go from here.  It sounds silly but I don’t know how to process this.  L sent me a message later yesterday saying how much she enjoyed our lunches and our conversations, so does that mean that it’s all okay and nothing has changed?  I’m not worried that she will ignore me at preschool dropoff or stop meeting me for lunch.  But does she now see me as Depressed Me, thereby taking away from the lightness of our friendship?  The shift in perspective that turns a casual “How are you?” into “How are YOU?”  You know what I mean, I’m sure – that tone, that special emphasis, the way that the question is laden with meaning and pressure.

I wish I could wrap this post up with a neat little bow and tell you how glad I am, or how relieved, or how freeing it is.  Say the things that all of you brave, non-anonymous bloggers have said.  But right now I’m not sure what I feel.  Definitely regret.  Maybe some relief that L didn’t jump up from the table in horror and run out the door.  Shame that I have to hide my depression.  Embarrassment that revealing it to someone throws me off balance so much.  I’m not sure what else.

So instead of figuring out my own stuff :), I put the question to you:  Have you ever shared your mental health issues with someone outside of your trusted inner circle of family and friends?  And how did you live to tell the tale?

 

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29 thoughts on “My depression is out there – and I’m not sure I like it

  1. I found out recently that my own family is not completely comfortable with how comfortable I am with my bipolar disorder. I was pretty much told that, behind my back, “everyone” was wondering why I was talking about it so much. Also told that it wasn’t really cool to tell a complete stranger (who wasn’t a complete stranger). So, family doesn’t get that I am now writing about BD and hoping to help other people with mental disorders to cope with the dual strain of parenting and coping with a diagnosis.

    You never know how someone will react. It doesn’t sound like you turned your new friend off, but if you did, then your experiment in reaching out was still successful. You had the courage to do it; now you’ll either have a deeper connection or know you have the courage to reveal yourself when you decide to again.

    I’ll be thinking about you.

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    • I really appreciate your perspective that regardless of how my friend reacts, my experiment was still successful. I hadn’t thought of it that way at all. If our dynamic changes considerably, I would have filed that away as a mistake that I’ll never make again. But your comment has me thinking different about it – thank you.

      I’m sorry that your family cannot be more supportive of your work. I’m amazed at your courage in doing what you’ve done. My family knows about my depression but they would be HORRIFIED if they knew anything about this blog!

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  2. Don’t worry about L, or try to read into her actions. She’ll show you her true colors in the coming months, and then you’ll know whether she is a true friend or not. You should not be ashamed of your depression. It’s an illness, just as heart disease is an illness. You didn’t ask for it, but it’s part of you. No one should judge you for it. If they do, cease contact with them (no matter how painful) and move on. Life is too short to permit judgmental people in your life.

    I hope L turns out to be the friend you believe she is, but her hesitancy and subsequent e-mail suggest to me she might bow out. And, that’s OK. It’s not a reflection on you, but on her. You are great. Keep strong, friend.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

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    • Thank you for the support. It’s hard to accept that if a friend leaves me, it’s their stuff and not a reflection on me. I don’t have a strong enough sense of self yet to really believe that. Yet. I’m working on it, though. 🙂

      Thanks for the thoughts!

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  3. You sound like you feel very exposed and vulnerable right now. Big hugs to you.

    I don’t have any amazing advice based on personal experience. I am still hiding behind my wall. (When my next door neighbour, who I like but don’t know that well, told me she was suffering anxiety and was waiting for a CBT course I didn’t tell her I too was suffering from anxiety and ask how you get on a CBT waiting list. You surely don’t get a better chance to out yourself than that.) I can be very gregarious in lots of ways but there are things I like to keep private and I like a choice in what I share. Some people hate the morning sickness with pregnancy, some the having to waddle, me, I hated the loss of privacy, the fact that people who hardly knew me thought they knew all about me. I guess I’m saying I empathise with how uncomfortable you feel having exposed yourself and how safe you feel behind your wall.

    But I also agree that the message is a good sign. Probably she wasn’t sure how to react to your revelation. And she may now be feeling that she didn’t do the right thing. So she’s showing you that she wants to continue.

    Sounds like you need to mentally prepare yourself for next time you see her at the school gate. Maybe you could cast your mind back to what your usual kind of conversation topic is and prepare something to say for when the panic sets in.

    And breathing, don’t forget the breathing.

    Good luck.

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    • Vulnerable and exposed – those are the perfect words. And I completely understand what you mean about being pregnant. I was the one who kept it hidden from people for as long as I could physically manage. Other people didn’t understand my paranoia about keeping it under wraps for so long, but your comment makes me realize it was probably the same thing as you said – feeling exposed and not in control of that exposure.

      I’m still breathing… 🙂

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  4. I think it is AWESOME that you allowed yourself to feel vulnerable with this person. Vulnerability is critical to the process of true friendship. If you haven’t seen Brene Brown talk about vulnerability and it’s importance to living fully, hop on over to this link and enjoy: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability. It is worth the time! I look forward to the day when we can all talk about depression in the same way we talk about having diabetes or heart disease. Continue focusing on what you are feeling, since it is the only thing you can control. 🙂

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    • I have to tell you that feeling vulnerable did not feel awesome at all! 🙂 But I really appreciate your link for the TED talk. I watched it this weekend and found it really interesting. I’m still sorting through the various pieces of it in my head but I know what you mean when you say that vulnerability is critical to true friendship. I just wish it didn’t have to be so damn painful… 🙂

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      • I’m glad you liked the video! I hope a meaningful friendship develops with this person. People REALLY need to evolve when it comes to depression. I was nauseated today, for example, and I got to thinking (when I had to call in sick to work) that everyone would be asking me tomorrow if I feel better. But, on the days when I just can’t drag myself to work because I’m feeling too depressed, I can’t just SAY that! I mean, I can only imagine that people might be sympthetic, but have no idea what to say. Most would not say a word. And, with something as common as depression (1 in 3 people!) you’d think we’d be leaning on each other a whole lot more. Where DID this attitude come from?? I wish I knew. Anyway, keep on writing! 🙂

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        • It’s such a thorny issue – medically and culturally. I can’t tackle those larger issues at the moment, but what occurs to me just now is that the voice inside my head needs to evolve in the same way. My voice doesn’t allow for a crummy day because of my depression. So I may not be able to fix the larger problems of stigma, BUT I can work on fixing my own perception of myself.

          Whew. Did you follow all that? 🙂

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  5. Oh gosh, yes, a few times. I told my aunts/uncles/cousins at Christmas, which was a pretty big deal for me, and it was a little uncomfortable but ultimately it was okay and better than lying and saying I didn’t have any plans for this year . I told the woman I babysit for, and she was super nice, and shared how she’d been very depressed while pregnant and now we always chat about how I’m doing.

    I also told my boss, which was super awkward. She laughed and said, “but you’ve just been to Europe!” as though that was some kind of proof I couldn’t be depressed.

    I find it much easier to be open about it with people my own age (early twenties) than with “adults”, and will happily chat to people I meet at parties about my mental health stuff. One of the biggest things for me though is that after telling people there can be zero follow up – like, they don’t call and ask me how I am, or even bring it up, which I find weird.

    But congratulations for letting yourself be even a little bit vulnerable. It can be really scary, but it does get easier.

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    • I hope you’re right that it gets easier. I admit that I’m not convinced at the moment…everything in me wants to reinforce those walls and hunker down!

      Kudos to you for being able to share your story with as many people as you have. I think your boss’ reply is hilarious. It seems like the punch line of a mental health cartoon somehow. 🙂

      I think I have a harder time sharing it with my peers because they’re the group whose judgment I fear most (e.g. I’m a bad mom because x,y,z).

      Ah, well. More experiences which will hopefully lead to more insight and more growth. That’s the theory, right? 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

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      • I thought of you today when the woman I work with asked me if I was studying and I told her I was pretty much just dealing with my depression. She was very supportive when she responded, and told me her daughter (who’s forty) has struggled with depression for years but it was undisguised until about three years ago, and congratulated me on dealing with it all. So, yeah, people can and do respond well (better than my boss, at least!)

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        • Yay for you! And yay for your coworker!! It sounds like a model conversation about depression – like it belongs in one of those public service messages. 🙂

          I sound like the daughter – but there’s no way in hell my mother would have responded that way. But, I hope that I would be able to have that response when someone shared with me that they were dealing with their depression.

          Thanks for sharing this. It’s a little ray of sunshine.

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  6. So how are you feeling about it now? Have you spoken to L since? As a non anonymous blogger (though far from brave) all I can say is it took a really, REALLY long time to be able to talk about it, and it still isn’t easy. Prime example – Saturday night I went out to meet a few friends, all of whom know what’s going on for me, all of whom are very supportive. I was not in the right frame of mind for it. I couldn’t settle, I was on edge, I felt like everyone was either watching me or avoiding me. Did I say anything? No, I did not. I made my excuses and left, and haven’t spoken to any of them since. Not my proudest moment.
    You’ll talk about it when you’re ready. My bet is you’ll know who you’re able to tell without even having to think about it. But all in good time x

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    • The strange thing, as I think back, is that I had kind of thought through in my head what I would say to L if she had inquired about my morning plans that day. So maybe you’re right in saying that you know who to share it with. But then again, there are so many stories of those who have gotten burned….I guess I just have to keep showing up and being vulnerable and living with whatever happens from there.

      In this particular case, all seems to be fine with L. I saw her at the playground today after preschool and we chatted as usual. No awkwardness, no “heavy” questions, nothing out of the ordinary. I’m grateful.

      I understand your example of Saturday with your friends. I’m sure they understood that maybe you were just feeling “off”. I think sometimes people struggle with “Should I ask about it? Or just let it go so that it doesn’t seem like I’m making a bigger deal of it?”

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  7. It is wonderful to hear that this did not necessarily end badly for you. This lady sounds like a very nice person.

    This blog is not under my real name. I am sure that in not a surprise. 🙂 I have a blog that does use my real name. That blog is linked to my Facebook account and is used for ministry purposes. A couple of months ago I published a post explaining that I deal with depression, what it is all about, and why there is nothing wrong with a Christian dealing with depression. I did this to attempt to eliminate some of the stigma from depression, but especially the stigma against Christians dealing with depression. That post had over 130 views. For some that is most likely not an impressive for number. For me, that is awesome.

    The first few moments after I posted it, I was on the phone with my Dad. He supported the decision to broadcast my personal struggle, and was there to calm me down afterwards. It is still crazy that everyone and anyone can now know that I deal with depression. At the same time, it doesn’t really change anything for me. If they don’t like it, they can move on. The ones who care will stick around.

    From that post, I also received several emails and messages with people sharing their stories and problems. It was amazing to see people I have known for years open up in such a different way.

    Did it help remove any of the stigma? I don’t know. In my opinion, people are afraid of what they don’t understand. It makes them uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say or how to react. I think we can help other by being honest about what is happening in our life. Anyway, just wanted to share. 🙂

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    • I love that you were able to share your depression in your personal blog – and that it turned out to be such a positive experience for you. I think it’s awesome – and I would be thrilled with 130 page views, too! 🙂

      I especially like that others then opened up to you about the things that they struggle with. For me that’s one of the things that somehow fulfills me in blogging – the idea that maybe reading about my stuff allows someone out there to take a deep breath, realize they’re not alone, and maybe share their experience a little in a way that lightens their burden.

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  8. Pingback: From BFF to FF (Former Friend) | One Depressed Mama

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