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.
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.
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?