I don’t remember how it came about, but I had casually mentioned to her that I had mild depression.
Then I cried.
Opened my heart about things I didn’t want to admit.
Finally, I made a promise to turn things around.
We were having lunch at a Japanese izakaya near my office.
We knew each other from about four years ago, when we worked briefly at a boutique PR agency. She’s the only person I kept in touch with after we left that place.
I needed her advice on some work matters, so I asked her out for lunch. It had been two years since we met.
During the first half hour of lunch, we caught up on various things we’ve been up to. Poked fun at some of the folks who got on our nerves during our agency days. Talked about how I could launch a successful funding announcement campaign. It was a lively conversation, fuelled by excellent Japanese food.
And then, somehow, I brought up my mild depression.
“Oh? You too? Tell me more” she said.
She had depression herself a few years ago. Her depression was triggered by her mother’s death and her father’s subsequent illness.
I told her that my depression was most likely due to a confluence of factors. A rocky career, personal issues, a low self-esteem, etc. I knew I had some kind of depression, because the signs were there. Tearful outbursts. Mood swings. Becoming more introverted and quieter than ever.
“So, how did you deal with your depression?” she asked.
“I just focused on my work. I also threw myself into my art.”
“OK. But did you see a doctor or therapist?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, my depression wasn’t serious. It wasn’t like I was contemplating suicide, or hurting myself. I would have sought medical help if it came to that.”
“But did your depression affect your work or life?”
“I wasn’t unhappy all the time. I could go to work and get things done. I could hang around with people and have fun. Sure, I felt moody and tearful at times, but life was OK on the whole.”
She looked unconvinced. “You say it wasn’t serious. Even so, the fact remains that you have depression. An illness. But you left it untreated …?”
“Look,” she continued, “I don’t mean to probe. I’m just confused. My depression was also not so serious that I was a danger to myself. But I didn’t wait till it became full-blown. I nipped it in the bud before it got worse, like I would for any illness. So, I am genuinely curious as to why you didn’t seek help for your depression.”
A hundred thoughts and memories swirled in my mind.
I tried to speak, but couldn’t.
What should I even say, anyway?
I was mortified. I dislike crying in front of people. Yet, here I was, a blubbering mess.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you by crying like that. I don’t even know why I am crying …”
“No worries. I wasn’t scared at all.” She handed me a packet of tissues. “It seems like I touched on an old wound. An old wound that never fully healed.”
She’s right, I thought to myself. Who was I kidding? I wanted to believe that I was hard-boiled. That I was tough and strong for making it this far in life, despite serious setbacks.
Yet, the truth is that I still felt vulnerable and afraid inside. Sometimes, it felt like there was this undercurrent of sadness and insecurity in my life. Not powerful enough to make everyday life difficult, or to drive me to self-harm. I managed to achieve some significant and laudable goals in spite of it. I’ve even had many moments of happiness in spite of it.
But I can’t deny it’s there.
That’s why I cried. It hurt to admit the truth: I was not as well as I thought I was.
She said she would give me the name and contact details of the therapist she saw.
“I recommend that you seek medical help as soon as you can. Don’t keep your problems to yourself and let them cause you such distress.”
I murmured, “I thought that I could handle it all by myself.”
“Lots of folks say that. And then, over time, their problems consume them from the inside.”
She continued, “Try talking to your parents about your problems. If you’re worried about financing your therapy, I’m sure they’d help you out. Just as you would help them if they needed it. If your parents are difficult about things, let me know.”
“I can speak to them. Just that it’s been a long time since I’ve opened up to them about anything.”
“Then let this be the first conversation in a long while. Speak to them, let them know what you’re facing. I can’t speak to my parents even if I wanted to. They’re dead.”
We walked out of the izakaya, into the soft warmth of the afternoon sun.
“I hope you get the help you need, soon. I want to see you succeed. Think of how far you could go, how much you could achieve, if you could overcome this!” she told me before she left.
I didn’t return to the office until about 20 minutes later. There were too many things to think about.
I thought of that time I received the call that changed my life. I thought of how I would never have gotten this far if I had not taken action back then.
I wondered if this conversation could be the next big turning point in my life. All that was left, was for me to do …