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The One Where 'Friends' Helped Me Get Through Depression

Imagine it’s a cold, rainy and gloomy Saturday afternoon. The perfect way to spend the day might be to bundle up on the couch with a warm blanket and some hot chocolate catching up on one of your favorite TV shows. Now imagine it’s a beautiful, sunny day, but you can’t get yourself out of bed. Each hour goes by as if it were a day as you think about all the things you want to do, but you just can’t work up enough energy to get out of bed and do it. You just lay there, staring at the walls, tossing and turning to no end, your mind spinning in every direction — sad, lonely, hopeless, wasting the day away. This is just one example of what it’s like to live with major depression. 

The good news is that depression is treatable, especially by finding a medication that works well along with the combination of therapy and the support of family and friends, but sometimes the arts can play a role in giving you that extra boost or smile when you need it most. In my experience, one thing that has helped is turning on my favorite show, which happens to be one of America’s most beloved sitcoms, “Friends.” I don’t even need to be watching it — just hearing those familiar voices I’ve known since 1994 is enough to keep me relaxed and laughing. It gives me that extra push to start the day. Whether it’s Ross’ over-reacting, Chandler’s sarcasm, Phoebe’s quirkiness, Joey’s naivete, Monica’s neurotic ways or Rachel’s clumsiness, it’s this comfort that has helped me during stressed and anxious times. Everyone’s experience with depression is different, but escaping through a TV show, movie, theater or even music with positive messages, can aid in the healing process. 

Since creative writing has always played a big part in my healing process, this inspired me to write a play, “The One With Friends: A TV Show Within a Play,” about how “Friends” has helped in my rough patches. The play takes place in a Santa Monica coffee shop where a struggling actor with depression and no confidence strikes up a conversation with a stranger — an assignment by his therapist. The stranger turns out to be an aspiring TV writer who is going through a depressed time herself, and just happens to be writing the reunion episode for “Friends” as a fun side project. As the two begin their road to getting to know each other, without the help of social media, apps or phones, they find connection and healing through the popular sitcom which leads them to becoming friends themselves, but not without conflict and struggles along the way. The play is not only an homage to “Friends,” but an opportunity to use the arts to show an accurate portrayal of major depression with symptoms such as anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, suicidal ideation and self-harm. Through the play, I wanted to show empathy and understanding for the illness and its symptoms, rather than stigmatizing it, and offer a story of hope.

Another component of the play is that we are conducting a research study to explore how the arts can promote healing, since there is little research on the correlation between the arts and mental health. For this, we’ll be giving the audience an anonymous survey to fill out before and after the play regarding depression stigma. 

If you know someone who is depressed or going through a depressed time, take the time to reach out to them and offer support. Make plans for lunch, a movie, or even just a walk to let them talk. And if you are depressed, there is no shame in reaching out for support through family and friends. Keep reaching out until you find the right friend and family member who understands. If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. You will be helped by a skilled, trained crisis worker who will listen to your problems and will tell you about mental health services in your area. All calls are confidential. 

Depression is treatable and while it may take time to heal and find the best treatment plan, don’t ever give up. And remember, turn on your “Friends” when you need your day to be a little brighter.

“The One With Friends” will be performed Friday, Oct. 7th and Sunday, Oct. 9th at UCLA.  For more information on the play and to reserve free tickets if you are in the Los Angeles area, click here.