A man laying on a couch from the set of "Friends"

The One Where 'Friends' Helped Me Get Through Depression

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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.

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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.

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What It Feels Like When Depression Overpowers You

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Today is a bad day.

Living with depression means that some days are fine, some days have a ceiling for how good I can feel and some days throw me into a pit. Today is one of the latter days. Usually when I write about it, I’m in the middle category, where I’m acutely aware of my depression, but it doesn’t have full control.  Today, it’s in power, and I think that the experience of that kind of day needs to be described.

This is hard to write because I keep zoning out while doing it. I tend to stare at the “J” key. My mind, if I ever pause, feels like a vacuum. It’s not just empty, it’s pulling at the few parts of me that are still functioning, making it difficult to focus on much of anything.

But, I’m doing my best. If this were a day where I had to go to class or work, I would probably have headphones on – avoiding human contact where possible and generally trying to act normal. Some people would ask me how I am, and I’d answer, “tired.” They’d move on, satisfied with the answer.

Everyone’s tired in college. For most people, it’s a cycle of not sleeping, pouring caffeine in, and waiting to crash. I don’t drink caffeine and people know this; they expect me to be tired. Most days, I’m physically okay, but my mind is working slower than usual and my concentration is shot. I want to just lie in bed all day, not having to work or exist. It’s not even a need for sleep – it’s just a need to shut down, pause and take a break from life. But that’s not how life works, and every time I do take a break – because my mind will not allow me not to – I get dangerously behind on my work. Enter stress to get things done, and things get worse in a spiral that never seems to end.

I sit in my chair in front of my desk. I have a test soon and I have a lot of homework to do. I just stare at the computer. Sometimes, I turn on the TV
because, at least then, it seems like I’m consciously procrastinating, rather than being fully under the control of my depression. I get in the shower and either stand under the water or curl up on the floor, not really washing, because I don’t have the energy. Just getting in the shower was my attempt at going through the motions. Some days, that has to be good enough.

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Some days, I don’t sleep. Other days, I literally have to drag myself out of bed. A lot of days, I don’t eat unless I force myself to. I do get food in me, but there’s no enjoyment from it – it’s a mechanical process that I do because I have to. Sometimes, I do it because it offers me a break from life for a little while. It certainly sounds more important than staring into space, so people are less likely to disturb me. So long as I’m eating, people are less likely to think something’s wrong.

Depression isn’t new to me. I felt it surging up, and warned everyone close to me that it was coming and what should be red flags. But depression is tricky, and has perverted my usual warning signs. I don’t know my triggers.  I don’t know the destructive behaviors that depression leads me to. And if I don’t know, then certainly nobody else will. Half the time, the things I do to try to fight my depression seem to strengthen it. It uses my battle strategies as a way to hide itself away.  And that just makes it win.

There are good days, and I try to focus on those. I have friends and family that care about me and a church that is welcoming. I am being presented with a vast number and variety of opportunities to change the world and to change my future.  I watch television shows that I should enjoy and take classes that should interest me, but the “should” is what really makes it depression. These things exist, I acknowledge them, and I relish in them when I am able to – but often, I am not able to embrace all of the good things.  I try, but the emptiness doesn’t go away. It fills up every part of my body, suffocating me in it until I realize that I’m no longer the dominant part of myself. Depression has control over me and I am the underdog.

There are no simple solutions. I just live day by day and hope that someday soon it will get better. Someday soon, I’ll fight it and win. But for now, the depression is winning. I’ll keep on fighting, but today it has the upper hand. Today, I lost the fight for myself. It keeps winning battles again and again. My hope is that by keeping myself alive, by going through the motions, I might just win the war.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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How Writing Is Helping Me Through Depression

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I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for about seven to eight months now.

To a lot of people that doesn’t seem like a very long time, but for anyone who understands, you know it feels like forever. I’ve been through so many different methods of trying to cope, and it took me forever to find the one for me.

We tried things like exercise, painting, and even geo-tracking. Just a bunch of activities other people said had helped them. But then one night whenever I was at my confirmation class, it hit me.

That night we had been told to write down the three things that were burdening us and give it up to God. And honestly at first I thought it was kind of a silly idea. But once I did it, I actually felt like me writing it down made me feel better. That was when I realized I had found my coping method: writing!

From that point on I’ve written in my confirmation book because I believe that me writing things to God has helped so much. Even if the religious aspect isn’t your thing, I still encourage you to try and write. It’s a way of getting all my emotions out and expressing myself.

I believe writing is saving me.

Don’t give up on finding a coping method. There’s one out there for everyone.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When Depression and Dissociation Go Hand in Hand

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I am a difficult person to love. Although adorable and undeniably charming (my mom will testify), I have a quick temper. I am easily agitated and I have a sarcastic wit, which is often misunderstood. Throughout my adult life, I’ve struggled with the idea that this is just my personality. A strong-willed woman with a self-proclaimed hilarious sense of humor, who will shoot daggers with her eyes if you so much as think about eating that popcorn anywhere within my earshot. Popping your gum? You better start running.

Then, there are the times when my “personality” becomes intensified, yet vacant. I shut down. Sometimes, it happens so slowly I can almost watch myself shut down. Fight as I may, the protector in me always wins, resulting in involuntary dissociation. If I find myself struggling with intense emotions or overwhelming memories, then my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms usually elevate, causing my overprotective brain to dissociate.

Most of the time, this isn’t something I choose. It happens automatically. Spontaneously. Often at very inconvenient times. All of that said, to me, dissociation is about survival. It took me a really long time to get to the point where I could view it as such, however. Once I did, I started to feel less shame about dissociating and through the guidance of my therapist, began giving myself permission to dissociate when I need a break from emotions that trigger past trauma.

Recently, my PTSD was triggered by a medical professional making me feel inadequate. I felt pressured to talk about trauma from my past, and I was made to feel like I was a liar.  Quite honestly, I felt attacked. I completed the one and a half hour appointment with this doctor, but I don’t remember the majority of the last 30 minutes. I do, however, remember walking to the car in a dreamlike state. By the time I was home, safe, I had sunk into a depression that claimed my life for the better part of two weeks.

Depression, for me, is not about profound sadness. In fact, I become void of virtually all emotions. I no longer feel love, empathy or sympathy. I don’t feel sad. In fact, I don’t usually cry at all during these times. I struggle to laugh or smile. Spare my children, I am unable to connect to any one person on a level any more intimate than how one would respond to a stranger.

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I become overly agitated by the smallest, most trivial things. It isn’t uncommon for me to snap at my husband for running the water in the sink too loudly (true story). A loved one has stood in front of me during one of my depressive episodes, and with tears streaming down her face, begged me to come back. I knew I should comfort her, offer her reassurance I was still me. Instead, I stood frozen in front of her and unemotionally said, “I’m sorry.”

It’s upsetting for me to write about this, to tell you my truth. I hate the person I become when I’m struggling with depression. I feel like I become ugly, cold and truly unpleasant to be around. I become hard to love.

Dissociation and depression go hand in hand for me. They are both present in my life and more often than not happen concurrently. I am working on learning how to reconnect and recover from depressive dips, along with how to bring myself back from a particular lengthy dissociative episodes.

However, I am also trying my best to remember to be gentle with myself. To be kind to my brain. After all, it is doing it’s best to protect me. I will forever stand behind the fact that dissociation saved my life. I may be hard to love, but I am surviving. For this, I will always be thankful.

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When You’re Able to Work With a Mental Illness, but Still Live Below the Poverty Line

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Where I live, it’s unusual not to own a phone, specifically some sort of iPhone or Android. It’s unusual to bike all around the city because I have trouble affording public transportation. It’s unusual not to hit up the bars every weekend, to be wearing the same clothes I bought in high school five years ago and to spend $20 on groceries a week.

It’s unusual to have such a low income, to have a part-time job that pays minimum wage and gives me eight to 12 hours of work a week. Since it’s unusual, it often comes up in conversation, say, when a friend asks for my cell phone number or to go out on a Friday night. It’s hard to tell these people the half-truth, which is I don’t have enough money. It’s harder to tell them the full truth, which is I’m sick and I couldn’t get more money if I tried.

There’s something distinctly horrible and exhausting about living with an illness that affects every part of me but doesn’t take away all of my functional abilities. With the antidepressants I take, I’m able to get through my days consistently, completing the tasks I set out for myself. Yet, every task still takes more effort than it should, from attending class to biking to work to brushing my teeth. I’m functional, but I’m not healthy.

This leaves me in a desperate situation. I can take three courses at university. I can work eight to 12 hours a week, but nothing more. This salary, along with some help from family, leaves me staggeringly below the poverty line. If I were more sick, then I would be able to get some financial aid for having a disability. Because I’m “functional” I get nothing — no bursaries, no grants, no tax exemptions, nothing.

This illness, this subtle, digging illness, is the equivalent (in the world of physical illnesses) of having a constant, nasty cold. It won’t let you call in sick for work or skip class. (No, it’s not that bad!) Yet, it also won’t let you feel well or even content for any substantial amount of time.

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It will make you go to bed early and wake up late. You will have a lot of uncomfortable symptoms, like feeling generally out of sorts, becoming dizzy, having a lot of mucus seeping out of all parts of your face (in the case of a common cold) or having panic attacks and near constant anxiety (in the case of depression).

Now, imagine that common cold went on for years and years. Imagine thinking it would never go away. Imagine deciding you would have to live with it for the rest of your life, half-productive, half-sick, half-hopeless. Half-starving.

Imagine the waking nightmare that would be.

What’s worse is that, because of my financial need, my depression doubles. I am functional, but who knows where I would be if I received even a little bit of monetary support? My fear and stress about whether my next paycheck will cover rent, groceries and textbooks would almost certainly disappear, no doubt benefiting my emotional state. I wouldn’t have to worry about where or how I’m going to live in six months when my family stops supplementing my income. Perhaps I would not only function, but strive — perhaps I would be able to work a full-time job and eventually support myself.

Most importantly, it wouldn’t seem so impossible and terrifying to live with this illness long-term, to battle it possibly for the rest of my life. With a little help, the future wouldn’t look so hopeless, and it wouldn’t feel so lonely.

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What I Think of Now When the Waves of Depression Leave Me Hopeless

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When depression drove my life off track, I thought it was the end. I would never be able to recover all I had lost. I had spent so much of my life just barely hanging on, struggling with depression and anxiety, but I kept pushing through so no one would ever be able to guess anything was wrong.

When my panic disorder kept me from sleeping for a month during my sophomore year of college, I plunged into one of my darkest periods of depression. I managed to keep going to classes and completing my work, but I would cry alone in my room. At times, I even contemplated what the world would look like without me.

After that experience, I finally sought the medical and counseling treatment I had so long resisted. I realized my fragile grip on things was not enough. So I started seeing a counselor and went on medication. Things got better for a while, and I kept waiting for the medication to kick in and making everything better.

However, half a year later, I started to feel worse than ever before. I grew physically weaker and weaker and more and more depressed. No one could seem to make things better, not my family, not my counselor, not my psychiatrist, not my friends, not my God. I felt myself slipping beneath the waves of hopelessness and unspeakable hurt, and no one could throw a life vest my way. I felt abandoned by friends, unable to communicate my pain, and worthless to the people around me.

There were times I wanted to give in, just fall beneath the waves and let them carry my body to shore where everyone would regret how they had neglected me. Yet, I remembered I had a responsibility to myself, to my younger self who dreamed about the great things she would one day accomplish. I have a responsibility to fulfill those dreams for her. So I kept swimming even though those dreams were nowhere to be seen in the grey skies and constant rain that filled my life.

I made it through the school year and returned back home, but things were different for me. I realized I couldn’t go back to the school I had attended, not after what happened and not in my weak state. Not with the knowledge of how people there had abandoned me. I had to take a break from school and accept the surprisingly difficult purgatory of rest and recovery.

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I quickly found that although I wasn’t not be drowning any more, life was still full of difficulty. Friends who I thought had sailed off for good would come back out of the blue and cheerfully strike up a conversation as if I had never been fighting for my life while they looked the other way. The silence of others who were once close became deafening.

Bitterness welled up in my soul and my heart grew hard toward those who had failed me in my time of need: peers, friends, my school, my community and God. I watched others’ lives roll on, hitting all the milestones I was missing and fulfilling the dreams I had aspired to. I mourned the past bitterly and kicked and screamed about the unfairness of it all. This was especially true when I found out the very treatment I had trusted to make me better had actually been the cause of some of my issues.

I thought I had come to the end of myself. I thought there was no hope. I thought I could not return to school. I poured out the ashes of my shattered dreams and watched them get whisked away in the wind as I became an old chapter in friends’ life stories.

I was stuck. Stuck at home. Stuck in a mire of being too healthy to be hospitalized but too sick to function normally. Stuck in a cycle of old emotions that kept coming back to torment me. Stuck reprimanding myself for being stuck going back and back and back to the same emotional issues I could never seem to solve, no matter how much time passed or therapy I attended.

Gradually, the tides began to change. The medication that turned out to have been hurting me was slowly drained from my system. New methods of treatment and a wonderful counselor helped me regain my grip on life stronger than ever before. I severed ties with those who had shown their true colors as fair-weather friends on my journey. I learned to stand on my own two feet and to have the boldness to share my story. I found a new school, new hobbies, new employment and new purpose. My crew is still sparse, and I still feel a bit jealous when I see friends who have graduated and moved forward in life. Yet, I am mostly hopeful. Because I know a mere eight months ago I was stranded, fully convinced there was no hope for me.

two pieces of art
Two pieces I completed in art therapy sessions capturing life while suffering from depression (left) in contrast with life when recovered from depression.

The old, dead dreams and hopes of my past life remain in my heart, but they now serve as a home for the new life I am building. For a long time, I was stuck, but the entire time I was growing. I still am growing, still struggling, but I am rising from the ashes I thought would be my grave. Now, I am stronger, freer, wiser, more grateful and more intentional about living my life and loving others.

Sometimes, the waves start to rise again and I find myself depressed, discouraged and feeling hopeless. I become afraid I will fall into a deep pit of despair again. Yet, when I’m tempted to give up hope and sink beneath those waves, resigned to what I’m sometimes convinced is my fate, I remember the little girl who used to dream of what she would be. Then, I grab the ropes to begin the journey to safety and recovery once again.

Whatever you’re going through, hope is real and you are worth the fight. So please, don’t give up. You deserve so much. You deserve a life lived fully. You deserve recovery, possibility and opportunity.

Follow this journey on These Dark Cafe Days.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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