I’ve tried writing the beginning of this post at least seven times now. I tried to be clever. I tried to be deep. But it keeps ringing hollow. So I’ll start it simply: a girl I was once friends with died recently. I didn’t learn it until an old mutual friend passed along her obituary from today’s morning paper.
She was 32, but the last time we saw each other we were 17 and no one knew where the tides would take us all next.
Depression, with its insidious undertow, has pulled her away.
It’s funny how certain people enter and leave your life at crucial moments. Social media and cell phones and webcams have made it seem easier to maintain contact with old friends but it can overwhelm us with a steady stream of too much information from too many faces. As a result, some people fall away just as quickly as they did before dial-up.
So it was that Farrah, once a key part of my day-to-day, was lost in my life’s flow. College. The job market. The economic unmerry-go-round. So much has happened. Things got complicated. We all got busy. That’s what we’re supposed to say, right?
Farrah was once part of an elite team of a dozen students that made up my high school’s yearbook program. We held ourselves to a high standard and each year we competed for regional and national awards. The deadlines were tight and we often found ourselves sticking around in the humid computer lab, with its eggshell colored desktops, until what seemed like midnight. We physically mocked up the page layouts when possible and did some very early digital design work on Microsoft Publisher to lock it in place. I think it was Publisher anyway- sorry if my memory misfired Mrs. M.
There were all-day marathon edits interrupted by the occasional screaming-to-the-heavens moment and punctuated by random outbursts of manic energy. I seem to recall us spontaneously bursting into dance at one point (and probably more than one, to be honest). Another time we did footraces in the hallways to burn off the nervous energy. We chugged way too much soda to have been within healthy caffeine limits and probably single-handedly kept the local pizza place in business.
These were the days leading up to and following 9/11. They are now seen in a sort of golden haze in my memory. The days following the tragedy are often remembered with a disquieting sense of anxious energy, as though we were afraid that at any moment, things could get worse. As a result, my memories of those days are accompanied with a manic joy. We were goofy and we were smart and we had a job to do and we were going to soak up every moment possible.
As I said, there were about 12 of us. I was one of the only boys involved. I may have been the only one, actually. As such, the girls of the group tended to look at me as sort of a project. I sought out their advice about dating (thus far I had not successfully accomplished this milestone of adolescence) and in return, I found myself becoming a sort of counselor for their Guy Problems. At the time, I was still quite introverted and could still be painfully shy. God knows, I definitely had low/no self-confidence.
That was why these girls were so important to me. That’s also why it hurts to look back. Farrah and many of the other girls took me under their wing and helped me get my act together. They each seemed to have their own groups of friends, but they didn’t mind me joining them for a while to socialize.
I was most often working alongside Farrah our friend Sue. In retrospect, it was a sort of Odd Couple pairing. Suzanne has always been very kind and patient with a quiet sense of humor. Farrah tended to lean the opposite way, with an acerbic style I thought was hilarious. She didn’t tend to hold back. And boy, that girl could let loose with some invectives if the computer crashed before she could save a file or someone crossed her during school. But if I got her to laugh, I knew I must have stuck the landing on a joke…or fallen flat on my face. It was often a fine line, but I didn’t care- these ladies were a cool bunch.
As we polished the captions and hid in-jokes amid the book’s different section texts, I finally got the courage up to ask out my soon-to-be girlfriend, Kat. It felt like a big dramatic moment in my head I had to get just right, but there was Farrah, practically shoving me out the door. I am fairly certain at one point, the girls shoved me out of the lab and locked the door so I couldn’t get back in until I asked her to a dance. When I got back, I got some cheers shortly before I collapsed into a chair where I have to assume I melted into a puddle of jello.
Farrah rolled her eyes and made a ‘SEE?!’ gesture. She was smiling though.
After I asked Kat out, we dated for most of the school year. I remained involved with the yearbook team, but suddenly I had this whole ‘Boyfriend’ status that I took very seriously. Plus I had met a group of people who would later become my Fellowship, to the point where one just officiated my wedding. The other two would fly from multiple timezones to be there for me. They are dear to my heart.
So are Farrah and Sue and the rest of that yearbook gang. They were each so different and fun, and without them, I don’t know if I would have become who I am today. My first two years of high school were truly miserable. But that final year? It is golden in my mind’s eye. Despite the uncertainty of the world around us, we pushed on and did so much. In a funny way, I feel like we were preserving a slice of life in a very new world while working on that yearbook. Sadly, we did too good of a job.
I kid my students for their texting lingo, but I know my generation really kinda kickstarted it during the AOL Instant Messenger days. Sue could correct me on this, but I feel like it was Farrah who first suggested we hide a little reference in our senior quotes area. Mine, for example, was the (now staple) quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.” Under this was “I am F.I.N.E.!”
F.I.N.E. was our shorthand for Fucked-Up, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional.
We were. It was a badge of honor. Our fuses felt like they had been shortened (as all teenagers probably do) and we were going to be taking off at any moment. I had been suffering Depression for a few years by that point, but didn’t realize it until much later. There were a couple of close-call moments. Over time, I got help. I’m still getting it. “We all have baggage,” my wife says, “but the question is, yours pretty? Does it match?” She lives with Depression too. Like me, she has dealt with a lot and it has been an incredibly hard road.
Depression is that riptide you don’t know is there. It may be gently tugging at you for a while and you may not realize it. But when it pulls hard, all you can do is hope you can conserve your energy and swim parallel with the shore long enough to eventually find a way out or be rescued. Not everyone gets out. For the longest time, I thought I could write my way through it. Words have been, and will always be, my way of coping with reality. But no matter how hard I tried to shape worlds and mold sentences to deal with my feelings, it took someone with training to help me understand what I was dealing with. I was wearing myself out trying to fight that riptide. And that’s an easy way to wear yourself out. The terrifying days are the ones where the beach is in sight, but no one is around.
Those are the days when the riptide is scariest. When it seems to be at its strongest and we’re at our weakest. And God, it can get so damn tiring.
For years, I’ve seen people (especially those of the previous generation) sneer at the idea of going to therapy. They scoff at medication. To so many, Depression is just another ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ situation. And this situation just makes me angrier every time I see it. If you break someone’s leg, you don’t tell them to just hobble on the other one harder. You say, ‘get thee to a hospital!’. Maybe not exactly like that, but you don’t suggest they ‘walk it off’. So why is it that when someone’s biochemistry is causing them to literally fight their better instincts, that people often wave it off as unimportant?
Farrah was a sweet girl, a sharp girl and one who deserved happiness in her life. I didn’t know she had Depression shadowing her and that knowledge makes the loss ache that much more. I’m not going to say we were best friends. I know we can’t stay in touch with everyone we ever knew for eternity…That said, she was an important person in my life and in the lives of others at a time when friends were needed. We were blessed to know her.
Depression-mental illness really-is a terrible burden to bear. It’s a small comfort to know Farrah won’t have to bear it any longer. But if you do know someone struggling…please do what you can to help them. Even if it’s just give them a hug or take them away from the problem for a while. Sometimes the smallest gestures can lead to the biggest changes.
I know. Because Farrah and Sue and that merry band of misfits changed mine a long time ago. Bye, Farrah.
Until next time,