Without you, there likely would be no me anymore.
Much as we like to pretend we can go it alone, no human is an island as I found out when I lost five years of my life to major depressive disorder. Why so many? Because I live in America now and couldn’t afford therapy co-pays despite having insurance.
Steeped in isolation and mostly housebound I could do little more than exist, with the greatest reluctance.
How to die by my own hand was the one recurring thought taking up all the space in my ailing mind. And then I’d look at my cats and their presence would drag me back into the land of the living. Rescuing them is a commitment I took — and still take — very seriously.
Out of curiosity, I clung to life in the strangest way, hoping I’d eventually find out what was on the other side of depression. Because my life up until then had been full of people, places, and prose, I sensed that what was happening to me was an anomaly.
Eventually I decided it had to be a phase, even if it showed no sign of abating.
Stuck and unable to reach out because illness had done away with my writing voice, I withered, convinced my life was over. After all, I had already lived more than most and could probably go. But when Anthony Bourdain committed suicide and showed me my future, I recoiled and immediately rejected it.
That’s when I kicked hard against rock bottom, shed the shame of illness and hardship, and started releasing the pain I had been hoarding for so long. Out came the things I didn’t trust myself to articulate for five years as I set out to try and remember who I was before illness struck, in print and in public.
Out of the many words that bobbed up to the surface, some doubled up as flares that alerted others to the presence of a fellow human in distress.
A distress so familiar to many we stopped being strangers and soon became kin without second thoughts.
When you remember there are fellow humans behind the screen, the internet becomes a force for the common good.
Through the power of words, pixels and data packets bring us together regardless of geography or time zones. Because we all carry the world in our pockets, we can be present by remote and support one another across the miles.
All it takes is Wi-Fi, an eye on the world clock, and — when applicable — a little flexibility with sleep patterns.
For example, I installed WhatsApp when I went back to the US for six weeks in the spring so I could remain by my stepmom’s side as she underwent further treatment for Stage IV cancer. She was in Paris, I was back in Seattle before returning to Europe for the rest of 2019 but that didn’t stop her from providing sound advice as I sat in the hairdresser’s chair.
“You need to take at least 10 centimeters off,” she insisted. So I told my stylist, he got the ruler out because he only speaks inches, and I ended up with a far better cut than I would have asked for.
And we all had a good laugh on both sides of the Atlantic and now have a fun dinner party story to share.
While nothing can replace a pair of arms holding you tight, compassionate and caring words can hold you together and conjure up human warmth by remote. We can all be intentional and thoughtful, we can all beam some heartfelt courage to those who need it most to let them know they’re not alone.
The moment fellow humans stepped out of the digital shadows and offered me their hand to hold, I started coming back to life in earnest. As long as I had been going it alone, progress had been tentative and slow but the once random strangers of the internet now turned friends — you — gave me wings.
Because we humans are always stronger together.
The willingness to reclaim a life isn’t enough to make it happen, even when you shout it from the rooftops as I did and still do.
Everyone needs help, even the most capable, hardened, and resourceful of people. Reaching out and explicitly asking for it isn’t something everyone is comfortable with; I’m not. But you can at least put yourself out there and hope astute fellow humans will read between the lines.
Once you find the words to corral your reality into text, you’ll realize you’re not as alone as you thought.
When not blinded by individualism, ego, and greed, we humans are compassionate creatures at heart. We abhor pain and seek to alleviate it by any means necessary, whether it is our own or someone else’s. And no matter how helpless you might feel, there’s always something you can do.
When I was at the bottom of the depressive pit without any idea how I’d manage to get back to Europe to lend moral support to my parents, you appeared. You saw me, you heard me, you helped me.
You even love(d) me without asking for anything in return.
After all, what is friendship but the purest form of love?
Even by remote, your presence set a stalled life in motion again, and you continue to inspire me to transcend limitations and difficulties as you share your own narratives.
Every single day, you lend me your eyes so I can see possibilities instead of obstacles, solutions instead of roadblocks. I’m finding my way back into this world thanks to you, plural.
You are a reader, a writer, a fellow human online, a friend, even a muse…
The human collective that is the internet helped me save my own life and continues to transform it, day after day, through interconnectedness and the power of combinatorial creativity.
The internet isn’t some abstract concept; it’s us, together, around the world and across borders.