On Depression and Losing A Dear Friend.

We met through an online site when I was 18.

I couldn’t remember how our conversations started, but after messaging one another back and forth for quite some time, we left the site and started emailing one another more frequently.

He was around my age—at times bold and rebellious, other times mellow and deeply curious about life, and always in love with reptiles the way people are in love with a purring kitten. Our friendship flows through words and thoughts, bursts of emotions and lines of secrets, alphabets, symbols, and pictures—these were the things that form our alternate universe.

We sometimes wondered how amazing it was to keep such a long-lasting friendship with a stranger: with someone who lives in another part of the world, someone we have never even met, someone we have never even had any phone conversations with.

But ours is the kind of friendship that blooms naturally, in a genuinely platonic manner, and lasts for another 16 years after our first online encounter.

***

I don’t check my Facebook messenger unless someone sent me something there, and told me to have a look. Just like a few days ago, when I opened my messenger only to check a message left by a friend. As I hovered around to find it, my eyes caught a message from an unknown contact.

Usually, I would disregard the message without opening it, but that day, somehow, I clicked it.

Hanny, we never met, but I’m T’s Mom. It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of T’s death. He left me a small list of people he cared about and wanted them to know. Again, I’m so sorry.

I needed to read this message over and over again, each time with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew what it meant, but I just couldn’t grasp the cold reality of it. I couldn’t even cry because I couldn’t digest things properly at the time.

***

T left me a message about a week before.
It was one of our casual what’s up message.

In the middle of my workloads and hectic business trips, I decided to save my reply for the next weekend, when I would be more chill and have the time to write longer. This wasn’t something strange in our friendship.

In 16 years, there were times when T would reply to my email two months later, or I would respond to his 2-3 weeks later, and there were also times when we did not write each other for 5-6 months altogether. Nobody would chase anybody for a reply, apart from leaving some lines like hope-all-is-good or happy-birthday or congrats-for-that-thing.

We trust.

We know that no matter how infrequent, we would always get back to one another with longer updates and replies and intense email marathons. It’s like an unwritten rule: we will always get back in touch—no matter how late.

But maybe, this time, I was late.

***

I know that T had been dealing with depression his whole life.

A month into our friendship, he told me about the things he sometimes saw or heard, and when I responded to this story with more questions and curiosity, he said I was probably the only person that didn’t label him crazy.

Probably it was this trajectory that enables us to talk about T’s depression, medication, and his ways to cope up with it openly—along with other things in our lives: like the movies we watch, the song we listen to, our passion, our dreams, our current crush, our heartbreaks.

We didn’t have any agreement on this, but somehow we knew that if he emailed me saying, I-want-to-talk-to-you, this would be his way of reaching out during his lowest days. I would know to respond right away, and we would be emailing each other back and forth until he dropped our email intensity: a sign that he already felt a little bit better.

But what did I know?
The thing is, I know nothing.

We know nothing even about our closest ones.

What if I responded to T’s casual what’s up right away a week ago? Would things change? Would we talk things out? Would he still be alive? Was that even his usual and casual what’s up? Why did I come to that conclusion? What if that was his signal of reaching out, instead of the usual I-want-to-talk-to-you? What if, in reality, there was nothing casual about what’s up, ever?

These were the things that came to mind the first few hours after I heard about T’s death. I spent a few days after receiving the news of his passing by rereading our old email exchange, trying to bring back the feelings and memories of our friendship.

Maybe, I was looking for a clue.

How did I miss this one? How did I miss him? The day when he left me his last message, did he think about leaving? Did he make up his mind already?

***

I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare. | Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story

My partner told me that sometimes he wondered if people choose to leave to ease their pain or to free their closest ones and family members from the pain and trouble they thought they are causing. I sometimes wondered, too. And still, I didn’t know the answer.

However, this is what I know.

I know that T had the dream of coming to Asia and Australia, working with reptile researchers and conservationists. He used to send me pictures of his snakes and the baby alligator he’d been working with at a reptile hospital. He believed that reptiles were kind and gentle, but they were generally misunderstood.

I know that T decided to stay home after his sister moved out from their family house because he didn’t have the heart to leave his mother alone—although staying means putting his dreams on hold. “What if something happened to her and I didn’t know about it until hours or even days later?” he said.

I know that these are two of T’s happiest times: 1) when he worked with reptiles and 2) when he went to Hawaii and got to run through a rainforest barefoot.

***

A few weeks ago, I just wrapped up the writing of a book: a self-healing journal about nursing a heartbreak and dealing with loss. At the time, I didn’t know that I would need this book for myself this soon.

Maybe, subconsciously, I wrote this book for myself, for the memories of T, and for those who have their heart broken by depression every single day, struggling to survive another day.

I see you.
I hear you.

Hanny Kusumawati

—PS 1.
If you feel the need to reach out or share your story about losing someone to depression, feel free to email me with the subject I-want-to-talk-to-you.
—PS 2.
Please learn and educate yourself more about depression here. If your loved ones are dealing with depression, read this to know how to take care of them (and yourself).
—PS 3.
If you are Indonesians dealing with depression and have suicidal thoughts, have someone to talk to by calling the hotline 500–454 or email this address. This hotline is provided by the Mental Health Directory of the Health Ministry.
—PS 4.
If you are in the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

Gunung Payung Beach, Bali: A Quiet Saturday

It was a cloudy Saturday, but the weather forecast seemed promising. So, with our rented motorbikes, we drove down to the beach.

Our destination was a beach close to Nusa Dua. A friend told me it was a considerably quiet beach. We followed our Google Map faithfully–but it led us through a truly challenging off-road path. We didn’t give up, though, and thankfully, the sign to the beach showed up before we changed our mind.

Gunung Payung BeachGunung Payung Beach
The beach has a cave-cliff entrance–resembling the beaches along Uluwatu, and we need to climb down hundreds of stairs to get to the water. Good thing was that we were surrounded by trees along the way, providing us a shelter from the afternoon sun.

Gunung Payung BeachGunung Payung Beach
The beach was quiet, as promised. The water was crystal clear, calm, and perfect for swimming. The sand underneath my feet was so soft and smooth. Vale was happy to find a huge cave for us to put our stuff and take a nap. It was a perfect spot to lie down on your beach towel and read a good book (I am currently reading Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume by Mandy Aftel).

Gunung Payung BeachGunung Payung BeachGunung Payung BeachGunung Payung Beach
I love the fact that I could still find people from the village fishing here, along with visitors (and a dog!) who came for surfing, swimming, or having a picnic.

Gunung Payung BeachGunung Payung BeachGunung Payung BeachGunung Payung BeachGunung Payung Beach
There were only a few stalls selling food and drinks at the parking lot (young coconut, instant noodles) but there were none by the beach. And nobody was trying to sell me anything. After experiencing some crowded beach here in Bali, this lovely litlle beach gave me a room to breathe. To just sit still and stare at the sea water lapping at the sand.

Gunung Payung BeachGunung Payung BeachGunung Payung Beach
Hanny Kusumawati

 

 

PS. Some of the pictures (capturing me by the beach) are courtesy of Daniele Besana.

What to Do When You’re Feeling Distressed: A 3-Step Listing Exercise

Reader’s Email:

I’m far from happy working in a cubicle and I feel strangled. I’m in a limbo. There are things I want to do for the future that will make me happier. I just wish I could find the courage inside of me to get out of this limbo, pursue my passion, and roll the dice.

— A.S.

***

A 3-step listing exercise

There’s an exercise I usually do when I’m rolling in distress, feeling dissatisfied, or struggling with uneasiness.

Here’s the thing: sometimes we don’t really know exactly what caused us this distress, dissatisfaction, or uneasiness. Not knowing, sometimes, lead us to further distress.

Thus, the first step I do at this stage is to list down the probable causes of my distress.

Step 1. Create the HATE list.

When I am in a limbo (to me this means: not really knowing what’s wrong, but at the same time knowing that something is wrong), I take a piece of paper and a pen, then start listing down the things that make me feel unhappy, uncomfortable, or stressed.

Sometimes, this is a short list–and other times, a really long one. I list down everything: things I dislike or even ‘hate’. Things I’ve been worrying about. Things that have been bugging my mind. What stresses me out? What makes me feel dissatisfied and uneasy?

But the idea is not about creating an endless stream-of-consciousness journal.

The idea is simply to create a list:

For instance:

  • I hate being trapped in a 9-to-5 routine.
  • I am worried about my parents’ health.
  • I am angry at myself because I feel unproductive.
  • I hate last-minute cancellations.

Step 2. Translate the HATE list into a LOVE list.


When I feel like I have no more things to say, I stop writing and look at my list. There, I can see all the things I hate, I dislike. Things that stress me out, that makes me feel angry, depleted, or unhappy.

But the truth is this: what we hate actually tells us more about what we love.

If you hate injustice, maybe it means you love fairness. If you hate people who lie, maybe it means you love openness and honesty.

So, when we said we hate 9-to-5 routine, for instance, what is it that we actually love?

Maybe hating 9-to-5 routine means we love spontaneity or adventure. For some people, hating 9-to-5 routine means they wish to have more variety in the work they do. For some, this means they simply need a rest, a holiday, a break, the ability to work from anywhere in the world, or a few days in a week to wake up later than usual. For others, this means they would love to have a job that gives them a sense of purpose, or a new challenge.

>>> Related post: How to Make Decisions, Especially When It’s Difficult

 

Although it might seem that we ‘hate’ the same thing, each one may translate to a different kind of love on the opposite side.

Everyone is different. So, the next step is to turn each sentence in our ‘hate’ list into a ‘love’ list.

For instance:

  • I hate being trapped in 9-to-5 routine >> I love having the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world
  • I am worried about my parents’ health >> I love knowing that my parents are healthy
  • I am angry at myself because I feel unproductive >> I love the feeling when I can finish a personal project
  • I hate last-minute cancellations >> I love having online meetings because any cancellations won’t waste too much of my time

Notice that the ‘love’ list is the way I translated the ‘hate’ list. You might translate the ‘hate’ list into a different kind of ‘love’ list.

Step 3. Turn the LOVE list into a list of SMALLEST ACTION.


All of us can make plans for the future: if I have this, I can be happier. If I am that, I can be better.

Making future plan is good (I love making plans!) but most of the times, we are also making up excuses along the way. I cannot do it right now because of this and that. I need to get this and that first, only then I can follow through with my plan. We all know how it ends: the plan stays being a plan.

Why? Because the action we need to take is too big. Because the action we need to take is too far away from our current situation, condition, and limitation. So, now, looking at my LOVE list, I ask myself: how can I get more of these things I love into my life, no matter how small, with the situation and condition I am in right now?

For instance:

  • I love having the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world. Of course, an ideal action plan could be quitting my job and be a freelancer. But this is big and risky. The smallest action I can do at the moment with my situation and condition would probably >> Work on my passion project for 3 hours this weekend from a place that inspires me. This is something I know I can do, and I can commit to.
  • I love knowing that my parents are healthy >> Cook only vegetable dishes for Dad tomorrow.
  • I love the feeling when I can finish a personal project >> Make a 6-line poem and publish it on Facebook tonight.
  • I love having online meetings because any cancellations won’t waste too much of my time >> Always ask the client to do meeting via Skype or phone call first.

I think you got the idea.

List down the smallest action you can do, immediately. It should be too small to the point that you can’t really make excuses for NOT doing it. If you’re still NOT doing it, make the action even smaller!

How it helps me

In my case, when I started freelancing after leaving my corporate job a few years ago, I was surprised to find myself feeling low and unhappy. It was confusing. Wasn’t this my ideal kind of working condition? To work from anywhere, to work with clients I like, to work on projects I am inspired with? Then, why did I feel distressed?

As I was doing the 3-step exercise, I realized that I was worried because I no longer have a ‘safe’ monthly income. I hated to feel uncertain, unprotected and insecure. I was uneasy with what might happen if I was sick and couldn’t work for a while because I no longer have the health insurance benefit my old company used to provide me with.

I love to feel safe and protected. I love to feel supported. I love to feel at ease.

Some of the smallest actions I chose to do in the following months:

  • Bought the cheapest health insurance I could afford.
  • Say the affirmation “I AM SUPPORTED” 15x before bed tonight.
  • Have no-shopping day once a week so I can save more.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Watch a course on meditation on YouTube,
  • and more small actions follow in the upcoming month.

Buying the cheap health insurance was actually the very first thing I did after making my list. The feeling when I got back home with my insurance policy was amazing. I felt so light and happy as if part of my burden and happiness had been lifted up. Just by doing this simple act, I felt instantly better.

Does this mean I am 100% safe, protected, supported, and at ease?
Of course not.

But that feeling of satisfaction when I knew I have done something (no matter how small) to get closer to the kind of life I want to experience, is enough to drastically reduce my distress, worries, and uneasiness.

I wish you could feel that feeling, too.

Hanny Kusumawati

PS: Feel free to let me know if this exercise works for you, too. You can also email me here if you like to share some of your personal/professional stories 🙂