You may not remember this. It was probably an insignificant interaction from your perspective, but I remember it like it was yesterday and I’ll probably never forget it. We no longer work together and because of the horrible place I was falling into, I was never able to properly thank you for what you did that day.
I don’t remember specifically what day, or month for that matter, this happened, I just remember that I was having a bad morning. I don’t remember all the details of what led up to this, but I am sure I cried heavily in the shower while getting ready for work.
As I walked the short distance from my car to our office building, I was dreading going to work. I wanted more than to call in sick and go home and cry. Not for any particular reason. My body just wanted to cry.
It was a bright spring morning, but I didn’t really notice. I didn’t really notice the sunny or gloomy days at all at that point because they all felt the same to me. The Transitions lenses in my glasses had probably turn their darkest shade, so I’m sure you couldn’t see in my eyes that I had been close to tears on my drive to work. I was in the process of calming myself down and trying to turn my mind from the immense sadness in my heart to work stuff, when you came out the back door towards me.
You said, “good morning. How are you?”
You likely meant it to be that quick greeting everyone does when they say hi to a person they know, and I responded in my usual way, “I’m alright, how are you?”
For some reason, you noticed something that no one else has ever, ever noticed. Something that made you respond the way you did, maybe partly in a teasing way at first, but also kind of serious. I will never forget your response.
As we passed each other, you turned around and said, “are you lying to me?”
I stopped dead in my tracks and turned back to face you. I didn’t know what to do. I was caught completely off guard. No one had ever, not in my entire life, ever questioned me on my response to the simple greeting people give everyday without stopping to think about it.
Those few seconds felt like an eternity, but I remembered that we had previously had a few conversations about depression and anxiety, so I knew you understood. Even knowing, in that moment, that I could trust you and talk to you about what was going on, the fact that I was on my way into the office terrified me and I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I knew if I told you the truth, I would begin crying heavily and I felt as though if I allowed that to happen, I would never be able to stop.
So, I simply said, “you probably don’t want to know the answer to that.”
You gave me a look that told me you understood exactly what I was saying, no question about it, and that I wasn’t prepared to talk about it in that moment.
I hid my face beneath my hair for the first half hour or so I was in the office in attempt to conceal, from the rest of the office, the fact that I was trying not to cry. The entire day, I could not stop thinking about our earlier interaction. I wanted to talk to you so badly. I wanted to talk to anyone, but I knew that you would understand and no one else would. I also knew I would cry and I just couldn’t allow myself to do that that day. I felt like I was losing control of my emotions and if I let go even for a second, I would lose every ounce of control I had left.
What you didn’t know on that particular day, and I honestly didn’t even realize myself until several months later, is that I was in the beginning stages of what would turn out to be the worst major depressive episode I have ever experienced.
Several months later, in the summer, you left our company. I don’t think I have ever been so sad to see a coworker leave. Something about having you in the office made me feel safe, and when you left, that safe feeling left with you. That feeling lasted for a couple of weeks. I still find myself wishing you were there to talk to.
The month after you left, the severity of my depression peaked and I came very close to checking myself into the hospital due to the severity of my suicidal ideation. I was able to open up to one of our coworkers which ultimately led reducing my hours and workload so my doctor and I could work on finding the right medication and I could take care of myself. It’s still an ongoing process, but things are starting to get better.
As I begin to feel more like myself again, I am finding that I am thinking about our interaction that sunny morning back in the spring quite often and wishing that I could have said a proper thank you to you for actually caring. Although I know others do care, I have never had anyone outside of my treatment team show me they care about my mental well-being without some sort of prompting. I wish you knew how much I appreciated this small action you took, even though it may not have seemed like much at the time.
Also published on The Mighty, May 8, 2017: To the Co-Worker Who Questioned My Answer to ‘How Are You?’