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So there’s a paradox: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
It’s a question I’ve been pondering since April 18th, 2014. My quest to answer the question started right here on the Internet.
It all started with a “thank you”.
I met my best friend on the Internet. He ‘like’d one of my photos and, seeing as he had a cute picture, I decided to message him a quick ‘thank you’. He responded.
I quickly found out he lived in the furthest city in the world away from my hometown of Adelaide. In a place called “New ‘aaaawk”.
After the first four messages, I selfishly knew if I kept talking to him, he would make me a better person – and not just because of his impeccable spelling and grammar.
He’s quick-witted, intelligent, laid back, and a perfect balance of serious and funny, which matches my disposition perfectly. One second we could be having a deep and meaningful conversation and the next laughing at some silly reference to a TV show.
After two weeks of messaging almost every night, I knew we’d be friends for a long time.
A little over a year later, we met in New Jersey. I extended my trip twice to spend more time with him.
Five years later, I’m in New York on my way to find him.
The State of…
See the thing with living on the opposite sides of the world from your best friend is that it requires a lot of talking, whether it be by voice or type; but we have a slight twist in our wires when it comes to communication. You see, he visits the continent of Depression a lot.
I’m not talking the “drive-through in a day” city of Depression, or even the country of Depression where people can find themselves for a week or more; I’m talking the wide vast continent of Depression where he can find himself lost for months or even longer at a time.
It’s a place where Google Maps won’t reach and cell phone service is limited, and there’s little chance the mailman will visit him there. It’s a place where sometimes I don’t talk to him for months, save for that one time he found himself on a metaphorical cliff and his map said the next step was over the edge.
Despite these lapses in communication, the silence that comes from emails left unopened, still, I think of him every day.
He’s tried explaining the continent of Depression to me (this is my wording for it, he hasn’t named it). It’s a place where he can push the world away and people won’t come to visit – whether it’s for fear of being dragged into the swirling vortex or simply not knowing how to help. It’s a black dog that takes over polluting his thoughts while he lays suffocating under the dog’s immense weight, asking for someone to help him.
It’s a place where a loud convincing voice tells him that those around him don’t understand, will never understand, and questions the point of human interaction at all. It’s a place where he overthinks every message that comes his way until finally he stops talking, believing it’s easier to sever ties than let people in to see him at his most vulnerable.
It’s also a place of fluctuations. Where today can be a good day, a great day even; but tomorrow he will struggle to get out of bed, where his head will swirl when he stands, and when the darker side of his mind takes over and the sunshine and good times of yesterday, of this past week, are forgotten or twisted into something darker.
What happens when an Unstoppable Force meets an Immovable Object?
Depression – and any mental disorder – is not a choice and it can build walls between people who don’t understand it. That wall is not easily traversed because it’s hard for the other side to understand what’s going on and tough love is often doled out. What people don’t realise is that this approach may not work for everyone and for some it can cause them to sink lower, to feel overwhelmed and pressured to get better when they themselves can’t work out what is going on inside them.
Two of my friends have questioned why I continue to seek him out. “You can do better” is the most common phrase I hear; but how can they judge when they have not met this man?
I tried to move on and in the beginning it was easy. The first time he stopped talking I thought that he just didn’t like the way our conversation was going and chose to stop talking. It took four months – yes, he had that much of an impact on me right from the beginning -, but he was eventually nothing but a blip in the back of my mind, springing up only when I heard his name. Then, one day I received a message: ‘Hey, I sent you an email explaining everything. Please read it if/when you get a chance.’
As we Skyped later that evening I did my best to keep a mask of stone on and remain cool and calm, refusing even to turn my webcam on when he asked for our conversation to be face-to-face. Deep within me a little voice sung and hope swelled – my best friend was back! – and all his cards were laid bare on the table. I learned about his struggle and how it impacted him.
Our friendship grew deeper then. Truth became the prerogative, the grounding basis of everything, and we let it rule our words. Words we wrote and spoke regularly and carefully so as not to disrupt the new treatment he was hoping would tame this black dog inside.
Six months later, after another short lapse in conversation, we met in New Jersey.
Seeing him in person and being able to hug him for the first time was like coming home after a long trip. It was confusing how someone foreign could somehow feel familiar, safe, and warm. Any doubts about this man were quickly cast away.
On that trip, we learned. Likes, dislikes, peccadilloes, and quirks. We let unspoken truths sting and our laughs healed. We also ate a lot of burgers; he thinks of himself as something of a cheeseburger aficionado yet he hadn’t broken his Shake Shack virginity and I hadn’t been to his favourite spot: Cubby’s in Newark.
I met his frat brother, his puppy, and even his family. It was the stereotypical big chaotic Jewish family I had seen on TV, but through all the chaos there was so much warmth and love. My last night staying in New Jersey I bawled my eyes out. Tears not just for having to leave this incredible man behind but also his family who I had met just five days earlier but who welcomed me as one of their own.
One of the biggest revelations of that trip was discovering the different ways in which we see the world. He lives in the black and white – the extremes, the hard yeses and noes. I live somewhere in the grey – trying to see every perspective and where my decisions are malleable; where one minute I can be high energy and the next I am snuggled up on the couch simply content in the moment. It makes for an exciting dynamic in our friendship, but more so, it’s a stark difference, and something I need to be somewhat mindful of on his lower energy days, and he is accepting of when I need to let loose.
Because of our differences, we’ve found nicknames that I kind of like: I’m the Unstoppable Force – because of my tenacity, persistence, and frequent travels – and he is the Immovable Object – for his stubbornness, particularly when it comes to how he sees the world.
And yes, that is a line from The Dark Knight, one of his favourite movies.
You don’t let a good thing go
There are only a few times a friend will enter your life that will impact you so profoundly you would do anything you can to keep them in your life. For me, that single like on my photo and my “thank you” was the catalyst to five tumultuous but character-revealing years.
He has protested when I won’t give up messaging him, telling me I deserved better. Even his depression didn’t seem happy with the messages I’d send daily, weekly, whenever I thought of him.
What he doesn’t fully grasp yet is that he is a good thing in my life. Despite the lapses in time, he’s that friend you can not speak to for a year and pick up right where you left off. I don’t want to wait a year, but I would – and have – for my dearest friend.
I’m willing to accept him as who he is, as he has done with me, and I’m comfortable learning about the shadow currently cast over his life.
The fact he is dealing with his mental health means he isn’t weak but in fact incredibly strong. All I can do is offer my love, support, and care, and – should he ever need back up – I’ll be there to draw my own sword and help him in battle on the days he feels unable to wage war alone.
As a ‘fixer’ there are some days when I get frustrated that I can’t cage the black dog for him and help him navigate out of the darkness, even more so when those days of silence turn into weeks and then into months, but there is nothing to fix except my own mindset, and I know that he must be feeling a far worse pain to have found himself lost there again.
When these times happen, I allow myself to feel hurt and angry. I recognise when I feel drained, and I take a step back; and then I do as you would any good friend – I wait, I message, and I hope tomorrow his GPS system will put him on a brighter path.
In spite of the ups-and-downs, he’s taught me a lot about myself. He’s helped inspire me to develop a deeper love and confidence in myself and his championing has made me brave(r), helping me overcome some of my biggest irrational fears.
He’s helped me peel back the layers of the onion within and showed me that I can be 100% authentic me, instead of pandering to what I think the crowds want, and despite his black-and-white disposition he has filled my world with more colour.
He supports me and my hair-brained schemes… and the more serious ones like completing a double Masters degree. Most importantly, he’s taught me the value of patience and persistence, the need for strong roots with family and friends, and the wealth of being healthy.
So here I am, in New Yaaaawk City again listening to his sexy East Coast accent, or as he likes to say “New Jersey with New York influences”, as I type this.
While it was a last-minute, spur of the moment decision that led me to come to NYC (I booked the flight 20-hours before departure!), typically I get a little distracted by the now, preferring to think in weeks, months, years; but right now he can’t.
While I’m daydreaming about where I’ll take him and what we’ll do when he visits me in Melbourne as though it could happen this year, he stays grounded in the now. It’s a place I sometimes glaze over as I look forward, but with his help, I’m beginning to see ‘now’ more clearly: the feeling of his arm draped around me as I tap away on the keys, the fragrance of the shampoo I use still lingering, and the musky smell of his deodorant hanging in the air.
I caught him earlier today thinking of the future – a big deal. He was questioning what classic American staple Melbourne’s food truck scene is missing and talking about coming up to Boston to live when I complete my Master’s program up there hopefully early next year.
I kept my mouth shut in hope of not waking the black dog, but my heart swelled with hope and pride at this Freudian slip. Regardless of what comes, I’m content to be in the moment with him and only look at the week ahead right now.
Tomorrow I’ll be introducing him to a good friend and one night this week I’m sure we’ll be back eating kosher shwarma with the secret sauce that rhymes with samba that only the Jewish customers remember to order. Another evening will be dominated by more American BBQ – a new delight I discovered on this trip – and “good” Mac&Cheese.
On Saturday, we’ll go back to the dive bar in the Village with cheap margaritas and a free comedy show and laugh ourselves silly when that one awkward comedian asks the audience what their favourite food is (I dare you to say “lasagna”!); and it’s guaranteed that I’ll drag him along to somewhere touristy – I want to get him to the top of the Empire State Building because he’s never been, but he wants to take me to his favourite museum, the American Museum of Natural History.
Finally, there’s bound to be one more burger somewhere in the time before I fly home from Newark next Sunday. A date I’ve been pushing further and further and now a 4-day trip has turned into a month-long expedition… I’m just not quite ready to leave today.
It’s hard to have a friend, a person you care about, live so far away from you and struggle to communicate on the bad days, weeks, months; but some things are simply worth travelling for, worth fighting for, worth every second being apart because you know they’ll be that much sweeter when you meet again. Distance means so little when someone means so much.
Dear Immovable Object,
I think you and I are destined to do this forever.
I love you.
From the Unstoppable Force