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What's Left: Lessons on patience, taught by a friend

Throughout my journey with mental health, I've had good friends to lean on.

101321.O.DG.EMMA MCNAMEE
Emma McNamee
We are part of The Trust Project.

I was sick for a few weeks in April, which was a miserable experience for many reasons. I missed phone calls with several friends, but upon hearing that I was sick, I also got a lot of text messages reminding me to take care of myself. My friends and family know rest is not something I excel at. I can only run a temperature for so many days before I start coming down with cabin fever.

I spent a lot of time trading messages with my friend Molly. I lament about being sick; she tells me to take it easy and there is some gentle ribbing about how I went through high school looking like a zombie. This is her way of reminding me to take care of myself, the way she did often when we were teenagers.

I joke about the eternal patience of her and our other friends, the times they spent reminding me to eat when I’d get too focused on some school project; or waking me up when I slept through the bell for class. This is my way of saying, “Thank you, for looking out for me. Thank you for caring for me when I wasn’t always good at doing it myself.”

I know she understands because when she responds, there is no joke. “It was easy to be patient,” her text message reads. “We loved you.”

This is perhaps one of the kindest notions I have found in life. I harbor no gentle ideas about who I was in high school. I was not immune to being 15, or 16, or 17, 18, and I am quite certain I was, at times, unbearable to be around.

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Molly and I have been friends since sophomore Honors English, a class that resulted in some of the greatest creative work of my young life. We were Brutus and Cassius in Julius Ceasar; we were Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. We gave truly memorable performances as multiple characters from Sir Gawain and The Green Night, filmed on a classmate’s phone and edited exclusively on iMovie.

We became friends the same year I was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, which was quickly followed by the diagnosis of a generalized anxiety disorder and insomnia. This is all to say we became, and stayed, friends during a point in my life when even I didn’t want to be around me.

There were plenty of days when the only sleep I got was in the library before school started, or caught between the lunch bell. I could be an irritable and prickly person, an anxious and incredibly stubborn perfectionist. I look back at high school and I think, I was anything but easy.

Years later, though, I am still handed these moments, these reminders that I was — and am — more than the worst of me. It was easy to be patient. We loved you.

Maybe I wasn’t easy, maybe none of us were. We learned to treat each other with kindness anyway, coax or push one another out of bad days, depending on the need. And everyone needs an extra bit of patience, sometimes.

I say all this in the spirit of May being mental health awareness month. I was not the only person in my friend group to struggle with mental health, but I was one of the first to be diagnosed and treated. I leaned on my friends and family a lot in those early years, and I’d like to think that down the line, that’s a favor I’ve been able to return somewhat.

During one of our monthly phone calls, another friend talks about joining a support group, and jokes that it’s partially because of me and my “trickle-down therapy”.

I’ve talked very openly about my mental health struggles over the years, a practice that’s now common not just for me, but for a lot of the people in my life. We’ve all had our hurdles to get over. I wish, a lot of times, it hadn’t been this way, but there are moments where I’m grateful for the understanding, the empathy I’ve gained toward not just the struggles of others, but in my own life.

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It is not an easy thing to be patient with myself, but I am doing it out of love — and that's a skill I thank my friends for.

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Opinion by Emma McNamee
Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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