Last week a good friend called me in tears. “Damian, there is something I need to share with you, but I don’t know how.” I imagined her on the kitchen floor leaning against the fridge, a roll of toilet paper as tissues unraveling beside her, and a jug of pulp-free orange juice by her side. She’s always been an anxious person but never a person who cries openly, so this moment was alarming.
“Take a breath and tell me what’s going on.” I sat on my floor, propped up against the foot of my bed, fan blowing in my face, concern filling my head.
“The doctor said I have clinical depression.” She didn’t need to say anything more. There’s a history of mental illness in her family, leading to drug use and suicide, and she wants to be a wife and mother and die old. We’ve dreamed out loud these things. But what she has witnessed and experienced from her family reveal a possible future for her, and she is unable to erase it from her mind.
My friend is sobbing. I have words I could offer her, but I remember in my own life feeling deep hopelessness, and words do not always comfort. I recognize her crying as relief, a reaction much like a marathon runner reaching the finish line and collapsing because the race is done. She could use someone to hold her but I’m in Chicago, she’s in New York. Distance prevents me from being the fullest friend I want to be. So instead I give the only thing that can be given, an empathetic ear and a familiar voice.
Her diagnosis was a secret she kept hidden. And in trying to keep it, it started to weigh on her, and the pressure became burdensome. Through revealing her secret, my friend divulged her reality to me. In essence, she came out. She was in a place, perhaps small, dark, and suffocating, but is now moving into a space that is unrestricted, hopeful, and free.
I’ve come out in all sorts of ways. A few days ago I expressed to some of my best friends how much I love them, something I did not know how to articulate but profoundly desired to impart. And there have been times I have revealed myself to a world not always ready to greet me. And there are even ways I have yet to come out – feelings I want to convey, desires I want to share, experiences I want to reveal, struggles I want to confess. But I hold them close to my chest not because the world I live in isn’t ready, but because I’m not.
Sometimes secrets are just too heavy, and sometimes they are oppressive. And sometimes coming out can be a challenge, filled with pressure and imprisonment, like the teen who told her school she’s gay and now suffers intense bullying. At other times coming out can be easy, a moment of relief and release, like the businessman who finally said to his boss, “I quit,” and now pursues something he’s always wanted.
Coming out is admitting to the self and then naming for others who we truthfully are. It’s a two step process of claiming our authenticity and reintroducing ourselves to the world. And encouraging us to be brave we must have people cheering us on, supporting us so fully we have no other alternative but to make known our hidden self.
If we so choose, we can endeavor everyday to allow people to encounter a deeper and honest us. We can tuck away truths about ourselves or we can lay bare the whole of who we are: struggling along, always with the help of those who encourage us to breathe deeply and make ourselves known.