I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression back in 2007. We had moved to the Middle East about four months prior, and needless to say, I wasn’t doing well. I got pregnant about two months after our arrival, had a two-year-old to care for in a land where I couldn’t speak like one, and doing the most basic of tasks was a major feat.
My instinctive reaction was to retreat into our fifth-floor high-rise apartment and never submerge myself in the culture. As someone who needs daily sunshine and exercise to feel well, I’d hole up for days at a time so that I didn’t need to face the reality of life as a foreigner.
I barely knew anybody there except my husband and toddler, and eventually, it was all I could do to get out of bed and brush my teeth. I knew something was wrong when I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t want to be there—this goal of living abroad and working for a nonprofit, this objective we crafted our previous stateside life around—was a dead thing to me. It meant nothing.
We invited Kyle’s bosses over to dinner, and told them our suspicion of depression. Lovely, wise souls that they are, they immediately encouraged us to find help and an official diagnosis, and to do everything we needed to be well. They released us with blessing, and I’m so glad they did.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but a few weeks later in central Asia I was diagnosed with “severe” depression (I had eight of all eight possible symptoms), and we were sent to southeast Asia to find help. (There’s a clinic there for nonprofit workers who live abroad.)
I found medication that helped and we talked with a therapist for EIGHT solid weeks, and throughout all those hours on the couch that summer in tropical Asia, one word of wisdom resonates in my mind five years later more than any other:
It’s worth it to meet a girlfriend over coffee, even if it’s hard. And it’s worth it to have people over for dinner, even if I don’t feel like it.
Our therapist—let’s call him “Roger,” shall we, because that was his name—called all this a “partial solution.” See, he listened to me bemoan how hard life was in the Middle East, and that I didn’t really have any friends because in a city of four million people and no car, it took too long to get out of the house just to meet a girlfriend for two hours.
He countered with this: yes, life is hard. Yes, we’ve signed up for a strange lifestyle where we’ve said no to most of our creature comforts. But to say “no” because things aren’t exactly how I want them is prideful and unrealistic, and that writing off almost-not-quite was to wave the white flag instead of embracing God’s gifts as surprising.
So he asked me to look at my lifestyle as full of partial solutions. Yes, it would take two hours one-way to go meet a friend for coffee, then two hours back. For a total of at least six hours, just to have coffee. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a partial solution—taking all afternoon to make a friend was better than making no friends at all.
And yes, having people over for dinner might mean making some cultural faux pas, or nothing turning out right because I’d have to substitute half the ingredients for my American recipes. But it’s worth vulnerably putting myself out there, because the trade-off is community and friendships for the whole family. A partial solution might lead to community.
Roger’s wise words still rattle around in my head all the time, as we’ve since moved twice more and become the new people again and again. It’s scary to make that phone call and ask a new friend for coffee, and it’s uncomfortable to have a new family over for dinner when your house isn’t just how you want it.
But it’s worth it. It might not be your best friend from college, so yes, it’s a partial solution—but it’s better than the alternative. It, too, is a partial solution when you go ahead and invite potential friends for dinner, even if your armchair doesn’t match your couch—if you wait for perfection, you’ll never jump into community.
Life is full of non-stop partial solutions. It feels good and freeing to label a situation as such, because you’re admitting that it’s not quite how you’d have it if you were God, but that it’s okay, because you’re not Him.
Don’t wait for perfection. If you do, you’ll never take a chance on community.
Back in the Middle East, I started meeting women friends for coffee every other week, and we’d have friends over for dinner weekly. A simple coffee date took an entire afternoon, and preparing for company filled an entire day. Partial solutions. But it was a game-changer, because we met some of our favorite people to this day, and I haven’t been on depression medication for more than two years.
Vitamin D, exercise, and…. making friends with imperfect people. They’ll cure almost anything.
What are your partial solutions in life right now? How are you embracing them so that you’re thanking God for His unexpected blessings instead of wishing they were different?
How are you coming out of hiding and connecting with community?
(in)RL GIVEAWAY: Won’t you share in the comments or link up your stories below? We’d love to hear your heart as we all “check-in” on how we’re doing with this whole bravely connecting with community thing.
And we’d love to give one of you who shares our beautiful (in)RL T Shirt a reminder to wear community on our sleeves.
By Tsh, Simple Mom