Embracing the Warrior Within: How Two Friends Faced Depression and Found Their Inner Strength

03/07/2017 02:26 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2017
Danielle and Bridget have been friends for nearly 17 years.
Danielle and Bridget have been friends for nearly 17 years.

Within each of us, there exists a warrior. As we typically live day to day with a limited range of emotions, colors, and textures of life, we don’t always realize that just beneath the monotone and monochrome surfaces of our existence, there lives an inner warrior who is calmly waiting for the day when life becomes too hard for us to bear, and we need her help. It is when things get tough and the water gets hot, that our range of experience expands and our inner warrior appears. This is the story of how two friends came to recognize and appreciate each other’s inner warriors.

Danielle: It was fall of 2000, and I was a wide-eyed freshman at Georgetown University, having moved from small-town Ohio to attend my dream school. In the first few weeks of college, I met Bridget—a fellow dancer also from Ohio, and the sweetest, most inspiring friend I’d made thus far in my short college career. One of the first times we hung out, Bridget told me the incredible story of her family. Her mother had been a nun for fifteen years when she fell in love with a young Marine who had recently been medically discharged after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Bridget’s mother promptly left the convent, married her man, and started a family with him. Not the obvious choice for most nuns, I imagine, but as I would learn, Bridget and her family were anything but ordinary. Despite the challenges that Bridget’s father’s illness brought to both him and his family, Bridget told me that he was a devoted, loving father and husband, and he had become a well-known psychologist traveling the country, bringing awareness to this perplexing condition. Bridget was proud of him and she talked about her childhood—even the hardest parts—only with appreciation and optimism.

Bridget also informed me that she had suffered from depression since her junior high years, and that she had been on medication ever since. I’d had my own share of family difficulties to overcome during my childhood—divorced parents, challenging step families, and dysfunctional family members to name a few—but I could not imagine having to face all that Bridget had experienced in her short eighteen years on earth. My life suddenly seemed like a cake walk compared to my new friend’s. I’d never looked down the barrel of depression—not on a deep, constant level anyway—and I couldn’t even imagine surviving that at such a young age. And then making it into one of the most prestigious universities no less. But here she was, smiling and bubbly and bright—the happiest, most down-to-earth and loving friend I could ever imagine meeting.

After hearing Bridget’s inspiring story, I knew she was going to be one of those friends who can hang when the shit hits the fan. And those friends are hard to come by.

I also recognized in Bridget something that only years later, after both of us had suffered extreme loss—not just once, but many times over—we would come to define as our inner warrior.

I knew I was a resilient and strong eighteen-year-old, but I truly did not believe I had in me what Bridget had. If I had to face the challenges she had already surmounted with such bravery, would I survive? Would I thrive?

Bridget: Fast forward a few years…Danielle and I were visiting Washington, DC after graduation, and we were laughing about how hungry we can get, using the term “hangry” to describe the moodiness that arises if we wait too long to eat. Given our regular “hangriness”, we believed we would have a hard time surviving any kind of severe hardship, like a drought or famine. Thank God there were restaurants and convenience stores on nearly every corner in DC. We laughed because we honestly did not consider ourselves survivors.

A few short weeks later, I was flung into an unexpected personal health crisis—the depression had hit once again, and it was a beast. Unlike the depression of my childhood, this was bipolar depression complete with severe mania and crippling depression. Over the next few months, I found myself fighting for my life and my dignity. Danielle was off studying in Paris, and I had plans and a plane ticket to visit her there...but given my status at the time, Paris wasn’t happening. I just needed to survive the day. And the next day. And the day after that.

It was a harrowing few months, but I made it. With the help of amazing family, friends, and the right medical support, I survived. Turns out I was a survivor, after all. It was around this time that I began to recognize something within me that was breathing for me, fighting for me, and cheering me on in my darkest moments. Something in me that was not letting me drown in this seemingly endless despair. It was this same thing that Danielle had recognized in me years earlier: the inner warrior. I didn’t fully understand my warrior’s depth yet, but I knew she was in there. She had guided me through a time when my entire life seemed to be falling apart and helped me rebuild a life where I could thrive again.

Danielle: Seven years later, Bridget and I were closer than ever when I came face to face with the demon she’d been fighting all along: depression. It came after my divorce, and it was crushing. I thought I could handle the loss—I really did envision myself thriving and loving my new single life, even in the midst of divorce hell—but the reality was that I was grieving so intensely that I could barely function. I resisted medication, insisting that I was strong and resilient, and I wasn’t one to get depressed and stay that way! I would survive this on my own. But after one too many nights spent in a haze of tears and Xanax on the bathroom floor, I admitted that I needed help, and I went on an antidepressant. Just like Bridget had experienced, now I too needed help just to survive the day. What a terrifying place to be.

I then understood on an even deeper level what my dear friend Bridget had been facing all these years. I didn’t know if I would survive it and go on to thrive the way she had, though. Bridget had been through another extremely rough bout of bipolar depression about two years before my divorce, but now she was happily married to an amazing man and heading off to get her PhD at Yale University. Bridget’s life stood as an example that despite going through tough times, things can get better. But I doubted. Would I ever find love again? As an author, would I ever write another book? Was I doomed to feel like absolute hell forever?

Bridget: It’s been three and a half years since Danielle’s divorce, and she did survive. She has written more books. She has found love again. And she is still smiling. Smiling because she knows that when loss hits—and it will hit again, for both of us—that she possesses an inner warrior who will not die.

What is the rallying call for the inner warrior? Loss. Loss of love. Loss of health. Loss of work. Loss of identity. Loss in all its forms creates crises and calls the inner warrior to step forward and reclaim what has been lost or rebuild life anew. We don’t know how strong we actually are until we face ourselves in the mirror in those harrowing moments of rock bottom, and say with conviction, “You can do this. I can do this.”

Danielle & Bridget: Each and every one of us has this bad-ass warrior inside of us who will absolutely fight for us, even when it feels as if we’ve lost everything. Even when it feels as if every last layer of protection we’ve worked so hard to build has been stripped away, sometimes violently, and occasionally even by our own hands. It is in this vulnerability that we come to know the depths of our truest selves. It is in this vulnerability that we meet her—our warrior.

As close friends for so many years now, we have been blessed enough to recognize this warrior in each other, and we don’t hesitate to remind one another, when times of crisis hit:

“You can do this. You have before, and you will again. You always survive. You always thrive. You will be okay. And in the meantime and forever after, I’m here for you and I love you.”

Luckily, on most days, things are not in crisis, and we do not need to rely on our inner warriors. When things have been going well for a while, it can be easy to forget the depth of our strength. Regardless of our awareness (or lack thereof), the inner warrior remains within, ready to come forward when needed. So as traumatic as illnesses, loss, and heartbreak can be, there is comfort to be found in the mess—friends will rally and lift you up, and your inner warrior will not forsake you. She has been there all along, and lucky for all of us, she cannot and will not be destroyed.

Bridget and Danielle celebrating Cinco de Mayo in San Diego.
Bridget and Danielle celebrating Cinco de Mayo in San Diego.
CONVERSATIONS