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Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

Once upon a time, in a faraway restaurant, I went to dinner with a wealthy friend from treatment. After ordering, she asked me, “Why didn’t you order salmon? That’s your favorite. Did you get a salad because you’re restricting?”

Ah, friends from treatment. Perfect companions for relaxing dinners.

She asked directly, so I responded directly. “I’m not restricting. The salad is $9 and the salmon is $27. So I went with the salad.”

She twitched, ready to wave the waiter back over. “That’s dumb. Get the salmon and I’ll pay for it.”

I stopped her. “I’m good with my order. I wouldn’t enjoy the salmon three times more than the salad.”

It took the air right out of her. Not because she gave up easily. But because “I wouldn’t enjoy it three times more” was so far outside her realm of experience that she needed time to process.

She came from money. She’d never even given it much thought. There’d always been plenty, there’d (presumably) always be plenty. While she had heaps of problems (hello, rehab buddy), money wasn’t one of them.

She didn’t look at menus and think, “Would I enjoy this dish three times more than the cheaper alternative?” She opened a menu, picked what looked best and ordered it.

But we were able to talk about it. Openly and honestly. On the surface, we talked about menus, but really we talked about how we navigated the human experience.

It ended with us both looking perplexed: “You don’t look at prices?” “You do?” Then we laughed.

Why does this matter? Because this is EXACTLY how I want us to be able to talk about mental health.

The same way some of us look at prices on menus and some of us don’t, some of us struggle with our mental health and some of us don’t.

When I ordered a salad, it never crossed my friend’s mind that I was doing it because it was cheaper. Why would it? She doesn’t look at prices.

When I do things for my mental health, it might not cross your mind that I’m doing it because I don’t want to lapse back into depression, addiction, etc. Why would it? You don’t worry about relapsing.

But we can talk about these things. We can ask “What’s this human experience like for you? How do you navigate it?” Then we can look at each other perplexed and laugh. It’s a beautiful thing.