I have a tattoo of a semicolon on my right wrist.
I’ve always been a bit in love with the semicolon. Although certain authors would disagree (Vonnegut, for example, hated the semi), I think it’s a splendid little piece of punctuation.
Being a word nerd and grammar geek, I had this inked on my wrist in February of 2010, immediately subsequent to and in celebration of the release of my first commercially successful piece of writing. This was my way of commemorating an important personal achievement–a permanent pat on the back for having done a good job with both the content and the writing.
It was also a nod to my general prolixity: to me, the semicolon implies, “there’s always more to say.”
Again, this was in 2010. At that time, I was, so far as I know, one of a scant handful of grammar nerds walking around with that kind of ink. That was not to last.
Today, a great many more people have been getting semicolon tattoos.
We haven’t seen an uptick in the number of individuals so passionate about punctuation they’ve decided to mark themselves for life. No. These tattoos are symbolic not of a love of grammar, but as a demonstration of support for and belonging to #projectsemicolon.
As there’ve been a number of articles about it, I won’t rehash overmuch. In brief: Project Semicolon began as a movement dedicated to raising awareness, community, and support for and around those suffering from depression; in particular, those who have come close to or seriously contemplated suicide. What began as a loose social media campaign is a now a well-developed mental health nonprofit organization committed to suicide prevention.
Symbolically, the meaning is this:
“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
While my tattoo had taken up wrist residence years before long before the inception of Project Semicolon, it’s a movement with which I’ve become associated.
The struggle with mental health, in all the associated forms, is a cause for which I am proud to stand. It is also one with which I have a deep level of intimate knowledge and experience.
What follows below is an account of my own personal battle.
I have struggled with depression for my adult entire life; intense, debilitating, sometimes life-threatening depression.
Now, this doesn’t mean I have been depressed for my entire life; that isn’t how it works, at least not for me.
Rather, my depression is cyclical. I’m not always depressed–but for long as I’ve been able to put a name to any of my own feelings, I’ve experienced periods of depression of varying lengths.
And for as long as I can remember, I’ve lived in fear of those times.
Such depressive periods are no less terrifying for being temporary, and—like bouts of any disease—when they strike create overwhelming hardship in every area of life.
And yet was something I kept secret for at least half of my lifetime.
Prior to the original publication of this piece, my depression (and the depths to which it has driven me) is something about which only a select few people had been aware.
Chief among my aims in writing this piece was to give voice to others who suffer and perhaps help a few realize they need not suffer alone. Less intentional was to grant insight about the struggle to those the outside.
To whatever degree this has been successful, I am thankful for the opportunity, and continue to learn and refine.
All conversations of substance must, if they are to be productive, begin with a baseline understanding of the topic. If we’re to discuss any concept in earnest, we’ve got to be on the same page as to what it means.
Depression is a word that gets used (and misused) a lot, often with a nonchalance that borders on negligence.
When we casualize the use of a word, we begin to manipulate the concept itself, attaching low-level connotative association; in doing so, we begin to erode the very real impact of its denotative definition.
There is real danger there.
With depression, this is especially important, as there’s a clinical diagnosis attached. And yet we throw it around liberally, using it to describe the weeks of sadness following a breakup, the shock and melancholy consequent of losing a job, or even a few days of feeling bad when things aren’t going our way.
And those things are not, by any stretch, clinical depression.
This is not to trivialize those experiences, for they certainly bring their own set of emotional hardships. Further, any of those can (somewhat confoundingly) lead to depression. But they are not the thing itself.
Being sad is not the same as being depressed. We ignore that at great peril. Conflating the two contributes, at least in part, to the misunderstanding of mental illness.
Mark Twain said,
“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
We are herein concerned only with the lightning. So let us establish the difference that we may dispense with the lightning bug.
It is best not to think about depression in terms of being “unhappy.”
To understand depression, look at a few of the words surrounding it: despair, despondency, hopelessness, dejection, and misery.
Depression isn’t just about feeling sad; that is only the barest part of it. The larger piece is about feeling trapped by overwhelming unhappiness, shrouded in an impenetrable fog of misery, and the hopelessness stemming from the utter certainty that it will never go away.
Those of us who suffer from depression know this to be the case. For some people, the black dog is omnipresent–they’re aware of it at all times, always harrowed by it. For them, depression is an experience of constancy.
For others, like myself, depression comes and goes—but even when you’re not suffering in the immediacy, you’re always aware of the black dog off in the distance, waiting to close in. This is an uncomfortable thought to which one must adapt: even when you’re not depressed, you’re afraid of depression.
Feeling sad that is only the barest part of depression. The larger piece is feeling shrouded in an impenetrable fog of misery and the hopelessness stemming from the utter certainty that it will never go away.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Had I the wit or the will, nevermind the skill, I would perhaps fall victim to my desire to give you a clear picture of what depression is like in the general sense. While I count pride among my many faults, even at my worst I stop just short of hubris, aware enough of my limitations to know I can share only my own experience.
That will have to do.
MY STRUGGLE WITH DEPRESSION
When I wrote I’ve suffered from “debilitating” depression, I meant exactly that: there have been stretches of three months or more during which getting out of bed was the only thing I could accomplish for the day. And sometimes that was a stretch.
There have been times when I would break down and cry for seemingly no reason, or randomly snap and put my fist through a window before I could rein my temper in.
There were months during which I hid from friends and family, pretending everything was fine and that I was too “busy” to see them while sitting alone in the dark.
More times than I care to admit, despite needing to be working an important (and usually time-sensitive) project, I’d find myself spending a weekend watching an entire season of some TV show I’d already seen.
If you’ve ever worked with me in any capacity—whether as a partner, or client, or editor—and not heard from me for a few weeks, it’s likely the case I was fighting off depression.
That’s what depression is like for me: a general inability to perform. And with it, shame and guilt for not being able to do so, compounded with the ever-growing anxiety of deadlines.
At least a dozen times in my life, it’s gotten so bad it seemed the only way to end it was to end it.
For clarity: this means there have been roughly twelve periods over the past two decades during which I’ve crossed over from suicidal ideation or fantasy and spent time in the more dangerous realm of suicidal planning.
Four of those have resulted in attempts on my own life.
While somewhat less dangerous, there have been innumerable serious considerations that didn’t quite cross over to the planning stage. But more on that later.
Being depressed is akin to being immunocompromised: it makes you susceptible to everything else. Depression weakens you mentally and emotionally, wears you down to your bones. You find yourself feeling stretched, wound tightly, living at the breaking point. Things that would not usually affect you, things you could normally fight off with ease overwhelm you and take deep root.
When I’m depressed, I’m infinitely more susceptible to things like guilt, fear, shame, and regret. I’ll dwell on mistakes I made years ago, and think about all of the ways I could have done things differently. I’ll feel ashamed of myself and my actions or inaction — and actively fantasize about the ways the lives of everyone around me would be better if I was simply not there.
Small setbacks seem like incomprehensible obstacles. Tiny transgressions seem like reasons for justifiable homicide. Ancient scars open anew and spew heartsblood all over the freshly pressed linens.
Mustering the energy to shower sometimes takes days. Trying to find the motivation to masturbate is an exercise in absurdity. Sleep comes unbidden or not at all. Training is half-hearted at best. Food turns to ash, and everything not made of chocolate seems to be made of cardboard.
Life is pretty shitty. So you try to fix it, and that begins by asking why.
RATIONALIZATION & GUILT
Depression isn’t logical. It’s not something you can reason your way out of. If you value reason and typically employ logic to solve problems, this can lure you into the trap of the circular WHY?
My first impulse is to analyze and deduce. Whenever I’ve noticed the symptoms start up, anytime I’ve felt the black dog closing in, my reaction has always been to face it head on, the steely gaze of my logical mind dug in and ready to challenge it directly.
I cannot begin to tell you the futility of the practice. Even when it “works,” it’s pointless, because it doesn’t help.
Sometimes depression makes sense: sometimes you’re going through a really hard time. Maybe you’re having problems with money, or your relationship. Maybe someone in your life is sick. Maybe you’re feeling lost after college or something’s happening in your career creating uncertainty. Those things can lead to depression—and that makes sense.
When I was 23 and went through a bout of depression, it made sense: I’d gone through my first truly serious breakup; broken ties with two of my best friends; couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life; and was being labeled a total disappointment to my family. Depression made sense.
Understanding it “made sense” to be depressed did not, in fact, lessen my depression. It didn’t help me get out of bed. Understanding it didn’t help me overcome the feelings of resignation and pain.
Getting to a place of understanding only served to confirm my suspicion that feeling shitty was the logical reaction to my seemingly shitty life.
So, yes: sometimes depression makes sense. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t.
In late 2013, I went through the longest and most terrifying period of depression of my life–and no matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t figure out why.
There was nothing wrong. By any definition, my life was fucking awesome. I didn’t just have everything I could want—I had everything I’d ever wanted. And all I could think about was killing myself.
Life was going pretty damn well: I’d just gotten married to an amazing woman; I’d just become the stepfather to an incredible 7-year-old boy who I loved; and I’d just fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams and published a book that became a New York Times bestseller.
Add to the list of blessings: a stable and profitable business; some of the best friends in the world; settling a new life in California; being courted by a number of talent agencies and production companies for various exciting creative projects.
If ever there were a moment to step back and think, “man, I am straight up crushing life right now,” that was it.
And all I wanted to do was crawl under a rock and die.
There was nothing wrong with my life. By any definition, my life was fucking awesome. I didn’t just have everything I could want—I had everything I’d ever wanted.
As I was constantly reminded (by myself and others) I should have been happier than I’d ever been.
Instead, I spent four months in the bottomless pit of a depression so dark I was convinced I’d never see my way out of it.
Every morning, I’d get up at 7:30, get my son off to school, then come home and collapse on the couch for three hours. It was all I could do.
I simply could not marshal the wherewithal to maintain consciousness for more than a few hours.
Naturally, my work came to a crashing halt: I couldn’t write, I couldn’t film content, I couldn’t create. I could barely leave the house.
Rather than seeking treatment, I sought to foster productivity with a steady diet of Adderall and bourbon. It was moderately effective, at least in that it led to a few interesting pieces of writing.
Most of the time, I would sit and wallow in guilt–severe, paralyzing, guilt that drove me deeper into depression and added a hefty dollop of self-loathing to the mix.
The guilt came from two places. Firstly, trying (and failing) to reason my way out the depression: sitting there and saying, “nothing is wrong. Your life is perfect. Look at all the awesome shit you have going on. Being depressed is wrong. Just stop.”
“Just stop,” I told myself. I hope you, at least, see how ridiculous that is, even if I couldn’t at the time. And that inability tends to make things worse.
Again: you can’t out-think depression. And you most certainly cannot will it away.
Trying to do so made me aware I didn’t have a “valid reason” to be depressed, starkly illustrating to me that my inability to get my emotional state under control made me an abject failure as a human being. This was a one-two punch of superficial guilt and inadequacy.
Secondly, and most importantly, the guilt was a result of feeling like I was failing the people around me.
In a cruel twist, fate has blessed me twice over, granting me hero complex to go along with my depression. This fun and exciting wrinkle in my psyche manifests in the insidious form of dedication to service. I derive value and self-worth is by serving, helping, and saving other people.
Drawing value and fulfillment from helping others is not, in and of itself, “bad.” But the opposite side of that coin is the way that not being able to help others—or, in this case, hurting others merely by existing—makes me feel.
There’s no way around the fact that experiencing depression affects everyone around you; simply said, it makes life harder for the people you love. They worry about you, they have to adjust their behavior to avoid upsetting you, and they have to pick up the slack resulting from your inability to perform.
For most people, that feels shitty. For a person like me, it’s dangerous in ways I cannot fully describe.
This, I think, is the worst part of depression. The condition itself is awful—the despondency, the feeling of resignation that it may never end, the overwhelming helplessness. Those are terrible.
But the horror of those pales in comparison to guilt blooming from my acute awareness of my condition making life harder for people I loved. People I cared about. People who depended on me.
I was the patriarch of a new family, and I spent night after terrifying night feeling like I was failing them at every turn.
The Depression Feedback Loop:
Denial, Shame, & Vulnerability
If the first impulse is to face-down depression with logic, the second is undoubtedly to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Some of us do this even to ourselves and weave symphonies of self-denial and emotional repression so magnificent it’s a wonder we can ever see our way through.
Many years ago, this was my go-to strategy. I couldn’t bear the thought of being depressed, so I masked it with other things: rage, lust, distraction.
As I grew in terms of my emotional maturity and was able to meet depression on my own terms internally, one thing did not change: I refused to let anyone see it. I refused to be vulnerable.
This is one of the things I struggle with to this day. Contrary to what this article may seem to imply, nothing comes quite so naturally to me as hiding my emotions. Whenever I was in the throes of depression, I would simply hide it from friends and family.
This was the crux of it all: the grand masquerade. Pretending things were fine. Pretending to be fine. More than fine. Happy. Beyond happy.
And holy fuck was this exhausting.
Perhaps the only thing more emotionally draining than being depressed is pretending not to be.
Fooling people who know you better than anyone is no small feat, especially when it comes to your emotional state. But I did it. Did it well.
During these times, my entire life became a series of acts and lies.
Months and months of dumb show and mimicry, a sickening simulacrum of normalcy. I’d post social media updates portraying my life as awesome beyond all mortal ken—while researching ways to kill myself. I’d take people out to dinner, or bars, or clubs and put on the happiest performance you’ve ever seen, only to go home and cry until I would pass out.
Hiding, hiding. Always hiding. Hiding and wallowing in deep shame, shame that demanded I hide.
Shame about being weak, shame about being in pain, shame about being anything other than perfect.
Burdened with the yoke of expectation, I simply could not bring myself to let anyone down.
And I knew I would.
To this day, it’s hard for me to let people in; to allow them to see me as anything less than perfect. It’s nearly impossible to experience vulnerability without attaching shame.
Forgive whatever inherent egotism you perceive under the surface of this statement, but my experience of life has been one of expectation. The people around me expect (and to some extent demand) I be super-human.
I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t their fault. I’ve portrayed myself this way for them, set the precedent that no matter what happens, I’m the guy they can call to fix things. They came to rely on me because I let them. I encouraged them.
They, in turn, unwittingly encourage me to continue the act. There were a few occasions, very few, when in a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability, I would reveal my depression to someone in my life, hoping for…something. If not understanding, then at least a small reprieve; a chance to shed the mask for a moment and just be.
That hope was rewarded with many things, but never what I sought. In a moment of openness, revealing my broken self to my closest friends, I watched them react with either suspicion or incredulity. They couldn’t fathom that I’d be depressed, that I was capable of being depressed.
I cannot truly blame them, of course. I’d spent so much of my life suffering from feelings of not being accepted I cultivated an evidently impenetrable defense; an attractive carapace of muscle and charisma so convincing it telegraphed something I have never felt: wholeness. My armor told everyone, I have it all together. Except I didn’t. I don’t.
Seeing people recoil with obvious disgust at the idea I was simply not okay rocked me to my core. So I learned to hide it: to wrap myself more deeply in my cloak of misdirection; to pretend I was fine; to be fine for everyone else.
I learned to put myself last. Always and only.
Lest I give the impression of martyring myself, I will say here I take all responsibility for the situation.
When I tell you I learned to be ashamed of my depression–and learned to be even more ashamed of the idea of being vulnerable–I don’t mean to imply anyone did it to me. Very clearly, it was something I did myself.
There are many, many steps to my particular dance with depression, and this is one during which I always stumble. To this day, it’s hard for me to let people in; to allow them to see me as anything less than perfect. It’s nearly impossible to experience vulnerability without attaching shame.
I’m working on it, but it’s difficult.
There are people in my life–good friends, people I truly love—who until the original publication of this essay did not know most of what I’ve herein revealed.
For some of them, this piece was the first they learned of it. For a few, it was a shock to learn about how bad it can be.
This is less the case now, I think, as I have tried very hard to be open about this with the people in my life.
Back in 2013, it was not so.
My depression was bad. Truly bad. And I did my best to hide it from the world, including those closest to me.
The shame of it, of the weakness of feeling depressed, coupled with my refusal to be vulnerable and ask for help, added to the guilt of how my depression was making their lives difficult was simply too much.
Within three months, the guilt had pushed me past my breaking point. My thoughts turned to suicide and stayed there for longer than I’d like to admit. Ending my life, I reasoned, was not only the solution to my pain but also the most logical way to make life better for my family and friends.
More than once, I found myself locked in my office with a belt around my neck, trying to decide if my death and all of its practical aftermath would be worse for my family than the continued nuisance of having to deal with me.
In his definitive work, Suicide, French sociologist Émile Durkheim discusses four subtypes of suicide. Among these is altruistic suicide, best understood as the taking of one’s own life for the benefit of others.
When you contemplate suicide as a way of “saving” the people you love from having to deal your wretched existence, this describes you.
It certainly described me.
For weeks, I thought about little else but ending my own life.
On more than a few occasions, I found myself locked in my office with a belt around my neck, trying to decide if the inconvenience of having to deal with my death and all of its practical aftermath would be worse for my family than the continued nuisance of dealing with me.
Looking back, the truly frightening thing about this is the emotionlessness with which I deliberated the undertaking. At no point during my weeks-long period of consideration of the pros and cons of my death was I in an activated state. Rather, I experienced life numbly, floating in a sea of dispassionate calm, dropping weight after weight on a set of mental scales to tip them this way or that and determine my fate.
Three weeks in, I concluded the financial hardship my death would place upon my family was unfair. Whether the decision was influenced more by cowardice, courage, or ineptitude remains a mystery to me.
Admittedly, I’m one of those darkly twisted artist types with a somewhat romanticized view of suicide. Not to say I really view it as a solution, but I obviously understand the drive.
There’s more to this than my Hemingway fetish and my desperate desire to view myself as a tortured genius. Monstrous though it sounds, I think there’s something to be said for taking control in the most extreme way possible.
In an interview with Larry King, former Smiths frontman and avatar of the melancholic, Morrissey, said he considers suicide to be in some way admirable. The key thing he says, the thing I think is worth exploring, is, “just taking control and saying, ‘no more.’”
Control. Suicide comes down to control. You have the option to control this massive event, the largest thing that will ever happen, this inevitable thing looming on the horizon for everyone.
Death comes for each of us. That part is true for us all. On some conceptual level, we get it. And we try to be okay with it.
To the greatest extent we can, we face with equanimity that all of us are on borrowed time. The thing is, most of us don’t know how much time.
And the uncertainty of when is far more terrifying than anything else.
We have no idea how or when we’re going to pass from this world. We walk around in absolute ignorance regarding the only truly certain thing we will ever face.
It could be years from now, or it could be next Tuesday in some random accident. You have no fucking control over any of it.
Unless you decide to take control and end it yourself. Unless you decide to check out and say fuck the Fates and Furies and just wrest control from the universe.
This doesn’t mean suicide is a good idea. It doesn’t mean it’s “admirable” or brave. It could be both or neither. It could be cowardly or insane. I’m not here to argue or make a value judgment, only to tell you about my own experiences, and the occasional insight gleaned through examination of those experiences.
And in examining why, I realize much of my consideration is the appeal of taking control of something that controls us all: life and death.
Such examination led me to question something about my own depression: if suicide seems appealing because it offers control, then is my depression the result of feeling out of control?
Partially, yes. I can’t gainsay feeling out of control is going to lead to depression, but I can admit nearly every time I’ve struggled with depression, there have been things in my life that felt like they were beyond my control.
ON DEPRESSION & CONTROL
Closer examination of my behaviors during my recent depressive episodes quite clearly illustrates my need to gain and exercise control. Usually, it’s been over small things, as I’ve felt unequal to addressing anything large.
This was very much the case during my depressive crisis in 2013. When I was able to do anything at all, I focused me energy on controlling and altering my environment to an obsessive degree.
I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy decorating the new house in California. I hung light fixtures. I installed new outlets. I painstakingly designed furniture and sent the specs off to manufacturers to have things custom made.
Strange as it may seem, I couldn’t motivate myself to create anything for work, but I spent weeks working on the gallery wall in my office: I picked out the exact right pictures and frames, meticulously focused on placement, and did nothing short of making that project my life for a month.
At the time, this behavior–like nearly everything else–filled me with guilt and shame. I chastised myself for spending time on such trivia bullshit when I should have been working.
Only in retrospect can I recognize the role my gallery wall played in saving my life: being able to exercise absolute control over something low stakes was essential, something to create order amid the chaos, helping me reorganize the pieces of my shattered psyche and slowly pull myself together.
Understanding this is vital, as it informs a logical progression we can not ignore. If we define control as the ability to exert your will on the world and accept that a part of depression is feeling unable to do so, we’re led to conclude an effective strategy for managing and surviving depression is by to seize and exercise control when and where you can.
Something worth noting: ending my life would have given me control—but so did choosing not to end it. And looking at things from that perspective certainly helped.
THE OTHER SIDE of DEPRESSION
There are so many different ways to experience depression, and I only know my own. I have no idea what it’s like for anyone else. I’m not even sure I’ve done a good job explaining what it’s like for me.
In fact, I don’t know much. Not for certain, at least. And the things I do know for certain aren’t particularly comforting.
I know clinically, I am depressed; I’m not bi-polar, so I don’t have cycles of depression alternated with extreme mania. I have periods of being depressed, and periods of being a relatively normal human being.
I know most of the time, I’m okay. Most of the time I’m not depressed. Most of the time I’m fine, and happy, and productive. Most of the time.
And I truly mean most of the time; on the timeline of my life, the total number of days or weeks or months I’ve spent depressed probably qualifies as mathematically inconsequential. I’m typically brash, boisterous, happy-go-lucky. I’m friendly and goofy and annoyingly passionate about love and life and sex and food and literature and music.
Most of the time, I’m not just okay—I’m great. I’m not manic, I’m fucking fantastic.
Which makes my periods of depression all the more infuriating and debilitating, because they’re a radical shift from my baseline. It’s a hard thing to go from seeing possibility everywhere to being unable to find a reason to get out of bed.
Still. I know that I’m okay. Most of the time.
But I also know I’ll deal with this for my entire life. I know I’m always aware of the black dog off in the distance. I know he’ll visit again.
I don’t know when that’ll be. Or in what form.
Again, I can speak only for myself, but things don’t really follow any schedule or come at predictable intervals. Things just start feeling awful. Then they feel worse. And then you sort of get used to feeling awful.
Then things change a bit. Just a little. Incrementally. By degrees.
In like a lion, out like a lamb, as the adage goes. When depression fades, it’s gradual. There is no overt shift, no celebratory event, no clear signal the storm has passed. Things just slowly get better. Day by day you’re able to function a little bit more. And then one day, you look up to realize you’re doing pretty well and things seem less grey, and the world seems to offer up reasons to keep living.
And there are reasons: thousands upon thousands of reasons. And they’re all around you. You need only wait things out long enough for the veil to lift so you can see them.
Now, let’s talk about how to do that.
TREATMENT, RESOURCES, &
ADDITIONAL READING on DEPRESSION
The goal of this piece was never to create give you a how-to guide for either managing depression or avoiding suicide. In the first place, speaking purely in professional (but also personal) terms, I’m not qualified to do either.
On a more purely personal note, I spend so much time trying to figure this shit out in my own life doing so would feel wildly dishonest, especially with regard to suicide.
My hypocrisy, after all, goes only so far.
The intent here has been to share my experience with you, maybe create a bit of awareness, and—hopefully—allow you to glean something from it.
Having said all of that, since the original publication of this article I’ve been made aware of how much something like this piece can help, and that is not something I take lightly.
To that: therapy and medication are viable options for treatment, as are other less clinical approaches: meditation, exercise, certain dietary changes. All of them work, in their own way.
While I dislike medication, I will admit anti-depressants, taken in moderate doses for short periods of time (8-12 weeks) have seemed to work for getting me through the hardest times. Out of interest, it may be worth noting I have had far more success with NDRI drugs than those classified as SSRI.
Therapy is something from which everyone can benefit, so I feel strongly I can recommend it safely.
Beyond that: sure. Eat right. Exercise. Do that stuff. But if you need more serious help, get it.
Whether you are yourself besieged with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, or you know someone you suspect may be in distress, the following are important and helpful.
First and foremost: If you’re actually considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Secondly, if you’re exploring depression from an academic perspective and trying to figure out how the pieces of all of this fit together in your particular emotional landscape, I encourage you to spend some time reading the following articles:
- Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide, by Tim Ferris
- This amazing series on The Art of Manliness, collectively titled “Leashing the Black Dog”
Thirdly: do nothing; be silent; be still. Breathe. Take a moment and try to take the long view.
I’ve not always been able to do this. But I believe it is necessary. The long view is important. Perspective is important. Because chances are, whatever fresh hell you’re experiencing is a temporary thing. And that’s a straight up fact. Whatever it is, eventually you’re going to feel better; or, at least, less awful.
Pain is temporary. Your experience of depression, however powerful, is an exercise in exposure to the impermanence of humanity—and there is simply no real upside to facilitating death with suicide. Because once you’re dead, that’s it. Game over.
We have no way of knowing if those who have successfully ended their lives are satisfied with their decision to do so; what we do know, however, is that 99% of individuals who attempt to commit suicide and fail report feeling relieved to have failed.
Again: Nearly all those who’ve failed in the attempt to take their lives are happy they’re still alive. Realistically, life probably isn’t much different for them, but they have some new perspective.
While I admit the idea of committing suicide might occasionally appeal to the tortured artist in me, the pragmatic side of my personality rails against the thought from the outside. Because suicide is permanent—and, ultimately robs the world of whatever contributions you may make in the future.
What if Hemingway killed himself before The Sun Also Rises? Or The Old Man and the Sea? What if Robin Williams had killed himself before Good Will Hunting?
We’ll never know what gifts these giants might have given us had they made a different choice, but we do know the ways in which the world would have been deprived had they taken their lives earlier.
Personally, I take this to heart. While I cannot claim any Pulitzer Prize-winning manuscripts or Oscar-worthy performances, in my own small way I change lives. I have a file on my computer of emails filled with several hundred notes from people whose lives my work has changed; those are lives I would not have had the chance to touch had I checked out years ago.
And that, to me, is a reason to keep living.
Fourthly, take control. As I mentioned above, I’ve come to believe suicide is an attempt to feel in control, and both depression and anxiety result (in part) from feeling out of control. So take control—of something, anything.
Take control of your body. Cut your hair. Get a tattoo. Sign up for a transformation challenge. You’d be surprised how this can help. And personally, I am endlessly surprised by how many of my clients tell me they were suffering from depression before starting their fitness journey.
Take control of your environment. Change something. Try to devote five minutes a day to imposing your will on something external. There have been some surveys suggesting something as simple as making your bed every morning can mitigate the symptoms of depression.
Take control of your mind. Meditate. Read. Write. Examine. Discuss. Whatever seems interesting to you, dive into it and allow it to eat up some of the energy the black dog is trying to siphon from you. I have a friend who was experiencing intense feelings of anxiety and being constantly overwhelmed and decided to address it by taking control of his inbox. Within two weeks he was at Inbox Zero, and said it helped.
Fifthly, do less. A big part of feeling out of control is simply feeling overwhelmed. If you have too much shit to do, and your ability to produce is already hampered by your emotional state, then you’re not going to get it all done. Trust me, this will push you further in depression.
If you can eliminate something, do it. Do less. Say no to as much as you can. Push off any obligations or projects that aren’t immediately urgent. Delegate things to other people, and actually allow them to help you.
Finally, that brings me to my last point: ask for help. This is the hardest thing of all, but also the single most important, and the most beneficial.
If you’re anything like me, you feel deep shame about asking for help, and more so about needing help.
As of this update, I have had four suicide attempts.
Of these, two were attempts at self-harm, but not true attempts to end my life. They fall into the category we colloquially term a cry for help. This is ironically ill-named, as most people (myself included) never tell anyone about such attempts.
The other two attempts qualify as what mental health professionals label a sincere attempt.
Getting into the details of these things is beyond the scope of this article, except to say this: if you do not receive help; if you do not seek help; if you do not allow people who love you to help you, then you’re liable to wake up in a puddle of your own making, vomiting blood and partially-digested prescription narcotics from your nose.
I find it almost impossible to look back now and get into the mind of the person I was in those moments—but I do know that in neither case did I allow myself to ask for help.
Having spent a lot of time in both reflection and discussion, I note that suicide is something contemplated for extended periods of time—and yet the decision to execute is made in a single moment. And had I only reached out to someone, anyone, and been able to lean on them for support, I fervently believe I’d have gotten through it without self-harm.
Ask for help. From a friend. A loved one. A stranger. The hotline. A support group. If you’re struggling and you need to talk, I am here for you.
THERE’S ALWAYS MORE TO SAY
Depression has been the great struggle of my life. And it will continue to be. I’m in no position to tell you how to solve your problems. I’m just someone who might understand them.
In terms of trying to actually deal with things, regardless of what else I’ve tried, one thing has always been clear: for me, the only way to get through it is to get through it. And that means not killing myself.
I can tell you there’s more to say. I can tell you ending it means you don’t get to say it. I can tell you as long as you’re here, you have a chance: to be happier, to make a difference, and to help others.
I can tell you, above all, you’re not alone.
I can tell you, above all, you’re not alone.
It means seeking help and support. It means taking control where I can. It also means being open and vulnerable, and taking steps like putting my story out there.
Campbell said, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”
In the years since first revealing my struggle, I’ve come to see what treasure that is. Understanding. Commiseration. Love.
At the heart of it, though, I’d like to help—and exposing this piece of me has proven to be the best way to do that.
In his 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts, Neil Gaiman said:
“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”
So here’s to getting it right.
If you can relate to this, if this hits home for you, please share it; but more importantly please share your story. It might help you. But even if it doesn’t, it’ll probably help someone else. And that can be just as important.
If you struggle with depression, know that I’m sorry. I truly am. I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t suck. Because it does. And I’m not going to say it’ll all be okay. Because it may not. I can’t even promise it’ll get better. Because that might not be the case.
But I can tell you there’s more to say. I can tell you ending it means you don’t get to say it. I can tell you as long as you’re here, you have a chance: to be happier, to make a difference, and to help others.
I can tell you, above all, you’re not alone.
Which means I’m not either. There are a few thousand semicolon tattoos out there to drive the point home. And that is a comfort.
There are many dark things in our lives we must face, both without and within us. The latter often being by far the scarier–they are the battles we assume we must fight alone.
But whether the demons are outside us or in, even the darkest things in the world are a bit less scary when we don’t have to face them alone. And you don’t.
Remember always: you are loved. Should you forget, you need only reach out–and I will remind you.
That is my promise to you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.