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There’s Always More to Say: Tattoos, Semicolons, and Suicidal Depression

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IMG_8157This started out as another #tattootuesday post. I snapped a picture of one of my tattoos and started writing about it on Instagram. But this particular piece is related—quite by accident—to a very serious issue that I want to discuss.

In seeking to delve into the topic and give it the attention it so rightly deserves, my writing (as it so often does) took on a life of its own, and…well. This is far too much for a photosharing app.

But, let’s begin at the beginning: with the picture. 

As you can see, 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.

While I don’t think it’s really necessary in any respect, I do notice that people who use the semi appropriately tend to be solid writers; or, at least, have a firmer grasp of structure than most. (An observation of cognitive bias, perhaps.)

In any event, being a word nerd and grammar geek, I had this inked on my wrist in February of 2010, right after my first commercially successful piece of writing (FPFL) was released. It was my way of celebrating a massive achievement, and sort of patting myself on the back for feeling like I’d 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. It’s recently been brought to my attention that the past 3 years, more and more people have been getting semicolon tattoos. Not because of their love of grammar—but rather as part of a movement called #projectsemicolon.

There are a number of articles about it so I won’t rehash overmuch, BUT — Project Semicolon (and the resultant tattoos) is a movement designed to create awareness, community, and support for those suffering from depression; and, in particular, those who have come close to or seriously contemplated suicide.

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 #projectsemicolon was around, it’s a movement with which I’m happy to be associated. Because, in truth, this is something I feel passionately about, and something with which I have an unfortunate level of intimate knowledge.

For the first time, I’m going to stand up, and claim a place beside others who are suffering.

–Deep breath…

Today, I’d like to talk to you about depression.

Specifically, my experience with depression. I’d like to share my story with you, because I think there are those it might help. And because right now, as I type this, I’m experiencing a low-level bout—and I’m hoping that the catharsis of sharing this may help.

Understandably, sharing this is scary.

No, wait. Writing this is scary; the idea of sharing it is terrifying. 

To be completely transparent, this isn’t just something I’ve never written about; it’s something I never even considered writing about. My depression, and the depths to which it’s driven me, is something only a scant handful of people know about.  

My goal here is to give a few people something to relate to; perhaps to help some others; and maybe—if I’m lucky—help those on the outside develop some insight.

It doesn’t seem like this is going to get any easier, so I’ll just go ahead and get started.

So: I have struggled with depression for my entire life; intense, debilitating, sometimes life-threatening depression.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I have been depressed for my entire life; that isn’t how it works, at least not for me.

It simply means that for as long as I can remember, I have experienced periods of depression of varying lengths. And that for as long as I can remember, I’ve lived in fear of those times.

They don’t last forever, but when they strike they are horrible, and—like any disease—tend to create massive hardship in every area of life. 

I understand that a lot of people may not be able to relate to this, so I’ll do my best to explain it. 

UNDERSTANDING DEPRESSION

The unfortunate truth is that we throw the word depression around a lot. We use it to describe a weeklong period of sadness after a breakup, or a few days of feeling bad when things aren’t going your way. I don’t mean to trivialize those experiences, or the emotional hardships that come along resultant of them. But being sad is not the same as being depressed. Extended periods of “feeling down” are not necessarily depression. 

It is better not to think about depression in terms of being “unhappy.” If you want to understand depression, you should look at a few of the synonyms that come up related to it: words like despair, despondency, hopelessness, dejection, and misery.

Depression isn’t just about feeling sad; that is only the smallest part of it. It’s about feeling trapped by overwhelming unhappiness, completely surrounded by an impenetrable fog of misery, and a general acceptance of the idea that it will never go away.

The unfortunate truth is that we’ve casualized the usage of depression as both a word and an idea, attaching low level connotative association; in doing so, we’ve lessened the very real impact of its denotative, clinical definition. 

If you’ve never been depressed, in the actual clinical sense of the word, then you can’t understand it any more than I can understand what it’s like to be paralyzed. I can see the effects, and I can certainly internalize the idea that it’s horrible, but unless it happens to me I’ll never be able to really understand what it’s like to simply be unable to move, no matter how hard I try.

I believe that is a fitting analogy, because in many ways, depression does make you feel paralyzed: trapped in your own body, unable to produce any real change to the condition, and the feeling of resignation that eventually settles over you.

Churchill called depression “the black dog.” His reasoning was simple: like a hunting dog, Churchill understood that depression would always be nipping at his heels, always following him.

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, and constantly 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.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I think, if I had the time and the tools, I might perhaps desire to give you a clear picture of what depression is like in the general sense. I’m aware enough of my own limitations to realize that I can’t do that—I can only tell you what it’s like for me; so that will have to do.

When I said I’ve suffered from “debilitating” depression, I meant exactly that: I’ve had long periods of time (3 months or more) where 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 where 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 often than I care to admit, there were times when knew I needed to be working on some massive project, but instead would spend 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 that I was fighting off depression.

That’s what depression is like for me: a general inability to perform. And with it, a feeling of shame and guilt for not being able to do so, compounded with the ever-growing anxiety of deadlines. 

At least three times in my life, it’s gotten so bad that it seemed the only way to end it was to end it. Since we’re being honest, there have been innumerable serious considerations, and three attempts. But we’ll get back to that later.

In many ways, being truly depressed is sort of like being immunocompromised: it weakens you emotionally and psychologically, wears you down to your bones—and suddenly things that would not normally affect you, or things that 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 up 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 that isn’t made of chocolate seems to be made of cardboard.

Life is pretty shitty. So you try to fix it, and that begins with asking why.

RATIONALIZATION & GUILT

Depression isn’t logical. It’s not something you can reason your way out of. If you are a person who values reason and typically employs logic to solve problems, this can lure you into the trap of the circular WHY?

As an intellectual, 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, with the steely gaze of my logical mind set 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 that creates uncertainty. Those things can lead to depression—and that makes sense. 

When I was 23 and went through a bout of depression, it all 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 massive disappointment to my family. Depression made sense. 

Understanding that it “made sense” to be depressed did not, in fact, lessen my depression. It didn’t help me get out of bed, or overcome the feelings of resignation and pain. It just made me aware that, from a pretty pragmatic standpoint, feeling shitty was the logical reaction to my seemingly shitty life.

So, yes; sometimes depression makes sense. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t. 

One of my more recent bouts of truly serious depression was in that category.

In late 2013, I went through one of the longest and most terrifying periods of depression of my life, and no matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t figure out why. 

Life was going pretty damn well: I’d just gotten married to my best friend; I had a beautiful wife who loved me boundlessly; I’d just become the stepfather to an incredible 7-year-old boy who I loved; fuck, I’d just published a New York Times bestseller.

Add to that that business was stable, I had some of the best friends in the world, and I was settling into a new life in California, and being courted by three different agencies for TV stuff. 

If ever there was a moment to step back and think, “man, I am just straight up crushing life right now,” that was it. Because things were going really, really well.

And all I wanted to do was crawl under a rock and die. 

There was nothing wrong with my life. In fact, by any definition, my life was pretty fucking awesome. I had everything I could want; everything I’d ever wanted. 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 sleep on the couch for three hours, because it was all I could do.

Let me be totally clear here: being conscious for more than a hours few took more effort than I could muster.

Naturally, my work came to a crashing halt: I couldn’t write, I couldn’t film, I couldn’t create. I could barely leave the house. 

Rather than immediately seeking treatment, I sought to foster productivity with a steady diet of Adderall and bourbon. It was moderately effective, and led to a few interesting pieces of writing.

Most of the time, I would sit and wallow in guilt; severe, paralyzing, ridiculous guilt that did nothing but drive me deeper into depression laced with extreme self-loathing. 

The guilt came from two places. Firstly, from trying to out-think the depression. From sitting there and saying, “nothing is wrong. Your life is perfect. Just 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.

Here’s the thing: you can’t out-think depression. And you certainly can’t just will it away.

Trying to do so made me aware that I didn’t have a “valid reason” to be depressed, and illustrated 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.

One of the crueler twists of my psyche is that in addition to being prone to depression, I also have a hero complex; one of the main drivers in my life, and one of the primary ways I derive value and self-worth is by serving, helping, and saving other people. 

This in and of itself is not “bad.” But the opposite side of that coin is the way that not being able to do so—or, in this case, doing the opposite—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 that results 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 all of those pale in comparison to guilt that came about from knowing that I was 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. 

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 that 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 just 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. Sometimes by pretending things were fine and just acting happy. 

Fooling people who know you better than anyone is no small feat, especially when it comes to your emotional state, so please let me assure you that it was exhausting beyond measure. During these times, my entire life became a series of acts and lies.

It was all dumbshow, a sickening simulacrum of normalcy. I’d post status updates implying my life was awesome 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. 

Why couldn’t I just be honest? Why couldn’t I just admit that I was going through something awful? Shame. Shame about being vulnerable. 

This may sound ridiculous…but it may not. But: people have expectations of me. They’ve always made them quite clear.

There’s no other way to say this but to say it, so forgive whatever inherent egotism you perceive, but the truth is, most people in my life have a habit of expecting (and to some extent demanding) that I be super-human. 

I’ll be the first to admit that 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. 

Sometimes, I would admit I was depressed to people in my life, and their reactions were nothing short of sheer incredulity. They couldn’t fathom that I’d be depressed, that I was capable of feeling that way. 

I spent so much of my life suffering from feelings of not being accepted that I cultivated an evidently impenetrable defense; an attractive carapace of muscle and charisma which constantly implied to everyone, I have it all together. Except I didn’t. I don’t. 

Seeing people react with obvious disgust at that idea that I was simply not okay rocked me to my core. So I learned to hide it. To pretend I was fine. To be fine for everyone else. To consistently put myself last. 

To be clear, I’m not making myself a martyr here. 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 that anyone did that to me. Very clearly, it was something that I did myself. 

Clearly, 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 hard to be vulnerable, and not be ashamed.

I’m working on it, but it’s difficult. Even now, there are people in my life—people I consider important to me, people I consider good friends, people I truly love who don’t know most of what’s in this article.

For some of them, this piece will be the first they’re hearing of it. For a few, it’ll be the first time they’re learning about how bad it can be. And for others still, who have been there for me recently, who have seen how it can be when I’m in the midst of the struggle, some things may come as a shock.

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 not a good combination.

Within three months, the guilt had pushed me so far past my breaking point that my thoughts turned to suicide, and stayed there for longer than I’d like to admit. I began to consider that ending my life was not just the solution to my pain, but that it was probably the most logical way to make life better for my family and friends. 

ON SUICIDE 

In his definitive work, Suicide, French sociologist Émile Durkheim writes that there are four subtypes of suicide. One of these is altruistic suicide, which is when someone takes their life for the benefit of others. When you contemplate suicide as a way of “saving” the people you love from your wretched existence, this describes you. And it certainly described me.

For a few 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 would be worse for my family than the inconvenience of dealing with me.

That’s not the scary part. The truly frightening thing about this is the calm conversations I would have with myself: at no point during my consideration was I in what I’d call an emotional frenzy; I simply sat in a sea of cold, dispassionate calm, and logically debated the pros and cons of my death, dropping weight after weight on a set of mental scales that would tip one way or the other to determine my fate.

Obviously, I’m still here—whether that’s the result of cowardice, courage, or ineptitude remains a mystery to me. In the end, I just decided that the financial hardship my death would place upon my family was unfair.

Now, I’ll be honest and say that I’m one of those dark twisted artist types who has a somewhat romanticized view of suicide. Not to say that 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. I just think there’s something to be said for taking control in the most extreme way possible. 

In a recent interview with Larry King, former Smiths front man/god-father of pre-emo Morrissey said that 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 thing, the largest thing that will ever happen, this massive thing that looms on the horizon for everyone. 

We’re all going to die. Unless Kurzweil makes some massive strides in the next few decades, all of us are on borrowed time. But most of us don’t know how much time we have left. We have no idea how or when we’re going to pass from this world. 

It could be years from now, or it could be next Tuesday in some massive car accident. You have no fucking control over any of it.

Unless…

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 that. I’m just here to tell you about my own experiences, and the examinations those experiences have led me through.

And in examining why, I realize that the reason I’ve considered it is because of the idea of controlling this massive force, the force that controls us all—life and death. 

That 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 that feeling out of control is going to lead to depression, but I can admit that nearly every time I’ve struggled with depression, there have been things in my life that felt like they were beyond my control.

Ending my life would have given me control. But so did choosing not to. And looking at things from that perspective certainly helped. 

CONTROL 

Closer examination of my behaviors during my most recent period of depression certainly seems to indicate that I was seeking control. Usually, it was over small things, because I felt like I couldn’t motivate to address anything large. 

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 actually 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 make that project my life for a month.

While this might sound like a waste of time, looking back at it, that wall may have saved my life; being able to control those aspects helped me reorganize the pieces of my shattered psyche, and slowly pull myself together.

Because control is about being able to exert your will on the world; and for me, part of depression is feeling unable to do exactly that. 

Which must mean, logically, that part of fighting depression is by seizing control when and where you can. Which is what I’m doing right now. 

THE OTHER SIDE

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 that clinically, I am depressed; I’m not bi-polar, so I don’t have cycles of depression alternated with extreme mania. I just have periods of being depressed, and periods of being a relatively normal human being. 

I know that 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, just 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 that I’ll deal with this for my entire life. I know that I’m always aware of the black dog off in the distance. I know he’ll visit again. 

I just 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, and then they feel worse. And then you sort of get used to feeling that awful. And then things maybe change a bit. 

There’s an old saying about the month of March: it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

Depression, then, is the March of your emotional calendar, and like March, it strikes suddenly and takes over absolutely everything. When it fades, it’s gradual. There is no massive change, no celebratory event, no clear signal that the storm has passed. Things just slowly get better. Day by day you’re able to function just a little bit more. And then one day, you look up 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 just need to 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

Obviously, 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 that 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.

But, as I mentioned, my goal for writing this piece was not to really give you a how-to guide for either managing depression or avoiding suicide. I’m not really qualified to do either, and to be honest I spend so much time trying to figure this shit out in my own life that to do so would feel wildly dishonest, especially with regard to suicide.

My goal was only to share my experience with you, maybe raise a bit of awareness, and—hopefully—allow you to glean something from it.

Having said all of that, it occurs to me that if you’ve pushed nearly 4,000 words deep into an article about depression and suicide, you and I may be bound by something a bit more serious than our mutual love of deadlifts, and that is not something I take lightly.

Whether you are personally finding yourself besieged with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, or you know someone you suspect may be in distress, I would like to provide some resources that have helped me.

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:

Thirdly: do nothing; be silent; be still. Breathe. Take a moment and try to take the long view.

I admit that 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 just plain fact. Whatever it is, eventually you’re going to feel better; or, at least, less awful.

My point is, pain is temporary. Your experience of depression, however powerful, is an exercise in exposure to 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.

Here’s the thing: 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 that they’re happy to have failed, and happy that they’re still alive. Realistically, life probably isn’t that much different for them, but they have some new perspective.

So, while I admit that the idea of committing suicide might occasionally reach out to the tortured artist in me, but 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 who have said my work has changed their lives; those are lives I would not have had the chance to change, 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 that 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 with 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 studies that suggest that 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. He made it a game to see how many things he could unsubscribe from or delete in a single day, then tried to beat it the following day; within two weeks he was at inbox zero, and said that 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 to 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 long as I’m cutting myself wide open and spilling my guts1 , let’s just put the juicy stuff out there: I’ve had three actual suicide attempts; two of which I can say with retrospect was more of a cry for help (ironic, as I never told anyone about it), and one that qualifies 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. (Which, if we’re being honest, is the second least-fun to wake up, coming in under “in an tub of ice, missing a kidney” and just above “in a Labyrinth where David Bowie rules as the Goblin King.”)

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.

What I’ve come to believe is that suicide is something that is contemplated for extended periods of time—and yet the decision to execute is made in a single moment. And I believe fervently that had I just reached out to someone, anyone, I would have gotten through that particular moment, and been able to lean on them for support.

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

Obviously, this has been a struggle for me. And it will continue to be. I’m in no position to tell you I know how to solve your problems. I’m just someone who might understand them.

In terms of trying to actually deal with things, I can tell you that no matter what 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 manning up and not killing myself. 

It means seeking help and support. It means taking control where I can. And, I guess, that means publishing this and putting my story out there.

I’m sitting here at my computer. Contemplating whether I should hit Publish. Wondering what the reaction will be. Staring at this tattoo, this silly little piece of self-congratulatory art I’ve been carrying around for five years, this thing that’s suddenly become more. 

“Scared” isn’t the right word. “Nervous” doesn’t cover it by half.

The truth is, the idea of sharing this is causing physical pain. My mouth is dry, my palms are sweating, and my stomach is churning. I feel like I’m about to make a tremendous mistake. 

But I’m going to do it anyway. Campbell said “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” I’m not sure what treasure that might be. Perhaps I’m seeing understanding, or commiseration, or love. 

At the heart of it, though, I’d just like to help—and exposing this piece of me, terrifying though it is, might just 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.”

If that’s the case, maybe this is the first step into something bigger. 

Because the truth is, there’s more to say. About this, and about everything else. For me. And for you. 

So if you can relate to this, if this is something that hits home for you, please share this post, and please share your story. It might just help you. But if not, it’ll probably help someone else. And that might be just as important. 

If you’ve struggled with depression, or you’re struggling with it now, I’m sorry. I truly am. I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t suck. Because it does. 

But I can tell you that there’s more to say. I can tell you that on a long enough timeline, everything is ultimately going to be okay. And I can tell you that you’re not alone. 

Which means, I guess, that I’m not either. After all, there are a few hundred people walking around with semicolon tattoos. Maybe you’re one of them.

And if nothing else, that thought helps a bit.

  1. Hat tip, Jessey Lacey.
About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • I cried

  • i cry every time

  • galarix

    Thank you for writing this, I know everybody is different but it really resonates with my experience.

  • I’ve had four members of mine and my wife’s family commit suicide. The devastation it causes for the surviving family members is brutal, to say the least. My maternal Grandfather’s suicide, a man whom I never met, destroyed my mother; and in turn, her six children. Luckless pedestrians on a road they weren’t traveling on.

    Suicide, for whatever the reasons, is the most chickenshit, cowardly thing a person can do to themselves and to those who love them. No matter how bad one may suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts, to become so engulfed in your own feelings about yourself, your situation or position in life, is to forgo the notion that someone somewhere has it much worse than you do.

    I get down, I get depressed, and I’ve had moments where I wondered why I was even put here. What saved me from going further down that road was to become grateful for the few good things that I had in my life. I took my eyes off of me and put them on others in my world who had it much worse. I come to realize that I had become selfish in my thoughts about myself. Instead of thinking “how much better life would be without me in it”, I shifted my thinking to “How blessed and grateful I am to have ______________ in my life!”

    Suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. Find something to be grateful about, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, and wrap yourself up in that state of gratefulness. Like a hot bath, bathe in the goodness of gratitude. You mean the world to somebody, whether you believe it or not. Don’t deny anyone the opportunity to love you.

    If you want to take your life, then take it to a new level of appreciation for the gift that it is.

  • Tim Wade

    I’ve never had depression. But thank you for writing this. It ended up in my buffer account from a curated subscription service and I considered deleting it to keep my social media world a pretty picture of perfection and positivity. So I thought I’d check out the article before deleting it. It’s fantastic and I’m keeping it. It deserves to be shared.
    Plus, as I read it, I notice that one of my staff members has clearly exhibited these symptoms. Going AWOL for months, letting clients down and leaving me to clean up the pieces and lose their business, and then pleading for his job back.
    He’s now working on a time-bound editing project that gives him creative control, a positive possibility for it to be something bigger in the future if I sell it well, and which he is finding very funny to create; 4 years ago we had shot a series of very funny sketches I had written and are finally doing something with it. Anyway, thanks again for your article. Takes guts to publish that. Kudos.
    I believe you went through it, and do, because you have the gift to help others who are as well. And perhaps one of your greater life purposes, together with all the other important stuff, is to do exactly that. Because each one of those people positively influenced by this can motivate positive change for countless others. That is true legacy, and will likely never be accurately known to you. But that surrender of ego is where humility finds her leaders and through whom I believe God can then do His greater work for others. Thank you. Keep doing it.

  • Hal H

    You nailed it with this:

    I know this oh to well.

    ~~~~~

    “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 where 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 often than I care to admit, there were times when knew I needed to be working on some massive project, but instead would spend 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 that I was fighting off depression.
    That’s what depression is like for me: a general inability to perform. And with it, a feeling of shame and guilt for not being able to do so, compounded with the ever-growing anxiety of deadlines. “

  • Diya Sharma

    Thank you for sharing.

  • I’m sorry. Are you saying what I think you’re saying?

    I ask because it sounds like you’re saying I haven’t actually suffered from clinical depression.

    Because, in addition to accusing me of being a liar, you’d also be accusing a number of healthcare professionals of misdiagnosing me.

    The fact is the is, the single largest reason that people who are struggling with depression keep it to themselves is reactions this.

    Well done.

  • d griffin

    Great piece. Depression has been a faithful hound to me since high school, and I’m 56 now. Thirty-plus years of mostly-happy marriage, two great kids that have just graduated from college and entered the workforce productively, and three good dogs living to a ripe old age with us — soon to start over with number four. Depression has hit hard about twice per decade, but we muddled through, mainly with excessive exercise programs and the occasional whiskey-binge, followed by chaste and sincere remorse.

  • Keith D Plane

    Read this post when you first posted this Roman and I liked it a lot but it didn’t really sink in. Today I read the re post that was posted on the Greatest website and it was just what I needed today. I have been dealing with depression on and off for more years than I can remember. It sucks on so many levels and lately I am really in the dumps. It usually happens this time of year (and yes I HATE the holidays for a lot reasons some not related to my depression). i forget things and seem to like to wallow in my misery. i usually need a jolt to get me back to square on again. Thanks Roman ;- /

  • Dejan

    This has come to me exactly at the right time. Thank you.

  • Laura Cisneros

    Though in the industry for longer than you’ve likely been alive, I know nothing about you really. From what I just googled after reading this piece, some people view you as an attention-seeking douchebag narcissist. Some a uber man empath. But like you mention in this piece, we are many things, what we portray and to whom and why are the alchemy of identity. Perhaps its the “why” is where we start getting confused and perhaps that where we start to feel a loss of control. Control over who we are, what’s happening to us, what happened to us. These are very good things to muse on I think. And yes, the gym is a great place to find a meditative and practical space to facilitate control. Whatever you are, I am grateful for your vulnerability. Thank you for this offering of self.

  • Tanner McAuliffe

    Hey man, really appreciate this article. Your book changed my life and to echo other commentators, depression has been something I’ve dealt with my entire life. I just recently started opening up to my family and friends about it and I know it’s not easy, but writing this article took balls and it was clearly really well thought out. Thanks again

  • Helena

    Hi there John, it’s hard to believe that someone as fab looking and as accomplished as yourself would go to such levels of despair. Why is it that the most tortured of souls are usually the ones that feel things so deeply, doesn’t seem fair does it, on one hand it can be such a blessing but on the other can be very debilitating. I admire your spirit and your strength of character and it is great that you have the support of your wife your child and your friends and family, sometimes people that may be suffering like yourself do not posses this support system and may not be as fortunate. I would consider anybody that knows you as a friend would be very lucky and I wish you the best in your future. You are too good looking!, keep the bright side out and keep sharing your soul, tortured as it may be at times, with those that care, I just wish there were more people in my life that were more like you. Keep doing what you are doing;

  • Alexander Jonathan Leahy

    First, I want to thank you for sharing this. As someone who struggles with persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as Dysthymia) with major depressive episodes, essentially, a chronic and continuous low grade depression that never lets up with the joys of intermittent bouts of severe major depressive episodes…. Think, your happiest you can achieve is what “normals” might think of as the “monday blues”.. Then, like a overly sweet icing that was applied in a thick layer to this joyless cake, is massive PTSD from some “holy shit fuck me” late staged cancer…

    And the reoccurring thoughts of suicide….

    I am curious… while I know getting healthy is top priority… Weigh training, was something that I not only enjoyed, but also especially provided adequate prophylactic stress relief.(teehee..)

    TL:DR –
    How might one (who is at the tail end of a severe bout of depression) plan a return to training after a semi-long layoff (~3mo) Which would totally be an awesome article for us melancholics that fall off the tossing-around-heavy-shit wagon that we love, but is aware of loss of neurological and strength adaptions etc etc and desire to restore “some” normalcy.. Once again, article pretty please for us crazy heads!

  • Jerry Quinn

    Roman, thank for getting up the courage to write this. It was a wonderfully written piece, and I can totally feel for the struggle you endure. It is an awesome example of being vulnerable and extremely powerful by virtue of that vulnerability. My don’t struggle with depression like this, but I have been learning for the last several years to be vulnerable, to be honest with myself, allowing myself to be honest with others.

    Thank you. This really touched me.

  • Isabel Urch

    My depression has receded over the last 2 months, after a looong run of about 2+1/2yrs. I will never again make the mistake of being over-confident, thinking “It’s all gone, I’m 100% well & it’ll never come back!” My particular shame is that I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I truly believe in my loving Creator & I study the promises & hope in the Bible – but I still get depression. People must look at me & think “if she’s one of those Witnesses & she’s depressed then it must all be a load of rubbish!”. The 2 things are true though; it’s not a magic talisman to “ward off” any form of illness, whether physical or mental. And God does not promise to protect any individual from the effects of our imperfection or from hard times. He promises new world conditions soon, but for now we have to cope.

    So, for those with Faith, cling to it, cry out in prayer & be calm, wait for the storm clouds to pass. What Jehovah God DOES promise is to be the Hearer of Prayers, to not allow you to be tested Beyond what you can bear & to pour out his holy spirit to comfort & strengthen. I am still here, so I can tell you this. I was not tested beyond what I could bear. Close – but not beyond. And I accept I may go through it all again. I hope, when it matters most, I remember the lessons learned.

  • vortex100

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Roman. Ever since I read about you and saw your pictures and read your articles, I wanted to be you. I would say to myself: “Wow, that guy has talent and he looks great (look at those abs!), he has great sex and has everything life could offer. What a perfect life!” Well, I guess it’s not so perfect.

    I still want to look like you, of course, but I very much doubt I would trade your looks and success for that black dog on your heals. I have a great wife and kids and a comfortable, quiet life and I don’t suffer from depression, but I don’t look anything like you. I guess I should count my blessings. We all have our crosses to bear. Your cross now looks very heavy to me.

  • saretta

    Brave post John. I admire and respect you for your courage in sharing your story. <3

  • Mark

    Roman

    I don’t know you other than somehow finding Alpha online.
    Intermittent fasting has helped me a lot.
    I live in Canada, although maybe one day in LA.
    I have a loved one that has lived with
    depression and anxiety and obsessive thinking for 15 years. One attempt.

    Your article brought tears to my eyes.

    There is something about sharing our vulnerability that will eventually change the world.

    I’ll pass this article on to family and friends and my loved one.

    I don’t know the effect you’ve had on people through your other efforts, but it is hard for me to imagine anything exceeding the impact this article will have on the world.

    Thank you. So much.

  • Beth

    “Your life is going so well right now. You have so much to be thankful for. JUST STOP.”
    This. All of this. #semicolonproject

  • Laura

    Thanks for sharing. This really hit home
    The first time I hit the bottom, it was 15 years ago. I was nine. I guess the black dog come to me early. Suddenly, the lack of meaning of life, my incapacity to truly connect with others people became overwhelming. I wanted to die so much. Thanks for my parents, who love me so much, I never attempt suicide, because I didn’t want to hurt them. That’s what save me.
    Since then, there has been up and down. Deep down, I’m still profoundly melancholic, which I hide under a good amout of humor and cynicism.
    But the amazing thing, it’s that at the bottom of the hollow, I also found immeasurable joy. There was no other way. There is a saying (I think it’s a zen one) that says “little doubt, little enlightment, bi doubt, big enlightment”. And for that, I’m grateful.

    Clive Stapple Lewis (I’m more a Narnian girl than a Lord of the rings) wrote: “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. You see, we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect.”
    There cannot be spring and summer without autumn and winter, wich is where the growth begin.

    Practically, beginning to involve in physical exercise really help me to anchor in my body and in life. This, and becoming a doctor, because I found the true meaning of life is in loving, sharing, and taking care of others, in all their alterity.
    And the next time I will fall into darkness, this will be my houselight

    Thank you again

  • grumpysmurf

    Amazing article Roman. Thanks for your honesty and courage in posting this. This has really given me a new perspective as I’m sure it has to many others. Keep fighting the good fight and never forget there is always someone willing to help shoulder the burden! Hugs and high fives.

  • Kristofer McConnell

    John John, that was just a very well written piece about all things depression. It definitely took a lot of chutzpah on your part to divulge to the world this hidden compartment of your life. You had me intrigued from the get go, perhaps because I can relate to most of what you speak. Although my depressive states over the years never reached the suicidal thought level, I can certainly empathize with every other tendency you mentioned during these gloomy bouts. The black dog reference is a great way of explaining to those that don’t understand depression how to those that do it is always lurking in the dark, waiting for its next unexpected disturbance in our lives. Maybe the next time you are in the NYC area we can meet up and reminisce of our Jackson Heights days over some vintage video games, catch up and just the shoot the shit about life. Building a cardboard fort is optional, perhaps after some alcohol consumption. Take care old friend.

  • This is a really powerful and brave essay. As a fan of yours and former online trainee I’m grateful you’re still in the world and hope you continue to manage your depression.

  • Aaron Farr

    Thanks Roman. That was very brave and very close to home.

  • K Moon Howe

    Fucking right on, man. Props and gratitude.

  • Rosa

    It has been a long time since I read anything this compelling. I saw me in your words. I thank you for sharing your truth. For allowing us to see you exposed and naked; frightened and vulnerable. It takes guts to share all this. All of us sufferers of depression thank you. And know that we need you… to kick our butts, to encourage us to stay fit and healthy. I feel like I have just met a friend I didn’t know I had. I’m sending you hugs and good vibes. Stay the course and keep fighting the black dog. Be blessed.

  • RE

    Roman,
    Over the past couple of years I’ve been reading your blog, and this is my instant favorite. It couldn’t have been more timely, as I’ve been struggling with a minor bout myself for the past few months. This may very well have been exactly what I needed in my life right now.
    I enormously respect and appreciate your vulnerability and transparency with this one. Thank you!

  • LesleyHeizman

    I’ve always enjoyed your writing and think you have one of the best newsletters around that always makes me smile! I think it’s very valuable to share your experience and brave of you to do so. Thanks for writing this!

    • Thank you so much, Lesley! Glad you got something out of it.

  • Kevin

    Roman,
    Thanks for sharing. That was an amazing gift to give to people; not only those with depression to know they aren’t alone and to struggle to fight but to those that don’t realize or recognize how difficult it can be. It made me shed a few tears. I know that struggle, as you do and have been debilitated. I always survive and figure something out but it has been tough.

    During one of my worst times, I was unemployed and couldn’t find work for over 2 years. I did whatever I had to…bartending, catering, focus groups, acting/character gigs in crazy costumes for scavenger hunts (I even ran around as Batman and Elton John at Fanueil hall, ugh), and I even participated in a clinical trial for an experimental anti-depressant. During that time I forced myself to work out, which really helped save my mind. A bright spot was when I received your work out program for FREE from you because I was unemployed. It really made my day and reminded me there were those good people out there to help. I think you for that.

    People with depression need help but they also need to work on helping themselves. I have a friend who is an alcoholic and deals with depression and he was living with me last year. It was hard to watch someone self destruct and it became toxic for me and brought me down. As much as I wanted to help, i had to force him to move out for my own sanity. His brother died a month ago from an overdose. Not sure if it was suicide but it has depressed me and partly because I know my friend is in a deep depression and hurting. I can’t reach out to help, as I know he partly blames me, although it was his decisions, not mine that put him where he is. Sometimes you can only pray and hope the best for people.

    Anyway, I have seen and dealt with depression from my angles. I appreciate your article and efforts to help others. I am like you, I feel a need to save people and make things better. It has been difficult to learn you can’t always do that. your article further helps me to understand myself and others and it made an impact.
    Thanks again. I appreciate all you do.
    Kevin

    • Loreto P Ansaldo

      Thank you for sharing, Roman. People need to hear human stories of those they look up to / admire / learn from. I am also rather open about my OCD and empathize.

  • David

    In this way, in this post, you continue to engineer the Alpha. For your self, for others. Thank you.

  • That piece took some pretty large attachments to write. I’m POSITIVE at least one person will benefit from this which makes it worth it. And I’m POSITIVE it’ll be more than one.

    Good on you.

  • Carol_Z

    Thank you for this.

  • Renee

    I never comment on articles that I read online but this moved me so strongly that I had to say something! This is the most honest, amazing piece of writing on depression that I have ever read – you are braver than 99.9% of the population!

  • Brandon Whittington

    Thanks for sharing this, Roman. It’s refreshing to see a fitness professional write in such an authentic manner about depression. It’s not sexy to be depressed and definitely doesn’t fit within the #crushingit lifestyle that sells in the industry. Great stuff.

  • So many true sentences

  • Mark

    I don’t think I’ve ever read an article that has spoken to me so much before, that describes what it feels like so much. The inescapable feeling of hopelessness and misery the black cloud brings as it hovers over you for what feels like forever.

    The black dog has always been there, growing up with no confidence, being incredibly shy (I believe shyness and depression go hand in hand), never feeling valued and a family with a history of depression. But in the past few months it’s chewing into me hard. I graduated from university over a year ago and still unemployed, getting rejected left right and centre I’m stuck at home with my parents, no friends here, no money, I haven’t lifted in over a year and haven’t had sex in even longer. I’ve felt worthless and alone my whole life, but now it’s on another level. It’s not a single black dog nipping my ankles, it’s a pack of dogs ripping into me. It just feels inescapable.

    I know what I need to do to get out, but doing that seems almost impossible. From the outside you wouldn’t know, I’m hiding it all. I’m goofy, I make stupid jokes and make people laugh. I’m Deadpool minus the cancer. But it’s just masking the demons inside and has done for as long as I can remember.

    I’ve decided to join the army. I’m saying I’m joining to make a difference, to be a better person but the reality is I’m joining to escape. Maybe this is a terrible idea and it probably is. But maybe it might give me a reason to live, give me some purpose and actually live for once. Or I get killed, maybe then my life will actually be seen as worthwhile and I’ll get to dine in the halls of Valhalla.

    I don’t think the cloud will ever go away permanently and has no signs of leaving soon.

    • Isabel Urch

      Mark, please give very careful thought before signing up to years in the Army. You are perhaps looking for a substitute family, structure & purpose, which the armed forces seem to offer, but please do not forget that all of the Forces exist to train you to kill other human beings. The army is not a democracy & cannot be; you will have to follow orders without question, even if that means killing a stranger who has never done anything to threaten you. Politicians decide who the enemies are & politicians are not in the job for humanitarian reasons. Otherwise they’d do the work for free… I wish you peace & comfort x

  • CS

    Well done Sir, well fucking done

  • John, I can relate to everything you purged from chest of secrets here. I too suffer from bouts of seriously debilitating depression, have for years, and understand that I likely will for my entire life. I am also an intellectual who tries to reason my way out of it, knows that I can’t, and falls into the spiral of guilt/shame associated with this inability to “pick myself up.” I’m now 31 and am beginning to understand how feeling out of control of some aspects of my life (my autonomy) may be a major contributing factor to my depression and, that taking steps to feel more in control may be the only way out when those bouts hit. THANK YOU for sharing with us.
    I was ironically working on a blog post myself this morning where I was finally opening up about past eating disorders. I haven’t finished it yet, and up until I read your story, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to share it yet. But you have given me the courage to do so. And in doing so, we are both helping others.

    Here’s to whiskey, deadlifts, intellectualism, and healthy control.

  • Alex Guillien

    Roman,

    I read this because I respect your writing and feel connected to it.

    Relating to your story is easy for me. It is not the same but is very similar. There have been bouts of depression I have gone through when everything was seemingly going great. It would hit me like a ton of bricks and like you said – I would try and logic my way or use willpower and determination to break through the “funk”. This was futile. It seems I learn more about myself each time I go through the depressive states.

    One thing I’ve learned is it takes time. The depression will run its course. I used to think that I was the reason for it all and I needed to get myself out through action. The more I reflect, the more it is evident that sinking into the depression and letting it run its course has some merit. There seems to be a balance however between sinking in and taking action – albeit it small, like you mentioned with the organization of the office.

    I’ve written many posts when I’ve been depressed or am coming out of it and I’ve found it to be my most creative musings during this time.

    One thing I am grateful for is the empathy and compassion developed from the depression. It has filled me with immense amounts of both virtues.

    Thank you for your perspective.

  • Cyndi

    Huge courage in writing this. Respect you for doing so.

  • Moe Nwala

    I hear you man. From someone who experienced depression at very young age and still do. What seemed to have sort of solved it for me is when I liberated myself from all attachments and all responsibilities. I quit my job, left my country, left my family and went to another continent where I had nothing and nobody. My depression was reduced tremendously. I live day by day taking baby steps to better my life without making any potential chore that can overwhelm myself. I feel better when I am not attached to anyone including close friendships. When I am in close friendship I start hearing depression knock on my door for fear of loosing that person so I either jeopardize the friendship or end it without a notice. I know it sucks but truth is life itself isn’t a pleasant journey essentially. In truthfulness everything and anything we have could leave us in a second. It is better not to have anything to worry about loosing it than actually possess it for awhile and then loose it. i am sure some would find me stupid but thats how i deal with my depression.

  • Alana

    Roman,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and being so incredibly vulnerable. You are such an inspiration and your writing is what pushes me to keep on keeping on fitness/nutrition wise, but hearing this side from you is so refreshing and eye opening. Never stop doing what you do because your life changes so many other lives for the better.
    Thank you.

  • Andrew

    Hey Roman,

    Just wanted to thank you for your post today. I’ve suffered from bouts of crippling depression and all the fear, guilt, embarrassment, self-loathing, and anxiety that comes with it since early grade school.

    It’s very hard to be honest about this stuff. I remember being on an amazing road trip with a friend, and all I could think about when I was behind the wheel was how much I wished there was no one else in the car so I could drive it into a tree at 90 miles an hour. How do you tell the people you love about something like that? Especially when things are going well, it seems like all it would do is hurt them.

    After a year-and-a-half bout of substance abuse, meaningless sex, misery, feeling lost, and wanting to die, I finally bit the bullet and went on medication for depression and ADHD. As part of turning my life around, I went through Engineering the Alpha. Exactly like you said, I felt in control of my life as I measured all my food to the gram. I felt better about who I was as I saw myself sticking to the program. Eating clean also really helped minimize my depression.

    I’m currently in one of your online coaching groups. Every time I mark off another full night of sleep and another day of sticking to my macros, I feel a little better about myself and more in control. It’s not even about getting swole, though that would be a nice bonus. It’s just about proving to myself that I can.

    Just wanted to say, for what it’s worth, I’m glad you didn’t kill yourself. Because your programming is one contributing factor that has helped me turn my life around and not want to kill myself. It’s pretty clear I’ll never escape from depression completely, but you’ve definitely shown me how taking charge of my body can help mitigate it. Thank you.

  • Louie Guarino

    This is one of the most incredible and transparent pieces I have read in a long time.

    Thank you.

  • bsdwydaho

    Thank you for sharing from the bottom of your soul. Your words resonate.

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  • Dr. Spencer Nadolsky

    Strong article Roman.

  • I agree with the rest of the folks and I respect you Roman for having the courage to step-in and talk about this delicate subject openly. Have you ever considered this could be a physiologic (rather than psychologic) imbalance and/or some SNP (genetic mutation) that could be corrected with certain lifestyle/dietary/environmental approaches?

    • Isabel Urch

      (I have found so many health articles over the last couple of years for so many different conditions/deficiencies etc & depression is frequently on the list of effects. Magnesium deficiency, poor gut bacteria, food intolerances, mercury fillings – I felt I could tick yes to all these & others. I have worked on gradually removing/reducing/eliminating everything that I can work on, but I wouldn’t expect it to equal a Cure, because depression is not a simple cause & effect thing (as weight problems aren’t). It’s complicated & interwoven, but still worth changing everything in our power to change to help ease it.

  • George

    Thank you for sharing Roman. This brought tears to my eyes. Being able to empathize with your experiences and even reliving my own. I am currently in one of my funks (I call them funks fight me). That overwhelmed, can’t do anything feeling is all to familiar. But reading this was comforting (that seems weird hopefully it’s not). By the way, it took me almost 30 minutes of thinking and re-reading my tiny (in comparison) post. Before I actually decided to hit send. I can’t image putting anything like what you wrote or even what I wrote out publicly. It takes a tremendous about of courage. Thanks again and good luck.

  • John Fawkes

    Mad respect for writing this Roman. I struggled with depression throughout my childhood and through my mid-20’s. Contemplated suicide, but thankfully never attempted it, and I seem to be past it now but…you never know. Great to see you taking a stand on this. I wish society would learn to treat mental illness just like physical illness, rather than continually making people feel like their mental health problems were their own fault- hopefully this will convince at least a few people to see depression in a new light.

    Great advice about taking control of your life- with any big problem, the most important thing is to overcome that initial paralysis and take some action. I would also add that there’s growing evidence that depressions- serious depression for no external reason, not just sadness in response to specific events in life- is a sickness behavior, often arising from inflammation. So I’d add fighting inflammation to the action plan for whenever depression strikes.

    On a side note- I notice pretty much all of my favorite writers, both in and out of the fitness realm, have bared their soul to the world by writing at least one article like this at some point. It seems to be a prerequisite for being a great blogger, and unfortunately I want to be a great blogger myself. Can’t say I look forward to writing something this personal, but you’ve convinced me that I’ll eventually have to. And for me at least, that was more eye-opening than reading about depression per se.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for writing this and sharing your story. I have suffered from serious depression in the past as well and while it is currently in remission, I never know when it will return. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in this journey.

  • Alex

    Thank you for being honest with your experiences. It takes lots of courage to take off your armor and expose the true demons you have faced in the past. I have not suffered with depression, however I feel that your words are very deep and can definitely speak to many who have experienced similar events. I am sure that you will help many with your struggles and may fuel others to keep pushing. In my books, you are more then just a trainer and fat loss expert. You have some real heart bud. Thanks again :)

  • I can’t thank you enough for this post. This was so raw, real, and close to something I’ve been going through recently.

    Since you’re a science nerd like I am, I would highly recommend watching the YouTube video, “Stanford Sapolsky on Depression in U.S.” It was one of the best lectures I’ve ever seen (everyone else watches college lectures in their spare time, right?).

    The control explanation really made the most sense. I’ve noticed it’s when a lot of things are happening outside my level of control, I absolutely shut down and don’t want to leave my bedroom. I can’t thank you enough for this post, John.

  • Phillip Gentry

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve had the same issues for over two decades. I’ve been institutionalized and have scars along both arms to remind me of how bad things got. I’ve taken four months of medical leave from my last job due to depression and anxiety. I try to help others going through the same things and it makes me feel much better. I’ve followed you for the past couple years and my admiration just increases because of articles like this and how much it took to bare it all to the thousands of people that follow you. Please keep up the good fight!

  • Yo Roman, fair fucks for writing this. Takes serious courage to step up and do it. I’ve been fortunate never to suffer from depression but several people very very close to me have. It’s an absolutely terrible thing to see.

    I 100% agree with what you say about control. One of the people, an ex of mine, suffered from terrible depression. A huge factor in it was feeling out of control in everything she did. Exercising control on tiny things was the only thing that kept her off a ledge.

    Hugs! And don’t die.

  • Robin Dockary

    I admire you so much for this Mr Romaniello. I’m a 16 year old from the U.K and I went through something similar until I got into fitness. Please understand that without people like you I’d either be in jail or dead right now. Even though we’ve never met you’ve helped me turn my life around and I’m forever grateful for that.