This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.