SEARCH RFS:

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

Never miss a glorious update - click here!

IMG_8157I 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’d never claim the semicolon is necessary, in the absolute sense, I do notice that people who use the semi 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, immediately subsequent to and in celebration of the release of my first commercially successful piece of writing. This was my way of commemorating an important personal achievement–a permanent pat on the back for having done a good job with both the content and the writing.

It was also a nod to my general prolixity: to me, the semicolon implies, “there’s always more to say.” 

Again, this was in 2010. At that time, I was, so far as I know, one of a scant handful of grammar nerds walking around with that kind of ink. That was not to last.

Today, a great many more people have been getting semicolon tattoos.

We haven’t seen an uptick in the number of individuals so passionate about punctuation they’ve decided to mark themselves for life. No. These tattoos are symbolic not of a love of grammar, but as a demonstration of support for and belonging to #projectsemicolon.

As there’ve been a number of articles about it, I won’t rehash overmuch. In brief: Project Semicolon began as a movement dedicated to raising awareness, community, and support for and around those suffering from depression; in particular, those who have come close to or seriously contemplated suicide. What began as a loose social media campaign is a now a well-developed mental health nonprofit organization committed to suicide prevention.

Symbolically, the meaning is this:

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

While my tattoo had taken up wrist residence years before long before the inception of Project Semicolon, it’s a movement with which I’ve become associated.

The struggle with mental health, in all the associated forms, is a cause for which I am proud to stand. It is also one with which I have a deep level of intimate knowledge and experience.

What follows below is an account of my own personal battle. 


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

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

Rather, my depression is cyclical. I’m not always depressed–but for long as I’ve been able to put a name to any of my own feelings, I’ve experienced periods of depression of varying lengths.

And for as long as I can remember, I’ve lived in fear of those times.

Such depressive periods are no less terrifying for being temporary, and—like bouts of any disease—when they strike create overwhelming hardship in every area of life. 

And yet was something I kept secret for at least half of my lifetime. 

Prior to the original publication of this piece, my depression (and the depths to which it has driven me) is something about which only a select few people had been aware.

Chief among my aims in writing this piece was to give voice to others who suffer and perhaps help a few realize they need not suffer alone. Less intentional was to grant insight about the struggle to those the outside.

To whatever degree this has been successful, I am thankful for the opportunity, and continue to learn and refine. 


UNDERSTANDING DEPRESSION

All conversations of substance must, if they are to be productive, begin with a baseline understanding of the topic. If we’re to discuss any concept in earnest, we’ve got to be on the same page as to what it means.

Depression is a word that gets used (and misused) a lot, often with a nonchalance that borders on negligence. 

When we casualize the use of a word, we begin to manipulate the concept itself, attaching low-level connotative association; in doing so, we begin to erode the very real impact of its denotative definition. 

There is real danger there.

With depression, this is especially important, as there’s a clinical diagnosis attached. And yet we throw it around liberally, using it to describe the weeks of sadness following a breakup, the shock and melancholy consequent of losing a job, or even a few days of feeling bad when things aren’t going our way.

And those things are not, by any stretch, clinical depression.

This is not to trivialize those experiences, for they certainly bring their own set of emotional hardships. Further, any of those can (somewhat confoundingly) lead to depression. But they are not the thing itself.

Being sad is not the same as being depressed. We ignore that at great peril. Conflating the two contributes, at least in part, to the misunderstanding of mental illness.

Mark Twain said,

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

We are herein concerned only with the lightning. So let us establish the difference that we may dispense with the lightning bug.

It is best not to think about depression in terms of being “unhappy.”

To understand depression, look at a few of the words surrounding it: despair, despondency, hopelessness, dejection, and misery.

Depression isn’t just about feeling sad; that is only the barest part of it. The larger piece is about feeling trapped by overwhelming unhappiness, completely surrounded by an impenetrable fog of misery, and the hopelessness that comes from accepting–as absolute truth–the idea that it will never go away.

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

Those of us who suffer from depression know this to be the case. For some people, the black dog is omnipresent–they’re aware of it at all times, always harrowed by it. For them, depression is an experience of constancy.

For others, like myself, depression comes and goes—but even when you’re not suffering in the immediacy, you’re always aware of the black dog off in the distance, waiting to close in. This is an uncomfortable thought to which one must adapt: even when you’re not depressed, you’re afraid of depression.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Had I the wit or the will, nevermind the skill, I would perhaps fall victim to my desire to give you a clear picture of what depression is like in the general sense. While I count pride among my many faults, even at my worst I stop just short of hubris, aware enough of my limitations to know I can share only my own experience.

That will have to do. 


When I wrote I’ve suffered from “debilitating” depression, I meant exactly that: there have been stretches of three months or more during which getting out of bed was the only thing I could accomplish for the day. And sometimes that was a stretch.

There have been times when I would break down and cry for seemingly no reason, or randomly snap and put my fist through a window before I could rein my temper in.

There were months during which I hid from friends and family, pretending everything was fine and that I was too “busy” to see them while sitting alone in the dark.

More times than I care to admit, despite needing to be working an important (and usually time-sensitive) project, I’d find myself spending a weekend watching an entire season of some TV show I’d already seen. 

If you’ve ever worked with me in any capacity—whether as a partner, or client, or editor—and not heard from me for a few weeks, it’s likely the case I was fighting off depression.

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

At least a dozen times in my life, it’s gotten so bad it seemed the only way to end it was to end it

For clarity: this means there have been roughly twelve periods over the past two decades during which I’ve crossed over from suicidal ideation or fantasy and spent time in the more dangerous realm of suicidal planning.

Four of those have resulted in attempts on my own life.

While somewhat less dangerous, there have been innumerable serious considerations that didn’t quite cross over to the planning stage. But more on that later.

Being depressed is akin to being immunocompromised: it makes you susceptible to everything else. Depression weakens you mentally and emotionally, wears you down to your bones. You find yourself feeling stretched, wound tightly, living at the breaking point. Things that would not usually affect you, things you could normally fight off with ease overwhelm you and take deep root. 

When I’m depressed, I’m infinitely more susceptible to things like guilt, fear, shame, and regret. I’ll dwell on mistakes I made years ago, and think about all of the ways I could have done things differently. I’ll feel ashamed of myself and my actions or inaction — and actively fantasize about the ways the lives of everyone around me would be better if I was simply not there.

Small setbacks seem like incomprehensible obstacles. Tiny transgressions seem like reasons for justifiable homicide. Ancient scars open anew and spew heartsblood all over the freshly pressed linens. 

Mustering the energy to shower sometimes takes days. Trying to find the motivation to masturbate is an exercise in absurdity. Sleep comes unbidden or not at all. Training is half-hearted at best. Food turns to ash, and everything not made of chocolate seems to be made of cardboard.

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


RATIONALIZATION & GUILT

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

My first impulse is to analyze and deduce. Whenever I’ve noticed the symptoms start up, anytime I’ve felt the black dog closing in, my reaction has always been to face it head on, the steely gaze of my logical mind dug in and ready to challenge it directly.

I cannot begin to tell you the futility of the practice. Even when it “works,” it’s pointless, because it doesn’t help.

Sometimes depression makes sense: sometimes you’re going through a really hard time. Maybe you’re having problems with money, or your relationship. Maybe someone in your life is sick. Maybe you’re feeling lost after college or something’s happening in your career creating uncertainty. Those things can lead to depression—and that makes sense. 

When I was 23 and went through a bout of depression, it made sense: I’d gone through my first truly serious breakup; broken ties with two of my best friends; couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life; and was being labeled a total disappointment to my family. Depression made sense. 

Understanding it “made sense” to be depressed did not, in fact, lessen my depression. It didn’t help me get out of bed. Understanding it didn’t help me overcome the feelings of resignation and pain.

Getting to a place of understanding only served to confirm my suspicion that feeling shitty was the logical reaction to my seemingly shitty life.

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

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

Life was going pretty damn well: I’d just gotten married to an amazing woman; I’d just become the stepfather to an incredible 7-year-old boy who I loved; and I’d just fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams and published a book that became a New York Times bestseller.

Add to the list of blessings: a stable and profitable business; some of the best friends in the world; settling a new life in California; being courted by a number of talent agencies and production companies for various exciting creative projects.

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

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

There was nothing wrong with my life. By any definition, my life was fucking awesome. I didn’t just have everything I could want—I had everything I’d ever wanted.

As I was constantly reminded (by myself and others) I should have been happier than I’d ever been. 

Instead, I spent four months in the bottomless pit of a depression so dark I was convinced I’d never see my way out of it. 

Every morning, I’d get up at 7:30, get my son off to school, then come home and collapse on the couch for three hours. It was all I could do.

I simply could not marshal the wherewithal to maintain consciousness for more than a few hours.

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

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

Most of the time, I would sit and wallow in guilt–severe, paralyzing, guilt that drove me deeper into depression and added a hefty dollop of self-loathing to the mix. 

The guilt came from two places. Firstly, trying (and failing) to reason my way out the depression: sitting there and saying, “nothing is wrong. Your life is perfect. Look at all the awesome shit you have going on. Being depressed is wrong. Just stop.”

Just stop,” I told myself. I hope you, at least, see how ridiculous that is, even if I couldn’t at the time. And that inability tends to make things worse.

Again: you can’t out-think depression. And you most certainly cannot will it away.

Trying to do so made me aware I didn’t have a “valid reason” to be depressed, starkly illustrating to me that my inability to get my emotional state under control made me an abject failure as a human being. This was a one-two punch of superficial guilt and inadequacy.

Secondly, and most importantly, the guilt was a result of feeling like I was failing the people around me.

In a cruel twist, fate has blessed me twice over, granting me hero complex to go along with my depression. This fun and exciting wrinkle in my psyche manifests in the insidious form of dedication to service. I derive value and self-worth is by serving, helping, and saving other people. 

Drawing value and fulfillment from helping others is not, in and of itself, “bad.” But the opposite side of that coin is the way that not being able to help others—or, in this case, hurting others merely by existing—makes me feel.

There’s no way around the fact that experiencing depression affects everyone around you; simply said, it makes life harder for the people you love. They worry about you, they have to adjust their behavior to avoid upsetting you, and they have to pick up the slack resulting from your inability to perform. 

For most people, that feels shitty. For a person like me, it’s dangerous in ways I cannot fully describe.

This, I think, is the worst part of depression. The condition itself is awful—the despondency, the feeling of resignation that it may never end, the overwhelming helplessness. Those are terrible. 

But the horror of those pales in comparison to guilt blooming from my acute awareness of my condition making life harder for people I loved. People I cared about. People who depended on me. 

I was the patriarch of a new family, and I spent night after terrifying night feeling like I was failing them at every turn. 


Denial, Shame, & Vulnerability

If the first impulse is to face-down depression with logic, the second is undoubtedly to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Some of us do this even to ourselves and weave symphonies of self-denial and emotional repression so magnificent it’s a wonder we can ever see our way through.

Many years ago, this was my go-to strategy. I couldn’t bear the thought of being depressed, so I masked it with other things: rage, lust, distraction.

As I grew in terms of my emotional maturity and was able to meet depression on my own terms internally, one thing did not change: I refused to let anyone see it. I refused to be vulnerable. 

This is one of the things I struggle with to this day. Contrary to what this article may seem to imply, nothing comes quite so naturally to me as hiding my emotions. Whenever I was in the throes of depression, I would simply hide it from friends and family.

This was the crux of it all: the grand masquerade. Pretending things were fine. Pretending to be fine. More than fine. Happy. Beyond happy.

And holy fuck was this exhausting.

Perhaps the only thing more emotionally draining than being depressed is pretending not to be.

Fooling people who know you better than anyone is no small feat, especially when it comes to your emotional state. But I did it. Did it well.

During these times, my entire life became a series of acts and lies.

Months and months of dumb show and mimicry, a sickening simulacrum of normalcy. I’d post social media updates portraying my life as awesome beyond all mortal ken—while researching ways to kill myself. I’d take people out to dinner, or bars, or clubs and put on the happiest performance you’ve ever seen, only to go home and cry until I would pass out. 

Hiding, hiding. Always hiding. Hiding and wallowing in deep shame, shame that demanded I hide.

Shame about being weak, shame about being in pain, shame about being anything other than perfect.

Burdened with the yoke of expectation, I simply could not bring myself to let anyone down.

And I knew I would.

Forgive whatever inherent egotism you perceive under the surface of this statement, but my experience of life has been one of expectation. The people around me expect (and to some extent demand) I be super-human. 

I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t their fault. I’ve portrayed myself this way for them, set the precedent that no matter what happens, I’m the guy they can call to fix things. They came to rely on me because I let them. I encouraged them. 

They, in turn, unwittingly encourage me to continue the act. There were a few occasions, very few, when in a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability, I would reveal my depression to someone in my life, hoping for…something. If not understanding, then at least a small reprieve; a chance to shed the mask for a moment and just be. 

That hope was rewarded with many things, but never what I sought. In a moment of openness, revealing my broken self to my closest friends, I watched them react with either suspicion or incredulity. They couldn’t fathom that I’d be depressed, that I was capable of being depressed. 

I cannot truly blame them, of course. I’d spent so much of my life suffering from feelings of not being accepted I cultivated an evidently impenetrable defense; an attractive carapace of muscle and charisma so convincing it telegraphed something I have never felt: wholeness. My armor told everyone, I have it all together. Except I didn’t. I don’t. 

Seeing people recoil with obvious disgust at the idea I was simply not okay rocked me to my core. So I learned to hide it: to wrap myself more deeply in my cloak of misdirection; to pretend I was fine; to be fine for everyone else.

I learned to put myself last. Always and only.

Lest I give the impression of martyring myself, I will say here I take all responsibility for the situation.

When I tell you I learned to be ashamed of my depression–and learned to be even more ashamed of the idea of being vulnerable–I don’t mean to imply anyone did it to me. Very clearly, it was something I did myself. 

There are many, many steps to my particular dance with depression, and this is one during which I always stumble. To this day, it’s hard for me to let people in; to allow them to see me as anything less than perfect. It’s hard to be vulnerable, and not be ashamed.

I’m working on it, but it’s difficult.

There are people in my life–good friends, people I truly love—who until the original publication of this essay did not know most of what I’ve herein revealed. 

For some of them, this piece was the first they learned of it. For a few, it was a shock to learn about how bad it can be.

This is less the case now, I think, as I have tried very hard to be open about this with the people in my life.

Back in 2013, it was not so. 

My depression was bad. Truly bad. And I did my best to hide it from the world, including those closest to me. 

The shame of it, of the weakness of feeling depressed, coupled with my refusal to be vulnerable and ask for help, added to the guilt of how my depression was making their lives difficult was simply too much.

Within three months, the guilt had pushed me past my breaking point. My thoughts turned to suicide and stayed there for longer than I’d like to admit. Ending my life, I reasoned, was not only the solution to my pain but also the most logical way to make life better for my family and friends. 


ON SUICIDE 

In his definitive work, Suicide, French sociologist Émile Durkheim discusses four subtypes of suicide. Among these is altruistic suicide, best understood as the taking of one’s own life for the benefit of others. When you contemplate suicide as a way of “saving” the people you love from having to deal your wretched existence, this describes you. And it certainly described me.

For weeks, I thought about little else but ending my own life.

On more than a few occasions, I found myself locked in my office with a belt around my neck, trying to decide if the inconvenience of having to deal with my death and all of its practical aftermath would be worse for my family than the continued nuisance of dealing with me.

Looking back, the truly frightening thing about this is the emotionlessness with which I deliberated the undertaking. At no point during my weeks-long period of consideration of the pros and cons of my death was I in an activated state. Rather, I experienced life numbly, floating in a sea of dispassionate calm, dropping weight after weight on a set of mental scales to tip them this way or that and determine my fate.

Three weeks in, I concluded the financial hardship my death would place upon my family was unfair. Whether the decision was influenced more by cowardice, courage, or ineptitude remains a mystery to me. 

Admittedly, I’m one of those darkly twisted artist types with a somewhat romanticized view of suicide. Not to say I really view it as a solution, but I obviously understand the drive. 

There’s more to this than my Hemingway fetish and my desperate desire to view myself as a tortured genius. Monstrous though it sounds, I think there’s something to be said for taking control in the most extreme way possible. 

In an interview with Larry King, former Smiths frontman and avatar of the melancholic, Morrissey, said he considers suicide to be in some way admirable. The key thing he says, the thing I think is worth exploring, is, “just taking control and saying, ‘no more.’”

Control. Suicide comes down to control. You have the option to control this massive event, the largest thing that will ever happen, this inevitable thing looming on the horizon for everyone. 

Death comes for each of us. That part is true for us all. On some conceptual level, we get it. And we try to be okay with it.

To the greatest extent we can, we face with equanimity that all of us are on borrowed time. The thing is, most of us don’t know how much time. 

And the uncertainty of when is far more terrifying than anything else.

We have no idea how or when we’re going to pass from this world. We walk around in absolute ignorance regarding the only truly certain thing we will ever face. 

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

Unless…

Unless you decide to take control and end it yourself. Unless you decide to check out and say fuck the Fates and Furies and just wrest control from the universe.

This doesn’t mean suicide is a good idea. It doesn’t mean it’s “admirable” or brave. It could be both or neither. It could be cowardly or insane. I’m not here to argue or make a value judgment, only to tell you about my own experiences, and the occasional insight gleaned through examination of those experiences.

And in examining why, I realize much of my consideration is the appeal of taking control of something that controls us all: life and death. 

Such examination led me to question something about my own depression: if suicide seems appealing because it offers control, then is my depression the result of feeling out of control?

Partially, yes. I can’t gainsay feeling out of control is going to lead to depression, but I can admit nearly every time I’ve struggled with depression, there have been things in my life that felt like they were beyond my control.


CONTROL 

Closer examination of my behaviors during my recent depressive episodes quite clearly illustrates my need to gain and exercise control. Usually, it’s been over small things, as I’ve felt unequal to addressing anything large. 

This was very much the case during my depressive crisis in 2013. When I was able to do anything at all, I focused me energy on controlling and altering my environment to an obsessive degree.

I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy decorating the new house in California. I hung light fixtures. I installed new outlets. I painstakingly designed furniture and sent the specs off to manufacturers to have things custom made. 

Strange as it may seem, I couldn’t motivate myself to create anything for work, but I spent weeks working on the gallery wall in my office: I picked out the exact right pictures and frames, meticulously focused on placement, and did nothing short of making that project my life for a month.

At the time, this behavior–like nearly everything else–filled me with guilt and shame. I chastised myself for spending time on such trivia bullshit when I should have been working.

Only in retrospect can I recognize the role my gallery wall played in saving my life: being able to exercise absolute control over something low stakes was essential, something to create order amid the chaos, helping me reorganize the pieces of my shattered psyche and slowly pull myself together.

Understanding this is vital, as it informs a logical progression we can not ignore. If we define control as the ability to exert your will on the world and accept that a part of depression is feeling unable to do so, we’re led to conclude an effective strategy for managing and surviving depression is by to seize and exercise control when and where you can.

Something worth noting: ending my life would have given me control—but so did choosing not to end it. And looking at things from that perspective certainly helped. 


THE OTHER SIDE

There are so many different ways to experience depression, and I only know my own. I have no idea what it’s like for anyone else. I’m not even sure I’ve done a good job explaining what it’s like for me. 

In fact, I don’t know much. Not for certain, at least. And the things I do know for certain aren’t particularly comforting. 

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

I know most of the time, I’m okay. Most of the time I’m not depressed. Most of the time I’m fine, and happy, and productive. Most of the time. 

And I truly mean most of the time; on the timeline of my life, the total number of days or weeks or months I’ve spent depressed probably qualifies as mathematically inconsequential. I’m typically brash, boisterous, happy-go-lucky. I’m friendly and goofy and annoyingly passionate about love and life and sex and food and literature and music.

Most of the time, I’m not just okay—I’m great. I’m not manic, I’m fucking fantastic.

Which makes my periods of depression all the more infuriating and debilitating, because they’re a radical shift from my baseline. It’s a hard thing to go from seeing possibility everywhere to being unable to find a reason to get out of bed.

Still. I know that I’m okay. Most of the time.

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

I don’t know when that’ll be. Or in what form. 

Again, I can speak only for myself, but things don’t really follow any schedule or come at predictable intervals. Things just start feeling awful. Then they feel worse. And then you sort of get used to feeling awful.

Then things change a bit. Just a little. Incrementally. By degrees.

In like a lion, out like a lamb, as the adage goes. When depression fades, it’s gradual. There is no overt shift, no celebratory event, no clear signal the storm has passed. Things just slowly get better. Day by day you’re able to function a little bit more. And then one day, you look up to realize you’re doing pretty well and things seem less grey, and the world seems to offer up reasons to keep living.

And there are reasons: thousands upon thousands of reasons. And they’re all around you. You need only wait things out long enough for the veil to lift so you can see them.

Now, let’s talk about how to do that. 



TREATMENT, RESOURCES, & ADDITIONAL READING

The goal of this piece was never to create give you a how-to guide for either managing depression or avoiding suicide. In the first place, speaking purely in professional (but also personal) terms, I’m not qualified to do either.

On a more purely personal note, I spend so much time trying to figure this shit out in my own life doing so would feel wildly dishonest, especially with regard to suicide.

My hypocrisy, after all, goes only so far.

The intent here has been to share my experience with you, maybe create a bit of awareness, and—hopefully—allow you to glean something from it.

Having said all of that, since the original publication of this article I’ve been made aware of how much something like this piece can help, and that is not something I take lightly.

To that: therapy and medication are viable options for treatment, as are other less clinical approaches: meditation, exercise, certain dietary changes. All of them work, in their own way.

While I dislike medication, I will admit anti-depressants, taken in moderate doses for short periods of time (8-12 weeks) have seemed to work for getting me through the hardest times. Out of interest, it may be worth noting I have had far more success with NDRI drugs than those classified as SSRI. 

Therapy is something from which everyone can benefit, so I feel strongly I can recommend it safely. 

Beyond that: sure. Eat right. Exercise. Do that stuff. But if you need more serious help, get it. 


Whether you are yourself besieged with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, or you know someone you suspect may be in distress, the following are important and helpful.

First and foremost: If you’re actually considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Secondly, if you’re exploring depression from an academic perspective and trying to figure out how the pieces of all of this fit together in your particular emotional landscape, I encourage you to spend some time reading the following articles:

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

I’ve not always been able to do this. But I believe it is necessary. The long view is important. Perspective is important. Because chances are, whatever fresh hell you’re experiencing is a temporary thing. And that’s a straight up fact. Whatever it is, eventually you’re going to feel better; or, at least, less awful.

My point is, pain is temporary. Your experience of depression, however powerful, is an exercise in exposure to the impermanence of humanity—and there is simply no real upside to facilitating death with suicide. Because once you’re dead, that’s it. Game over.

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 feeling relieved to have failed.

Again: Nearly all those who’ve failed in the attempt to take their lives are happy they’re still alive. Realistically, life probably isn’t much different for them, but they have some new perspective.

While I admit the idea of committing suicide might occasionally appeal to the tortured artist in me, the pragmatic side of my personality rails against the thought from the outside. Because suicide is permanent—and, ultimately robs the world of whatever contributions you may make in the future.

What if Hemingway killed himself before The Sun Also Rises? Or The Old Man and the Sea? What if Robin Williams had killed himself before Good Will Hunting?

We’ll never know what gifts these giants might have given us had they made a different choice, but we do know the ways in which the world would have been deprived had they taken their lives earlier.

Personally, I take this to heart. While I cannot claim any Pulitzer Prize-winning manuscripts or Oscar-worthy performances, in my own small way I change lives. I have a file on my computer of emails filled with several hundred notes from people whose lives my work has changed; those are lives I would not have had the chance to touch had I checked out years ago.

And that, to me, is a reason to keep living.

Fourthly, take control. As I mentioned above, I’ve come to believe suicide is an attempt to feel in control, and both depression and anxiety result (in part) from feeling out of control. So take control—of something, anything.

Take control of your body. Cut your hair. Get a tattoo. Sign up for a transformation challenge. You’d be surprised how this can help. And personally, I am endlessly surprised by how many of my clients tell me they were suffering from depression before starting their fitness journey.

Take control of your environment. Change something. Try to devote five minutes a day to imposing your will on something external. There have been some surveys suggesting something as simple as making your bed every morning can mitigate the symptoms of depression.

Take control of your mind. Meditate. Read. Write. Examine. Discuss. Whatever seems interesting to you, dive into it and allow it to eat up some of the energy the black dog is trying to siphon from you. I have a friend who was experiencing intense feelings of anxiety and being constantly overwhelmed and decided to address it by taking control of his inbox. 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 it helped.

Fifthly, do less. A big part of feeling out of control is simply feeling overwhelmed. If you have too much shit to do, and your ability to produce is already hampered by your emotional state, then you’re not going to get it all done. Trust me, this will push you further in depression.

If you can eliminate something, do it. Do less. Say no to as much as you can. Push off any obligations or projects that aren’t immediately urgent. Delegate things to other people, and actually allow them to help you.

Finally, that brings me to my last point: ask for help. This is the hardest thing of all, but also the single most important, and the most beneficial.

If you’re anything like me, you feel deep shame about asking for help, and more so about needing help.

As of this update, I have had four suicide attempts.

Of these, two were attempts at self-harm, but not true attempts to end my life. They fall into the category we colloquially term a cry for help. This is ironically ill-named, as most people (myself included) never tell anyone about such attempts.

The other two attempts qualify as what mental health professionals label a sincere attempt.

Getting into the details of these things is beyond the scope of this article, except to say this: if you do not receive help; if you do not seek help; if you do not allow people who love you to help you, then you’re liable to wake up in a puddle of your own making, vomiting blood and partially-digested prescription narcotics from your nose. 

I find it almost impossible to look back now and get into the mind of the person I was in those moments—but I do know that in neither case did I allow myself to ask for help.

Having spent a lot of time in both reflection and discussion, I note that suicide is something contemplated for extended periods of time—and yet the decision to execute is made in a single moment. And had I only reached out to someone, anyone, and been able to lean on them for support, I fervently believe I’d have gotten through it without self-harm.

Ask for help. From a friend. A loved one. A stranger. The hotline. A support group. If you’re struggling and you need to talk, I am here for you.  

THERE’S ALWAYS MORE TO SAY

Depression has been the great struggle of my life. And it will continue to be. I’m in no position to tell you how to solve your problems. I’m just someone who might understand them.

In terms of trying to actually deal with things, regardless of what else I’ve tried, one thing has always been clear: for me, the only way to get through it is to get through it. And that means not killing myself. 

It means seeking help and support. It means taking control where I can. It also means being open and vulnerable, and taking steps like putting my story out there.

Campbell said, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”

In the years since first revealing my struggle, I’ve come to see what treasure that is. Understanding. Commiseration. Love. 

At the heart of it, though, I’d like to help—and exposing this piece of me has proven to be the best way to do that.

In his 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts, Neil Gaiman said:

“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”

So here’s to getting it right.

If you can relate to this, if this hits home for you, please share it; but more importantly please share your story. It might help you. But even if it doesn’t, it’ll probably help someone else. And that can be just as important. 

If you struggle with depression, know that I’m sorry. I truly am. I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t suck. Because it does. And I’m not going to say it’ll all be okay. Because it may not. I can’t even promise it’ll get better. Because that might not be the case.

But I can tell you there’s more to say. I can tell you ending it means you don’t get to say it. I can tell you as long as you’re here, you have a chance: to be happier, to make a difference, and to help others.

I can tell you, above all,  you’re not alone. 

Which means I’m not either. There are a few thousand semicolon tattoos out there to drive the point home. And that is a comfort.

 


addndm, 6.18.18

There are many dark things in our lives we must face, both without and within us. The latter often being by far the scarier–they are the battles we assume we must fight alone.

But whether the demons are outside us or in, even the darkest things in the world are a bit less scary when we don’t have to face them alone. And you don’t.

Remember always: you are loved. Should you forget, you need only reach out–and I will remind you. 

That is my promise to you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

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.

Comments for This Entry

  • galarix

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

    June 4, 2016 at 10:27 pm

  • James Artre

    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.

    June 3, 2016 at 2:34 pm

  • 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.

    May 29, 2016 at 2:22 am

  • 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. "

    May 27, 2016 at 9:59 am

  • Diya Sharma

    Thank you for sharing.

    May 26, 2016 at 2:03 pm

  • John Romaniello

    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.

    January 19, 2016 at 6:22 pm

  • 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.

    January 6, 2016 at 9:42 pm

  • 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 ;- /

    December 14, 2015 at 11:57 am

  • Dejan

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

    November 7, 2015 at 5:40 pm

  • 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.

    October 4, 2015 at 4:09 pm

  • 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

    September 27, 2015 at 9:42 pm

  • 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;

    September 26, 2015 at 7:44 pm

  • 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!

    September 26, 2015 at 7:34 pm

  • 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.

    September 25, 2015 at 2:21 pm

  • 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.

    September 24, 2015 at 12:38 am

  • 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.

    September 23, 2015 at 10:43 pm

  • saretta

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

    September 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm

  • 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.

    September 23, 2015 at 3:13 pm

  • Beth

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

    September 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm

  • 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

    September 23, 2015 at 1:41 pm

  • 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.

    September 23, 2015 at 6:01 am

  • 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.

    September 23, 2015 at 2:29 am

  • BalashstarGalactica

    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.

    September 23, 2015 at 1:33 am

  • Aaron Farr

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

    September 22, 2015 at 11:41 pm

  • K Moon Howe

    Fucking right on, man. Props and gratitude.

    September 22, 2015 at 11:27 pm

  • 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.

    September 22, 2015 at 9:27 pm

  • 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!

    September 22, 2015 at 8:24 pm

  • 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!

    September 22, 2015 at 7:14 pm

  • 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

    September 22, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    • 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.

      September 23, 2015 at 12:49 am

  • David

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

    September 22, 2015 at 6:56 pm

  • Phil Ferrante

    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.

    September 22, 2015 at 6:48 pm

  • Carol_Z

    Thank you for this.

    September 22, 2015 at 6:36 pm

  • 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!

    September 21, 2015 at 8:28 pm

  • 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.

    September 19, 2015 at 7:43 pm

  • 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.

    September 18, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    • 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

      September 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

  • CS

    Well done Sir, well fucking done

    September 18, 2015 at 2:29 am

  • Amber Gregorio

    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.

    September 17, 2015 at 3:42 pm

  • 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.

    September 17, 2015 at 1:51 pm

  • Cyndi

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

    September 17, 2015 at 1:55 am

  • 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.

    September 16, 2015 at 10:45 pm

  • 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.

    September 16, 2015 at 8:17 pm

  • 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.

    September 16, 2015 at 5:54 pm

  • Louie Guarino

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

    September 16, 2015 at 3:42 pm

  • bsdwydaho

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

    September 16, 2015 at 2:57 pm

  • Full Musculo

    Stop postponing the inebitable, you need to get fit now and you know it!! Get daily free tools in our website to create the body you want as soon as possible. Visit our project for instant profits while you contribute to a cause that will change fitness as we know it. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/improving-health-and-transforming-bodies#/story

    September 16, 2015 at 1:34 pm

  • Dr. Spencer Nadolsky

    Strong article Roman.

    September 16, 2015 at 11:14 am

  • Chris

    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?

    September 16, 2015 at 10:03 am

    • 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.

      September 24, 2015 at 12:48 am

  • 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.

    September 16, 2015 at 5:16 am

  • 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.

    September 16, 2015 at 5:15 am

  • 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.

    September 16, 2015 at 5:02 am

  • 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 :)

    September 16, 2015 at 4:17 am

  • Jackie Pearce

    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.

    September 16, 2015 at 2:32 am

  • 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!

    September 16, 2015 at 2:30 am

  • Harry Guinness

    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.

    September 16, 2015 at 2:07 am

  • 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.

    September 16, 2015 at 2:06 am

Leave a Comment