There were two times I wanted to end it all. The first was in 1999, at the age of 17. The second time came in 2011, shortly before I turned 30. Both of these experiences were borne of circumstances that resulted in terrifying, all-consuming depressions. They forced me to question everything I had ever believed about life, hope, and the meaning (or lack thereof) of life.
But there is one fundamental difference between what happened in my first depression, and what happened years later. When I was a teenager, I attempted suicide twice. I was fortunate to fail miserably, but I had reached the place beyond despair. I was done. Life had had its way with me, and there was only one solution: death.
In the second depression, I did not attempt to take my life. This was true even though my circumstances were in some ways far more terrifying and dangerous than when I was younger.
So, why is this? Why did I choose to live the second time?
NOTE: before I proceed, I want to note that if you are feeling suicidal, please get help now. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255) immediately. This line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you or someone you know is facing an emergency, call 911. If you are depressed, seek out the help of a mental health professional. You can also find further support in the resources section at the end of this post.
This is brutally difficult for me to write about, but I need to offer you a bit of my story:
1999: THE MIRROR AND THE BLADE
I'm 17. I remember standing in my best friend's bathroom, staring into the mirror. I saw a shell of a person; a physical presence—but in that presence was a sense of nothing. It was literally as if I didn't exist. After what felt like an eternity, I crushed up half a bottle of ibuprofen and forced myself to swallow it all.
I was scared, but my despondency was beyond repair. So I laid down, closed my eyes, and passed out.
I knew my friend wouldn’t be pleased to find me, but there was something oddly comforting in knowing that my best friend might find me dead. I didn’t want to do that to him, but it was my only option. In feeling so alone, I wanted someone who loved me to find me.
The next morning, I woke up in a fog. I was alive. Dammit. Bewildered, exhausted, and irritated, I was disappointed to feel just as hollow as I had the day before. My heart was racing, my skin perspiring in the cold. I felt very ill, as if I could pass out again at any moment. But I knew that in my suicide attempt, I had failed. Little did I know that I had chosen a ridiculously ineffective way of ending my life. I had been spared.
A few weeks later my inner despondency had not diminished, so I decided to give it another go. This time I was ready. I knew I had to be swift and I wanted to suck the life out of myself as quickly as possible.
So I grabbed a fresh razor blade and held it to my wrist. As I pressed I distinctly remember slowing my breathing, because this time I was terrified. I was fully aware that this time, it might really work. As scared as I was, I reasoned that the pain of killing myself would pale in comparison to the pain of living a life comprised entirely of pain. I was using pain to eliminate pain.
Then something happened. Just as my wrist started to bleed, I froze. I didn't feel better, but I suddenly remembered some of my best friends. Something inside me whispered, Are you sure? Is this really what you want?
Although I was hardly met with some otherworldly revelation in that moment, I did care just enough about other people to chicken out.
In the end, chickening out saved my life, for good.
2011: WE'RE NOT SURE. YOU MIGHT BE HAVING STROKES
In late 2010 I began what can only be described as "attacks," in which my body would go numb, I'd pass out, or I'd completely lose my sense of self. A debilitating series of episodes ensued, in which I found myself both literally and figuratively paralyzed over and over again. I couldn't think straight, and I experienced the gamut of physical and neurological symptoms: confusion, memory loss, vertigo, rage, fainting, loss of bodily function, irritability, hyper-awareness, numbness, extreme fatigue, hallucinations, and hopelessness.
My doctors had no idea what the hell was going on with me. I distinctly remember being in my doctor's office when he came in and said:
We're not sure. You might be having strokes.
I couldn't help but think: holy shit. I'm going to die and I'm not even 30.
Then came concerns about the possibility of MS and any number of other terrifying conditions. After months of testing, we discovered that after a period of dormancy, my epilepsy had resurged with a vengeance. This was a horrifying prospect, because I am heavily medication-resistant and previous attempts to treat me had resulted in life-threatening allergic reactions.
Parallel to this, my relationship with my girlfriend at the time—the first woman I thought I might marry—fell apart, in the middle of the crisis. I slipped into a depression, gained 50 pounds, drowned myself out in a reckless pattern of drinking and binge eating, and completely isolated myself. I rarely saw my friends, called my family, or made much of a contribution to society.
I was undergoing a seemingly endless series of treatments for my epilepsy, most of which, as I predicted, weren't working. During the ensuing year, I suffered numerous allergic reactions, debilitating cognitive and physiological side-effects, and countless seizures. With the drugs, I couldn't function. Without the drugs, I could have a seizure at any moment. I was utterly convinced that my meds were creating a brain disorder on top of the brain disorder I already had.
Not exactly a recipe for adventure and good health, huh?
No. Not at all. But I was remembered how close I had come to the abyss over a decade earlier, and I was determined not to hand over my life to the mirror and the blade again.
I wrote about my first experience with depression last year. In that piece I gave the beast of depression and the suicidal mind a name: The Nothingness. The Nothingness is like a parasite that methodically consumes every fiber of your being, gradually feeding off of you until there's almost nothing left. I say almost because this is what The Nothingness wants: it wants to keep you alive just enough so that you'll continue to provide it with the necessary fuel to feed off of you.
The Nothingness is the most terrifying entity I've ever confronted in life, and in my junior year of high school, it came dangerously close to killing me. In 2011, I did not allow that to happen. Why?
I'm not going to tell you that I had some epiphanic revelation and proclaim that I woke up and decided to change overnight. It didn't happen because I just snapped out of it or decided to be happy with bullshit affirmations or made a trip to Disney World to hang out with Donald Duck. I didn't exorcise my depression by "taking responsibility" and I didn't "cure" it by breathing deeply every day. Instead, I emerged on a complicated, aching, messy, protean journey of radical self-acceptance, spiritual discipline, intentioned action, and most importantly, service and connection.
In short, I chose to live right before I decided to die by choosing to live not for myself, but for others.
THE TRAGEDY OF DEPRESSION
In both of my depressions—when I was convinced that I wanted to end it all—I came to the same conclusion:
Life is a tragedy.
Yes, I really believed that life itself was a tragedy. However, in 1999, I had one option: fuck it all and end it all. But in 2011, I realized I had another option:
If my life is going to suck, I might as well help others while I'm still here.
In both cases, I knew my incessant hopelessness was a bit ridiculous. I remained intellectually aware that I could bring myself out of what was afflicting me, but it didn’t matter.
This is one of the most overlooked horrors of depression: your mental state isn’t altered so much by the fact that you’re constantly thinking melancholic thoughts (although that can happen), it’s that you often don’t end up thinking about much of anything. You are fixated on The Nothingness; desperate to find consolation in a mind that feels as if it's being controlled by an entity you have no control over.
This means that you don’t have the ability to reflect or participate in the world around you. Or heal. Because healing requires action; succumbing to depression very quickly spirals into a cascade of hopelessness. Your depression—by definition—precludes you from doing what you must if you are to recover. This makes working through it feel as likely as surviving a jump off a mountain. In short, it feels impossible.
Yet there is hope. It is not, and will not, ever be completely impossible to overcome.
A REASON TO CHOOSE LIFE
In both of my seasons of depressions, I hated my life. Yet for some reason my friends loved me and stood by me, refusing to let me go. In 1999—amid the crises I was enduring—an increasing number of friends and acquaintances began coming to me for counsel regarding the weightier issues in life. This wasn’t new, but the requests increased. Although I felt I was in no position to help anyone, I did what I could. I listened to them voice their inner fears and unveil their destructive addictions. I merely listened, often for many hours. I offered counsel where I could, and for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, whatever I was doing seemed to help.
Over time I discovered that I could truly aid others in the throes of adversity, and I found a beacon of hope that ultimately helped me to transform my circumstances: in all the conversations I had, I realized that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only person who felt alone or lost. Some of my friends did too, and in that commiseration, the angels of grace began to do their work.
This was a shifting point, or, rather, a series of shifting points, that ultimately led to my escaping the depressions that had threatened my life.
Why did I heal? First, I had to make the decision to live. Not once, but thousands of times. These decisions brought me face to face with my fears, my aches, my rage, and conspired to transcend them. I started researching grief, loss, and adversity quite prolifically. I stopped thinking about myself so much and started turning my energies toward others.
I had to learn to live with the contradictions. The conspicuous holes that had been etched into my soul were never, ever going away. I had to understand that this would never change, and that “getting over” a tragic death—or a series of tragic deaths—is tantamount to forgetting about the loss of a child. It’s not only reprehensible to contemplate, it’s literally not possible.
I had to weave a new mosaic for myself, caressing my shattered life and putting it back together in an entirely new way. And I had to come to terms with the fact that no one would ever be able to do this for me. I had to learn that the way I moved out of victimhood was to accept that I was a victim, and act anyway. Yes, if you’ve been devastated by loss, you are a victim. To say any differently is to dishonor the pain that has wrought havoc upon your life. Yet, despite this, you must make the choice to live. You choose to live by doing, by seeking help, and by giving of yourself. You do this knowing that it will be tremendously difficult. It won’t always make you feel good or happy. Yet it will give birth to change, both in your own life, and in the lives of those you serve.
I am now nothing but honored by all those who have bared their souls to me over the years. Who’ve entrusted me with some of their deepest, darkest secrets, in the hope that in some minuscule, objective way, I might provide even an ounce of refuge, an offering of understanding, and above all, acknowledgment. Acknowledgment is so powerful because it bears witness. It assures the wounded soul that they are not entirely alone, that their pain is not trivial, and that their loss—in whatever form—is not forgotten.
Devastation tears a void inside your soul so vast it paralyzes your humanity. It rips apart your desires, fragments your love, and whispers to your soul—relentlessly—that you will be on your own, forever.
In some cases, it takes away your fundamental desire to do anything, including live.
In the years since that first depression, I have faced far more devastation. More friends have died, far before their time. Health crises have threatened my life. Poor choices have resulted in periods of intense isolation and self-sabotage. I’ve not always acted in congruence with my values, but I’ve learned to give of myself to those in pain, as much as I'm able.
If there's anything I've learned in my many years of speaking to and working with people in great difficulty, it's that pain is everywhere. But it's often buried, lurking behind the veils of bullshit we elicit to protect ourselves from the world—even when we’re all too aware of the fact that those walls usually produce even more pain than they alleviate.
There have been times where I’ve wanted to die since my first depression, lost in the fog of devastation. Yet I have always remained aware of love’s capacity not to defeat pain, but to transcend it. I understand that vulnerability is one of the greatest gifts you can impart to someone, and one of the most treasured gifts that you can receive. I know that there are some in the world who need me. It is not altogether different from the ethos of the military. Any combat-worn soldier will tell you: you don’t fight primarily for your country, you fight for the man or woman next to you. That’s all that matters. You take it upon yourself to pledge your life in service to them—your brothers and sisters. That’s what keeps you going, even amid the greatest travesties.
I did not initially choose to live for myself or any external reward. I chose to live so that I might serve others. I realized that even if I didn't give a damn about myself, I could still use whatever I had to save others. I remain cognizant of the fact that I am needed, and I will fight for every one of my brothers and sisters until the end. This is what I must do.
I implore you to make the same choice.
WHEN THE NOTHINGNESS MAKES A SURPRISE APPEARANCE
I won't bullshit you. Despite the radical changes I've made in my life in recent years, there are times I still want to die, if only for a few moments. Times when every fiber of my being seems to be screaming at me: what’s the fucking point of it all? Am I completely alone in the world? If I am, what does that mean? How is it that a species so hardwired for connection can feel so utterly, completely disconnected? If God exists, why all this suffering and pain? If God doesn't exist, why all this suffering and pain?
Make no mistake: depression can come out of nowhere. It is a paralyzing, uncompromising force, and it doesn't give a shit how adjusted you are, how successful you are, or how strong or smart or wealthy you are.
In fact, I've faced depressive episodes even during times of great success and achievement. But when The Nothingness returns, I act immediately to fight against it. And I need you to do the same.
WHY I CHOSE NOT TO KILL MYSELF
AGAIN: If you are feeling suicidal, please get help now. Call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255) immediately. This line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you or someone you know is facing an emergency, call 911. If you are depressed, seek out the help of a mental health professional.
I want to offer an analysis of why I chose to live, even when I felt there was no hope. I offer this to you to ponder, especially if you are suicidal, have been suicidal, or know people who are.
These lessons in self-discovery won't work for everyone, but I hope that they might provide refuge for some people who want to give up.
1. I came to understand that suicide is not an isolated incident
It's not isolated. Ever. I knew that if I took my own life, it would be like stabbing a machete into the heart of every person who ever loved me.
This is worth pondering, because although it might feel as if no one will really care if you're gone, I guarantee that this is not the case at all. Think on some of the people who have most moved you in life. Chances are some of them are not even fully aware of the effect they've had on you. If you decide to end it all, you will be leaving them without the gift of you for the duration of their lives.
I've lost several friends to suicide, and I miss every one of them dearly. Their absence has left a hole inside of me that nothing will ever replace.
2. I realized that I would devastate my parents for the rest of their lives
After all, I lost my only brother. Even when my relationship with my parents was painful and distant, I knew that to take my own life would be to bury them in a prison of hell that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Was I really going to make my parents bury both of their children?
No matter the relationship you have with your family, making the decision to kill yourself will leave them shattered.
3. I realized that if I went through with it, there would be no reconsideration
None. If I did it, I would not be able to take it back. My absence would never engender my presence ever again.
This is essential to meditate on, because suicide is one of the only decisions in life that carries utter, total finality. There is no going back. Ever. Once you jump into the abyss, there can be no undoing of what you have wrought.
4. I came to understand that deep within me—hidden under the layers of shame, fear and self-hatred, I still had some sense of control. I could still make some choices. And the most important of those was to help others. I came to understand that even if I didn't care about myself, I didn't want others to suffer. This was perhaps the one and only thing that The Nothingness could never take away from me: the desire to aid those I cared for.
This is critical to ponder. It's not pollyannaish to say that no matter what you've endured, no matter how hopeless things seem, you do retain some control over your actions. No matter how terrifying your circumstances are, you still possess an inner agency that no one and no entity can ever take away.
5. I realized that my problems weren't permanent, and that some of them weren't as devastating as I thought they were
Depression has a crafty way of convincing you to believe a terrifying dichotomy: it convinces you that nothing matters and that everything is a disaster at the same time. In my experience, it's used the latter against the former, to horrifying effect. By coming to the belief that practically everything in my life was the end of the world, The Nothingness came in and effectively said "see, that's terrible. So it doesn't matter. Everything in life is painful and dastardly, so you shouldn't give a shit about any of it."
This is one of the most pernicious aspects of the disease: everything's a disaster, so the only way through it is to believe that none of it matters. In other words, everything gets blown out of proportion such that you keep believing there's no point to it all.
But this is a lie. Although some of my trials were indeed tragic and devastating, some of my problems were actually very much within my power to address. This is essential to examine if you find yourself overwhelmed and desperate in life.
A helpful exercise is to identify what you can't control and what you can. If you've lost a loved one, that deserves acknowledgement, love, and must be grieved. It cannot be "gotten over" or "let go" of. But even grieving is a choice that requires life, and is a pilgrimage that honors what we have lost by choosing to live, even when we feel we can't.
With many of our other problems, there really is the possibility of resolution or, at the very least, of acceptance. Think on some of the fears you had a year ago. Chances are, you don't even remember some of the things that caused you to panic even then. So ask yourself, Is there truly nothing you can do? Are your problems really the end of the world? If you meditate on this, you'll often find that you do, indeed, have more control than you think you do, and that at least some of the problems you're facing are not as dire as you think.
6. I realized that what I really wanted to destroy wasn't my life, but my feelings
We're very good at conflating our emotions and circumstances with our identity. This alone is the cause of untold suffering and misery. By beginning to distinguish between my feelings and my humanity, I was slowly able to see that what I wanted to kill wasn't myself, but how I felt about myself.
I wanted the shame I felt for having a disability to die. I wanted the sense of unworthiness I felt as a result of losing my girlfriend to die. I wanted the guilt I felt for not being able to save my friends who lost their lives to die. I wanted my feelings of helplessness associated with the resurgence of my epilepsy to die.
Over time, I came to understand that the way to alleviate those terrifying feelings wasn't to end my life, but to choose to live and to dedicate my internal resolve to learning how to handle my emotions more healthily and confidently.
This is not an easy process and often take years. But if I can do it, you can too.
THE REALITY OF DEPRESSION, SUICIDE, AND LONELINESS
The statistics surrounding depression and suicide are harrowing and sobering. According to the World Health Organization, depression affects approximately 350 million worldwide, or approximately 5% of the world's population.
Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that depression is either the first or second leading cause of disability worldwide. In America, The National Institute of Mental Health notes that 4o million adults suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder, and approximately 15 million Americans suffer from a major depressive disorder in any given year. And, it's worth noting that these numbers could be much higher, given that many people suffering from depression do not ever report it or seek treatment.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. According to the Center For Disease Control, more than one million Americans attempted suicide in 2013. Over 40,000 people took their own lives that same year, which means that one person commits suicide every 13 minutes. Among young people, over 17% of high school students seriously contemplate suicide in a given year, and 8% attempt it.
At the same time, a growing body of research is revealing that loneliness is literally killing us. Furthermore, the horrors of loneliness aren't just isolated to small pockets of the population; it's affecting young people on an increasingly dangerous level as well. I bring this up because loneliness is one of the most commonly reported symptoms that people facing depression toil with. Virtually every person I've spoken to who's suffered from depression or suicidal thoughts has told me they've often felt plagued by loneliness. This makes perfect sense, because depression has the effect of keeping you in the prison of your mind. Your mind isn't always the most welcoming neighborhood.
Without connection, making the choice to live amid of sea of despair becomes that much more difficult. Given that we're so afraid to actually talk about suicide, those terrified of what life has in store for them often feel that they have nowhere to turn; buried in prisons of isolation and quiet desperation.
Being alone is like being raped by an unseen entity. Often that entity is the beast inside your mind.
The only way to stop this is to rip the fucking stigma off of suicide, talk about it openly, and provide far more sufficient support systems for those who are in the throes of despair.
SUICIDE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT
If you know someone who is currently reeling from the loss of a loved one to suicide, please do not, under any circumstances, judge this person's loss. Whatever your philosophical or moral convictions regarding suicide, do not make the mistake of telling the survivors of a loved one's death that the suicide victim was selfish, that they deserved it, or that their loss was somehow less important because of the nature of their death.
If you do this, I guarantee you will shatter them. People who've buried a loved one in the wake of suicide often feel unbearable shame, guilt, and loneliness. This is an epic scandal, and it's only compounded by the fact that we don't talk about it.
At the end of the day, suicide isn’t romantic, despite how it's sometimes portrayed in the media. It is an aching tragedy that deserves our acknowledgment, understanding, and grace.
One time someone told me to get over the death of a friend who had taken his own life because it wasn't worth it to grieve a man who had killed himself. This was one of the most hurtful things anyone had ever said to me. I initially took solace in the thought that this was merely an anomaly; that this person's words were rare.
Suicide is heavily stigmatized and shamed in ways that few other forms of death are.
Don't compound people's suffering by assigning some sort of condemning meaning to the death of the person who committed suicide after the fact, and don't make the mistake of declaring to know exactly what the suicide victim was thinking before they died. You don't know, so please don't go there.
Finally, it's tragic that I even have to say this, but please never, ever tell the friends or family of a suicide victim that their beloved is in hell. To make such a pronouncement is an act of profound cowardice and serves absolutely no purpose to the loved ones of a suicide victim. Their world has already been turned upside down. Making declarations about the state of someone's soul is devastating and cruel.
If you want to provide solace, be there. Let yourself feel as helpless as the person standing in front of you. Listen to them and weep with them, for weeping alongside someone in pain is like gifting a part your heart to the wounds of their soul. Whether they pour their hearts out to you or they say nothing at all, remain willing to be with them, even if they say nothing. If your friend or loved one needs professional support, don't hesitate to help them find the assistance they need.
I've lost several friends to suicide. The aftermath of those deaths were some of the loneliest periods of my life. I cannot tell you how many times a compassionate friend saved me during those times. In almost every instance, my friends didn't think they were doing anything. But they were literally saving my life by choosing to feel my aloneness alongside me.
Do this for others and you just might save a life yourself.
The fact of the matter is that if we truly want to reduce the suicide rate, we must become far more willing to talk about the horrors and trials of those that find themselves pushed to the abyss. We need to stop pretending that the expression of aching pain is unacceptable, that being unpleasant is treasonous, and that depression is a loser's illness. We need to be willing to affirm, validate, and give solace to those who are on the brink of despair. The most powerful way to begin this process is via the act of acknowledgment.
IF YOU'RE ON THE EDGE OF DESPAIR: STRATEGIES THAT HAVE HELPED ME
I want to make clear that I'm not a medical or mental health professional and that this list of tools is not meant to treat or cure depression. If you are suicidal, it is imperative that you seek out professional support immediately.
Below are some strategies that have helped me tremendously during some of my darkest moments, and serve as deterrents when I find myself slipping into hopelessness or reeling from the fatigue of life. Furthermore, this list is far from exhaustive, but I've returned to these practices time and again amid the hells of life.
1. Speak to a therapist or a licensed mental health professional. If you are on the brink, please, please do this. This is especially true if you don't have many people in your life you feel you can be open and vulnerable with. You may feel as if therapy is pointless or humiliating, but a good therapist can serve as a powerful navigator and companion if you find yourself enraptured in despair. It's also important to note that when you begin therapy, you probably won't feel like it’s "working" at first. This is ok and perfectly natural. Don't look to a therapist to be a "cure," look to a therapist to serve as a source of refuge, understanding, and a mirror by which you can engage in radical self-honesty and acknowledgment.
During my depression in high school, I let my pride get to me and refused to see a therapist. I now regret that, because my refusal of help—in various forms—nearly killed me. When I found myself devastated years later, I sought out therapy and I don't regret it at all. Bear in mind that I'm an extremely skeptical person in many ways. I thought that therapy would be bullshit. But I committed to giving it a fair shot, and I now credit my former therapist with being among those most instrumental in helping me to come to terms with some of the vicious wounds of my past. In the work that I do now many of my mentors and advisors are clinicians, and their contributions to my life have been invaluable.
2. Call one friend you haven’t spoken to in at least a year. Don’t email or text them, call them. This is critical. Hear their voice. Be vulnerable with them, and ask them how you can help them. Nurturing relationships is critical, especially when you want to do anything but.
3. Make concrete plans to meet up with at least one friend or family member this week, and do this every week. No matter how isolated, unworthy, or alone you feel, it is imperative that you provide yourself with human contact regularly. Depression is a beast that thrives on isolation. Isolation is a suicidal mind’s best friend. Take this seriously.
I'm not bullshitting you when I say that even a few moments of eye contact has helped saved me in the past. Do not underestimate the power of connection, and do not underestimate the power of isolation.
4. Move. Do something physically demanding. We all know that exercise is good for us, but do something that’s difficult. The reason I stress this is because strenuous exercise forces your mind to be present to an external objective that takes you out of your mind, if only for a few minutes. It gives you something specific to accomplish, which can be incredibly empowering. Depression wants you to believe that you're not capable of anything. By doing something with your body, you are communicating to your brain that you do, indeed, still have the capacity to make changes in your life, and that you still have some internal resolve, no matter how hopeless you feel.
5. Serve. Yes, get out of the house and do something for someone. Anyone. In any capacity. Help your friend move. Volunteer a few hours tutoring students. Help the old lady who lives down the street carry her groceries. But here's the kicker: don't do this for yourself. In other words, don't offer your assistance with the hope of receiving anything in return. This is paramount because when you're feeling hopeless, The Nothingness is going to do everything it can to convince you that you're not worthy of anything. The more outward-focused you are, the more you'll become aware that you still have the power to effect meaningful change in other people's lives, and thus, in your own life as well.
6. Spend time in nature. Take a hike. Sit on the beach, and listen to the ocean. Go for a run in the wilderness. Doing these things helps because when The Nothingness is jockeying for control of you it's imperative to get in touch with your senses.
With that said, there's a catch: you must get in touch with your senses absent any sort of consumption agent. I stress this because we can use our senses to destroy us just as much as to aid us. This is particularly dangerous to someone who feels like giving up, because The Nothingness is going to want you to do everything in your power to numb yourself out so that it can keep feeding off of you. So the following "entertainments" should be avoided as much as possible: alcohol, unprescribed drugs, promiscuous sex, compulsive eating, TV binge-watching, and online porn. These activities do not feed you. They consume you by turning you into an agent of subservience. They rid you of a bit of your humanity by turning you into an object that consumes things, rather than a person who creates, relates, and serves.
In other words, the more you're being fed by something that requires nothing of you, the less it's actually feeding you. Getting into nature isn't meant to be some sort of pseudo-spiritual "enlightenment," it's helpful because it provides you with space to feel the world around you, resulting in increased objectivity and confidence.
None of these activities will necessarily "heal" you, but they'll aid you in getting out of your mind and into your heart. They'll reveal—even in the most seemingly trivial of ways—that you do have the capacity to make choices, and that you're still perfectly capable of helping others. This is far more powerful than you might realize.
Depression is no joke. There are often strong psychological and biochemical forces involved. It can be paralyzing and deadly, so we must do battle with it. We wage war against it not by hiding or shaming ourselves, but by being vulnerable with ourselves, connecting with others, seeking help without embarrassment, and serving as best we can.
With the above said, I would not spend too much time digesting “self-help” material. There are numerous reasons for this. First of all, self-help literature often serves to intensify, rather than alleviate, feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. Second, much of what passes for "self-help" is self-aggrandizing, highly prescriptive, and formulaic. Far too much of the industry is driven by profit, so quick fixes, indulgent solutions, and empty promises are ubiquitous. There is also a lot of pseudo-science and outright bullshit in the personal development space, and this stuff hurts far more than it helps.
There is some wonderful self-help material available, but it must be approached with caution, particularly when suffering from depression, hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts.
Finally, the problem with much of the "self-help" material is that most of it focuses inward. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s important to remember that depression is like a parasite that feeds off of the self. Depression wants you to be, quite literally, self-absorbed. It wants you to be selfish. Note that I'm not saying that depression is itself selfish, I’m saying that depression feeds off of the most selfish, self-absorbed, and narcissistic parts of ourselves. Self-help material often reinforces the sense of self-absorption we all battle in life, even when its intentions are benign. For an excellent analysis of some of the problems with the self-help industry as a whole, I recommend you read Mark Manson's post addressing the matter here. Most important, understand that while self-help literature can provide solace in difficult times, it is no replacement for professional help, especially in periods of crisis.
SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
I want you to understand that I am but a fellow pilgrim. I don't have all the answers, and if you're feeling as if the world is colluding around you right now, I'm fully aware that an essay isn't going to fix everything. Rather, my hope is that my words bear witness to you, acknowledge you, and perhaps, just perhaps, inspire you to choose life, even if in some small way.
In the end, my periods with turmoil did not destroy me. If they did not destroy me, they do not have to destroy you. Whether you realize it or not, you are needed in this world, and your pain does not make you unworthy of love, connection, or life.
Adversity flows through the essence of the human experience. If you're facing depression or want to give up, you are not alone.
You are not a failure.
You are not inadequate.
You are human.
I will leave you with the words of my friend Esme Wang, which I've returned to time and again: "Life changes without warning, and ends. Show more love. Show more love. Show more love."
This begins with the love you show yourself.
The work of life is hard. I'll never tell you otherwise. But please understand that the vagaries of life are haunting, beautiful, and tender, and there's just as much to live for when you're down as when you're up.
And remember: no matter how much you're fighting—no matter how much you want to give up—you are fighting a battle alongside millions of others.
I'm right here with you, and you are not alone.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the following resources and organizations offer vitally important support and care to those who are affected by depression, abuse, self-injury, and suicide.
I've mentioned this resource several times because it is absolutely critical if you are feeling desperate and suicidal. If you are facing a crisis and need someone to talk to, please immediately reach out to the The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). This line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have live chat available on their website here. If you are on the verge, please, I'm begging you, seek help and talk about it. Particularly for men, this often seems all but impossible. But repression breeds repression. Getting help is nothing to be ashamed of. Also please note that I hope my words are useful, but my words are not enough. If you are depressed or suicidal please get the help you need by calling a professional in your local area.
The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention: this organization does incredibly important work in suicide prevention research and in providing support to the families of those devastated by suicide. They are a wonderful organization to get involved with.
A Human Project: Founded by my friend Wesley Chapman, A Human Project is a non-profit that provides support and resources to children and young adults affected by mental illness, abuse, depression, and suicide.
To Write Love On Her Arms: Founded by Jamie Tworkowski, this non-profit does extraordinary work in supporting people affected by depression, addiction, and suicide.
Project Semicolon: Founded by Amy Bleuel, this non-profit offers hope and encouragement to those suffering from depression, self-injury, mental illness, and suicide.
Speaking of Suicide: A site that offers support, solace, and resources to suicidal individuals, suicide survivors, and their families.
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron. This is perhaps the most brutally honest, poignant, and relevant description of depression and emotional turmoil I've ever come across.
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon. Solomon's book explores the hells of depression with empathy, elegance and haunting beauty all at once. This book helped me through a terrifying period in my life several years ago. Solomon also gave a very moving TED talk on depression, which you can watch here.
Everything is Not Okay by Megan Devine. This audiobook is a gut-wrenching, tender, visceral audio exploration of grief and loss. While the book is not explicitly about depression or suicide, it's one of the very best grief resources I've ever come across and has aided me numerous times when I've wanted to give up.
Radical Acceptance by Tara Branch. This is one of the most achingly beautiful and eminently practical books addressing the pangs of unworthiness and inadequacy I’ve ever read. This book has been invaluable to me during periods of intense shame, fear, and self-loathing.
Finally, to wrap up this incredibly long post I want to offer my sincere thanks to several dozen individuals who have helped bring me comfort, hope, and refuge in some of my darkest hours. While I cannot possibly thank every person who has ever helped me, I want to call attention to the following people. You have all been angels in my journeys through the adversities and terrors of life:
From childhood: Ruth Collins, Bryant Loomis, Mike Loomis, David Marvin, Lauren Dull, Jason Wright, Kim Gugino, Luke Sidey, Gary Michalak, Alex Conti, and my parents.
From adulthood: Mark Lawson, Peter Paulsen, Jonathan Namsoo, Paul Josephson, Christian Miles, Susannah Hayler, Christopher Corts, Raz Wahid, Inge Konther, Dev Galloway, Richard Pinter, Gary Ramsey, Freda Jakkawan, Lola Rephann, Elle Grosse, Irene Azuela, Gaby Crewe-Read, David Kennedy, Kira Lee, Wesley Chapman, Megan Devine, Tre Miller-Rodriguez, Ishita Gupta, Chris Guillebeau, Julien Smith, Michael Hrostoski, Marc Williams, Alex Katz, Srini Rao, Christina Rasmussen, Amber Adrian, as well as the monks of St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, MI and the monks of the Society of St. John The Evangelist in Cambridge, MA.
I encourage you to leave comments of support, hope, and solidarity below. If you've waged war with depression in the past, please share some of the tools and strategies that have helped you. I want this piece to serve as a resource to people going through the darkness, in all of its forms.