Here's Why You Shouldn't Kill Yourself...

Perhaps you're thinking that's an obnoxious, pushy title up there. I mean, how dare I tell you what (not) to do with yourself, right? After all, I don't know you. I don't know what it feels like to be in your depression—to feel the pain that only you can feel.

If that's what you're thinking... you're right.

You're on your island, I'm on mine, and the communication lines between us are spotty at best. 

I also didn't know Anthony Bourdain, who died this morning of an apparent suicide. I mean, I watched an episode of one of his TV shows once, and I once wrote him a letter (for my own weird, irrelevant reasons), but I didn't know him. Still, when I heard of Bourdain's death I knew him a little better than I had before because I, too, have been depressed.

It is really, really hard to describe depression to someone who isn't feeling it at the time. Even to myself, after it's passed.

Depression for me is a weird inversion of that moment when I lose a sneeze. I know I have to sneeze. I can see the glorious catharsis of that sneeze just out in front of me... and then it's gone. For a brief second, the entire world feels wrong. What a ripoff! Life was supposed to be amazing! I was supposed to have a nose-gasm!

With depression, that feeling of unresolved wrongness just goes on and on. And even though a part of me wants to believe that something exists that'll make the pain go away, within my depression that tantalizing catharsis is always and forever just out of reach. It's slipping away and it will never come back and I will always feel exactly like this: hurting and hopeless and desperate for a release that I know will never come. 

And I'm right—it never comes. For me, there is no catharsis from my depression. It just... lifts. Gradually, eventually. And I don't know why. 

Here are some possible reasons why my depression lifts:
  • I focus on someone else's pain.
  • I get some exercise. 
  • I eat some healthy food.
  • I get away from the internet. 
  • I talk to someone.
  • I write about how I'm feeling.
These are really, really good things to do when I'm feeling depressed, and studies have shown that their effect on me can be as pronounced (or more pronounced, actually) than the effect of drugs. The problem is that depression robs me of the will to do any of those things. When I'm depressed, thinking about other people's pain just makes me think more about my own. I feel too lethargic to exercise, and I want nothing more than to just eat junk food all day. I don't want to talk with anyone, and I don't usually have the energy to write. 

"Physician, heal thyself," the good book says. But it doesn't say what to do when the illness I'm suffering seems actively bent on convincing me that there's no point at all in taking my medicine.

I started getting depressed when I was about thirteen years old. I still get depressed, at thirty-eight. In fact, I've been depressed a lot over the past month, and this morning I found myself so depressed that I couldn't do anything. Like, I lay in bed most of the morning trying to read, wishing I could cry, and unable to do either. 

I don't know why I was able to start writing this post and I don't know why it's working to make me feel a good bit better. 

Because I do not know why my depression goes away or if I have anything to do with it, I cannot feel any real sense of accomplishment over the amount of depression-free time I've spent in my life (a lot, thank God). I really don't think there's any virtue in not being depressed. There's grace, probably, and a steady investment of love from the people around me. But no pride.

On the other hand, wanting to not-live isn't a cause for shame.
It's all just states of mind. 
But no state of mind is either permanent or inevitable. 

One of the best things one of my friends told me when I was wallowing in the pain of my divorce was that "It won't always feel like this." His words were a lifeline I clung to, and he was right. Still, I can sit here all day and tell you why I think you're amazing and why life's worth living and why you should stick around, but as we've already established: I don't know you. I don't know what it feels like to be you. 

I do know myself, however, so let me just tell you why I'm really glad I've stuck around, even when it hurt so bad I thought the pain would kill me.

If I hadn't stuck around when I was thirteen, I never would've sat with my friend watching the most epic lightning storm play out in thousand-foot clouds over the Amazon jungle, a few months before our graduation. I never would've hugged him and cried with him when I found out his mom had cancer, the night after our graduation. 

If I hadn't stuck around when I was nineteen in Canada and it was rainy and cold all the time and no one understood me because they couldn't because I was a late-puberty runt from the Amazon, I wouldn't have had the joy of learning to snowboard. I wouldn't have experienced the excruciating beauty of hand-planting hundreds of thousands of baby trees in the wilderness with my older brother, an experience that brought us together in a way that probably nothing else could have. 

I also wouldn't have had the world-turning experience of holding my newborn son. 

If I hadn't stuck around when my first marriage ended and I felt like the world's biggest screw-up, I wouldn't have been able to watch that son grow into the amazing almost-young-man he now is. I wouldn't have started storytelling, and the short stories and novels and screenplays (and blog posts - ha, ha) I've written since then would never have existed.

If I hadn't stuck around when online dating was making me feel even more hopeless and like an even bigger waste of space, I wouldn't have met and married my beautiful gem of a wife, who's my comfort in my depression and despair in a way that no one's ever been, ever before. 

You aren't me.

You won't write my stories, or have my son or my blood-sweat-and-tears brother or my ever-loving wife. But you will have your own experiences. I know it feels terrible right now, but I believe with every fiber of my being when I say that it won't always feel like this. 

So please, put it off another day. 

Try some of the things I mentioned up above, if you can. If you can't, talk to someone in your life who can help you get there. If you don't know anyone like that personally, then call someone

If you end up having to take some prescription brain medicine, go for it. Prescription brain medicine saved the life of the guy who told me I "wouldn't always feel like this." To some degree it was because of him that I got through the worst time of my life. So please... do what it takes so you can stick around like he did.

Part of why I'm glad I'm still here is that someday, I might just be lucky enough to hang out with you and hear your story. I'm sure it's amazing.


  1. Oh,I've known the feeling of hopelessness and dread and I stuck around - even with a chronic illness. This too shall pass, and will come around again. The point is that through it all we grow in love and awareness.Thanks for writing this post Josh.


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