Every moment was proof of my worthlessness. Every thought proof of my guilt. Every interaction a demonstration of the complete ominous nature of life. My future grew darker as I learned through irrational, yet completely convincing, thoughts to hate myself and the world more perfectly.
And then the light bulb went off, the answer loud and clear: kill yourself! Rid yourself of the the world and the shackles of society. One free act and forever my problems fixed.
But then I remembered that I’ll be dead anyway. So why worry about it? Live like you’re dying! Because you are! …Then back into depression.
When I was thrown into this stormy state of being I had just raised half a million dollars to manage in a fund I had just started. I had trade setups sure to bring me unlimited wealth. I also had outlined and was bringing a team together to form SelfMadeU, the first business to provide a complete education on how to survive and thrive in this world without a college education. There would be an accompanying documentary I was sure would take the gold at Sundance. I graduated, took a well-paying job. Then it hit. A fucking critical hit because something snapped. Unable to do anything well — in my mind, anyway — I thought the best course of action was to drop everything and fix the mind.
Well, it turns out depression doesn’t get ‘fixed.’ I moved in with my divorcing parents and things went downhill quick. Into that sucky, dark, weighty abyss completely void of hope or trusted happiness (each smile is a ‘lie’). It’s shit and there is no way around that.
Nobody ever told me that becoming a man was more about feeling big boy pain (soul pain!) than killing wolves. Nobody sat me down and said, “Son, one day you are going to be hurt on a level that is unfathomable. One day everything you believe now is going to be shot in the face and you’re going to be left with an existential void that you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to figure out or forget.”
(It’s funny that as I’m writing this a storm is passing over. Those depressing clouds follow you everywhere. I said “fuck you” to the internal ones so Depression brought some sky buddies in. But you know what? I’m grateful for their cool breeze and I think rain can be fun. So suck it.
Same thing with depression. Depression brings a sense of profundity and sensitivity that doesn’t go away.)
Back to a sad story. I was in my parents’ house, who are on the brink of divorce. They fuck the brink and get divorced. All cool productive things I started are now at below zero. I am nothing with no one. Boo hoo! The story doesn’t really matter, it’s only the depression that matters. If the story mattered then I could just say, “I have so much to be grateful for. Look at the other 95% of the world who dies because they can’t drink clean water” and feel better. Because other peoples’ terrible situations usually make me feel better. I wish it wouldn’t. Get some compassion, Kyle!
Buddha was probably depressed before he was Buddha. He was Siddharta the Prince. His dad kept him in a castle and hid him from everything bad in the world. Old people weren’t allowed to be around, nor were sick people. He never saw anyone die. Until one day he got a glimpse of pain and his entire bubble got shattered. “Suffering!? What is this madness!?” And so he went on a journey to the end of the world and the end of his soul. He tried all the remedies other people used to deal with suffering, but realized they were all ineffective. One day, after starving himself for a few years, he decided to sit under a tree and deal with his shit. He sat and he saw his mind and all the craziness inside. He saw its connections to the body and he saw what happens when desire takes hold. I think he sat there for fourteen hours until he was enlightened. He had to finally go to his mind and say, “Show me everything!” before he reached enlightenment. The story is that it stuck for him, he stayed enlightened forever. I don’t see things working like that, we are humans moving through time who forget and remember and feel. Either way, Buddha felt some shit, some shitty shit, to get where he was going.
I think it’s time to maybe stop talking about my shitty story and move onto the things that helped. A depressed mind is such a tricky bastard. It loves commiserating with other sad souls and simultaneously believes that it is completely alone in its level of profound pain. “Yeah, I’m glad you’ve experienced pain. But really you have no idea. You couldn’t, you aren’t in the depths I am.” Or maybe that was my mind’s own special trick. I doubt it though.
These are all things I wish somebody told me when I was in it deep and dirty and couldn’t stop drowning in the shit I kept pouring on myself. These are also reminders for the future Kyle who will almost certainly have his world turned upside down again and he’ll get tossed down to that vaguely familiar yet all-new Rock Bottom.
If at any point one of these things makes you feel like moving or doing something then leave this here and act. Every tiny action has the possibility to be your relief for the day. Also, I know very little about the ‘professional’ ways of helping depression, so all this is just shit I did that, looking back, helped a bit.
Some suggestions for navigating a world that is 110% bad:
1. Find your neurotic Jews. I spent an absurd amount of time listening to WTF with Marc Maron, a podcast of a comedian interviewing other comedians. It turns out some of the funniest people in the world — people you see on TV all the time — are depressed as shit. I especially recommend the interviews with Louis CK and Judd Apatow. Maron is possibly the best interviewer on the planet and people open up to him unlike anything else. My other neurotic jew is James Altucher, whose blog is probably the best thing in the world. I always felt like I wanted to spend time with depressed people without draining my friends’ energy (of course, after I told them this they just wished I would have talked to them because they have their own shit) so I found them online. James was the perfect buddy to hang out with without actually being around anyone. He told me about all the times he failed in life and how he didn’t kill himself over it. How we slowly recovered from the tear-soaked carpet.
2. Take the smallest wins. Depression, especially for those in the quarter-life-crisis, is about unmet expectations. The whole world is operating on antiquated ideas and we are finding we can’t — and don’t want to — meet its demands. Lower the bar. Appreciate the fact that you only ate three donuts instead of five. Appreciate that you got out of bed. Congratulate yourself on taking a shower — and feel how clean it is. A cold shower is even a bigger challenge (and is known to reduce depression)! Congratulate yourself for going to work today, that was huge. For saying hello to somebody. For having the shortest of conversations. When your mind is telling you that every single thing you do is worthless it is a huge accomplishment to do anything. Or to resist doing something. Sometimes the biggest wins are the things you don’t do. Maybe you wanted to tell your sibling how miserably useless the entire world is but didn’t, good job! Maybe you thought a terrible, hateful, blaming thought about a parent — then realized that’s the liar Depression speaking — good job! Every little positive thing you do and terrible thing you don’t is a massive win at this point.
3. Perspective. Watch space videos. Depression is the perfect place to gain an appreciation for the Universe again. The Universe is big, huge, so big that we are none of it. And paradoxically all of it because we are experiencers in it. You are literally 14 billion years in the making. It’s absurd how beautiful life is in every minute if you take a deep breath and look. Beauty is not a smile, it’s beauty. Some of the most beautiful things in the world come out of sadness. This is an opportunity in your life to look at the world around you, detach from all the human expectations and hopes for each other, and cry about how mysterious and beautiful and infinite the universe is.
4. Walk in nature. Go into the woods or by the ocean or in a park or look at a plant and just stare. No thinking about it. Just looking at it. And walk slowly, not like you need to get anywhere. Just walk in a place without signs of what should be done. Just look at and touch the things around you. When you have a thought just feel a leaf. If your mind won’t stop thinking then think about how this leaf works, how those clouds happened, the frequency of the water hitting the shore. In nature every “should” dissolves into the perfectly complex system around you. The trees growing toward the sun without a second thought. You’re becoming what you are supposed to become, too — you just think about it. Hang out with the things that do what they should without a second thought.
5. Appreciate art. I never knew art until Depression forced me to care. Suddenly every good lyric punched me in the face. Every profound line in a movie brought me to tears. Every painting was screaming with meaning and purpose. I suddenly understood the deep human connection possible through art. Dive in and find your shit. Mix it up, sometimes it’s beautiful to revel in sadness but sometimes it’s just sad. Synecdoche, NY and Adaptation are both by Charlie Kaufman and are both inhumanly good. Garden State is a good one to watch too. Animated films like Up are refreshing. I Heart Huckabees is a must-watch.
6. Make art. Write or paint or express yourself in some way. Revel in your shit for a bit. Write a terrible poem and make an even worse drawing. Some of the greatest art in the world was made by people who had to make something at rock bottom. Neil Gaiman gave this advice in a recent commencement address, he probably made something beautiful out of pain. You are going to make a lot of shit, things you’ll never show anyone, but that’s not the point. The point is the process of making something, expressing something. Then maybe after you make a bunch of terrible things you’ll plop out a golden nugget you feel like showing someone. Think of how the people who have helped you deal with shit are the people who said something brutally honest, they bled for you, then think that maybe one day somebody else will benefit from your honesty.
7. Meditate. Start at just 30 seconds. The thing that is eating you alive is rumination. When I was at rock bottom my spiraling thoughts barely let me leave my bed after hours of sitting there thinking about the uselessness of everything. Depression is the biggest dick of a liar I’ve ever met. It will convince you of the most insidious things in the world. It will convince you that you are worthless and the world is worthless and everybody else is stupid and doesn’t understand the worthlessness of the whole thing. When I learned to see these thoughts it immediately lifted my depression to the point where I could not only get out of bed but make the executive decision to eat something healthy. My guide for the most part was The Mindful Way but all you really need to do today is sit for 30 seconds and look at your breath. Add thirty seconds every day. Just sit, feel your breath come in and out of your nose, and see your thoughts. The point is not to shut up your negative thinking, it’s just to see it. When you find yourself following a thought then leave it and look at your breath. Don’t feel obligated to the thought (you aren’t), don’t think there was the final answer in it (there wasn’t), just see it. And be nice to yourself. You are sitting down to meditate — MASSIVE win! After one week of meditating like this — looking at breath, refocusing after a thought, reminding myself to be nice to myself — I cut down my negative thought spirals by at least 50%. And never never feel bad about having a negative thought. When you do, because that’s what we do, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Those secondaries and tertiaries and the rest of them are the most ridiculous — the only way to escape is to side step. You’ll never think yourself into smiling again. Sit and watch and sit and watch.
8. Kill guilt. I spent a lot of time apologizing to people for things like not knowing they needed me to open a door or spilling something or breathing on them or bringing them down or existing. At least five people had to tell me, “Kyle, I like being with you, but please stop saying you are fucking sorry.” What are you feeling guilty for? Usually it’s nothing. It’s an empty, pointless feeling of guilt that we layer ‘reasons’ onto. Notice the times when you are feeling guilty for no reason, or for feeling depressed, and then forget about it. Again, never feel guilty about feeling guilty.
9. You don’t need to deserve it. There is a funny form of guilt that goes something like, “There are people in Africa starving and they aren’t depressed, who am I to be depressed?” I thought of the people I knew who were facing a life in jail or whose family members passed and then felt terrible about it. The thing is, though, feeling shitty about feeling shitty because other people’s lives are maybe more shitty doesn’t make anything better for anyone. The best thing you can do for the others whose lives are harsher than you could even imagine (at least in the physical world) is to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for fucking everything up so royally — even though you almost definitely haven’t.
10. Surrender to Depression. The day I stopped fighting depression everything got a little bit easier. It was one layer of rust on the wheel of my life. You’re depressed, people get depressed. There are chemicals in your body fucking with your mood. There is a brain in your head soaking up said chemicals and delivering stupid sentences into your consciousness. If you fight, you will lose. This is another opportunity to learn something for the rest of your life. There are dragons you can kill with a sword and then there are dragons you have to starve. Depression is that dragon with a billion heads and just as many disguises. Stop swinging at it and surrender. This does not mean you do nothing to stop it. Just think of it as something that you must starve. Once you say, “Alright, I guess I’m going to be depressed for a while, let’s explore this thing” it suddenly loses power. You are now free to see this experience as it is instead of trying to throw yourself outside of it. This is the bravest thing you can do in a world where every self-help ‘guru’ is screaming that you MUST be happy NOW.
11. Don’t hold onto it. As soon as you identify as “depressed,” you make it a part of you. After a while, depression is the comfortable state of mind, it’s your default. Now the revolutionary thing in your life is to smile. It is so difficult for humans to change. The depressed mind convinces itself that sadness is the truth and that anything happy is a lie. It’s not true. Maybe the only thing worse than fighting depression is fighting the happiness as it creeps in. Don’t worry, you will take your sense of profundity with you.
12. Eat as healthy as you can. This might mean having a salad today. Maybe it means eating an apple. More likely it means eating one less bowl of ice cream. Or even one less scoop of ice cream. Your body’s chemicals are all sorts of fucked up, help them out a little. And take the goddamn win!
13. Sweat. Or at least make your heart beat. Even if that means doing five pushups right now. Huge win! And a little sweat every day will help bring your chemicals back to somewhere near sanity — or at least a more livable insanity.
14. Notice your affirmations of life. Every breath you take is you living. It’s an affirmation that you should be here on Planet Earth. Every piece of food you put in your mouth is you loving life enough to keep living. Even if it doesn’t feel like love it is. It’s true that hate and love are close and can sometimes be indistinguishable. You don’t even need to feel appreciation for your life, you probably can’t, but know that your existence proves you should be here. The fact that you got out of bed today is a miracle. The fact that you are reading this means that you are fucking alive. You care enough about this ridiculous experience of life to think about it with me. So far we’ve had an experience of about 3000 words together. That is beautiful! It’s murky at the bottom and you can’t see a lot of things, but I promise you I was there and at the end it will be worth it in the end.
15. Yell. Go in your car or into your pillow and put everything you have into it. It is a relief when the build-up is too much.
16. Abuse yourself a bit. I drank too much, then woke up in an impossibly deeper hell. Then I knew I could stop. I chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes because I thought it would be a good way to express my hate for myself more perfectly. Then I got sick and, again, took myself to a deeper hell. I took some pain meds (not a dangerous amount) and found that all it did was fog up my soul. All the pain was still there, everything was still the worst thing in the world, but now it was even worse because it was nagging at me and I couldn’t see it. I shoved a dozen donuts in my face and got sick. People get addicted to these kinds of things when they trick themselves into believing they help. But they don’t. It’s only compiling the problem. If you feel the urge to abuse your body or mind in some way you can (1) not do it and take it as a win for the day or (2) abuse yourself and then forgive yourself later. Forgive yourself for treating you like such a piece of shit — then take that win! But also remember how much worse that made things. Remember that you need to organize your mind and support something that looks like a healthy chemical balance in your body to really starve this fucker. If you choose abuse (and we all will in some way or another), limit it as much as you can. Then take the win for the limit. Maybe tomorrow you’ll do it even less.
17. Find/lose your -isness. Alan Watts was instrumental in helping me surrender initially. His talks about the world as it is are some of the most comforting things you can listen to. Also, his books. Those two funny people who make South Park animated some clips of his lectures.
18. Cry to people. When I was at rock bottom I cried to my boss, my ex-boss, and my sister’s boss. Then to a bunch of family members. What happened? A moment of discomfort, then a connection. People are hungry for honesty in this world. It’s something we haven’t been very good at as humans but people are starting to crave it. The first time I cried on my (very patient, loving) ex’s breast is maybe the first time I felt a true love-connection with a girlfriend.
19. Don’t look for rock bottom. “Is this it? No, can’t be, I’m pretty sure I’ve felt worse than this before.” The next day, “Wow! This must be it!” Then, “Well, he said he’s at rock bottom too. I think I’m as deep in hell as him. Maybe this is it.” Who fucking knows! Nietzche said something about the abyss staring back at you but really it grabs you and sucks you into infinity of abyssiness. Fight Club promised me that at Rock Bottom everything is possible. Chuck forgot that it’s invisible and maybe not a point and if you look at it it probably disappears. Forget about it.
20. Say “Thank You” to nothing for nothing. Just say thanks for the day, thanks for the breath, thanks for the food. Thank Depression for showing you another part of life. Write a list saying thank you to every terrible thing that happened. Maybe one day you’ll actually feel the gratitude.
21. Respect your experience. Jack Kerouac gave this advice to writers. But really it’s the greatest advice for living. You don’t need to feel good, you don’t need to be happy, you don’t need to meet anybody’s expectations. Respect your life exactly how it is in totality. Change things as you want to change them but always hold a sense of respect for the cumulation of experience that is your life. You will lose respect for your life at some point but you can always go back and show it respect. Trust your life, it’s the only thing you’ll ever be.
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you are drowning in the shit-pits of the ultimate badness and need someone to talk to, email me at kyle.eschen at gmail dot com. There is an end, I promise, but you need to live — and maybe even take a sick, sincere ‘appreciation’ — in the thing until it burns off. Don’t hold it and don’t push. This is the adventure of a lifetime — the ultimate internal conflict — and you’ve been thrown into it unwillingly but you’ll come out bigger and better and with a wider way of seeing the world.
The Force is with you!