If you or someone you know is currently going through depression, skip to Chapter 3: Hope for a list of resources & tools which can help.
Listen to me narrate this article as an audiobook:
I also did a deep-dive on depression with a coaching client of mine who went from depressed, nihilistic and suicidal – to much happier, optimistic, goal-oriented and more at peace with her nihilism:
I owe thanks to both my girlfriend and one of my coaching clients, “M“, who both suggested I write more about the nitty gritty details of my past depression and suicidal thoughts. Over the time I’ve known her, my girlfriend has also gone through an equally-drastic turnaround and overcome her own depression & other hurdles, in the process becoming a very mature, capable, optimistic young woman.
This won’t just be all about depression though. Another commenter, Edgywolf, also asked me this a few months back:
So that’s what this article will be – partly about depression, partly about how I became an optimist, and partly about exactly how you can do the same thing. I’ve talked quite a bit about my transformation in the past, but I only briefly touched on my depression, my history of abusive relationships and my suicidal thoughts. So this will be a fleshing-out of the previous article. I hope you get something out of it.
Chapter 1 – Despair
I suppose I should start somewhere at the beginning. This isn’t going to be a complete autobiography of my entire life, but rather a few key moments in time that explain how & why I got to a point where I felt so damn hopeless and done with life. I might jump forwards and backwards in time as I write this – it might be messy in parts – but so is life itself.
We’ll start with my early high school days. I had a pretty good childhood; loving parents, some decent friends, hobbies I enjoyed. For a while I was bullied at school from time to time, but nothing I couldn’t handle. At some point I learned to stand up for myself, and when a few of the bullies saw me fight back, the bullying stopped entirely. Things weren’t bad; nothing was really wrong.
And yet, I wasn’t happy.
I’m not sure when I first realised I wasn’t ok with being at school. Maybe sometime around age 12. I hated school. Hated it. The subjects didn’t interest me or challenge me, the teachers were clueless & mostly uninterested, save for 1 or 2 of them. Homework felt like torture and punishment, and I felt like I was stuck in a prison for hours and hours a day with people I didn’t like and wouldn’t choose to be with, if I had the choice. I knew I’d be allowed to leave when I was 18, but that seemed like an eternity away, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it. I felt trapped.
I used to have nightmares about school, on an almost daily basis. Nightmares about forgetting to do homework. Nightmares about teachers yelling at me. Nightmares about getting into fights. Nightmares about not being cool enough to fit in. Nightmares about being stuck in school forever and never graduating. Nightmares about never getting to make my own choices, or do the things I wanted to do, or spend my time how I wanted to spend it.
I think this quote sums up my feelings about the mandatory “education” system:
There is nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school.
I could go on about my hatred and disdain for school; but minds far greater than mine have already said everything I ever could.
I spent years going through the motions, as many of us do at that age; making “friends” (really, just people I spent time with to pass the time; I cut off every single high-school friend I’d made within a year of leaving school), doing the bare minimum rote-learning against my will in order to pass, trying to get through the mind-numbingly dull lessons, desperately hoping I could keep my sanity intact until I was allowed to leave. On the surface I seemed ok, and my parents and family were none the wiser. I seemed like your typical teenage boy.
But I knew something wasn’t ok. I knew I wasn’t meant to be caged in school like that; I knew it was fucked up. I was just too young to have a choice; too naïve to understand myself and too inexperienced to know my one strongest value and guiding principle is: I always have to have my freedom. I need to be free. This is something I realised many years later, and it explains why I was so damn miserable during my childhood years; I felt like my life was controlled (mostly by the school system); I was a passenger in my own life – a prisoner who had to do as he was told – and that’s not something I deal with very well.
Years later I found an old diary I’d written when I was 14 – a diary I’d completely forgotten about. In it I talked about how “empty” I felt, how lonely I felt, and I mused about whether or not I was depressed (looking back, I obviously was). Disillusioned with the whole education system, the fact I was locked up there, with no way to leave. Even at the time I knew “depression” was the right word for how I felt, and depression is the word I’d written in that diary.
As the years went on, I felt more and more isolated from my fellow students too. I was really well-liked; in fact, I was pretty damn popular, mostly due to making silly jokes and being a bit of a smartass in class to make all the other kids laugh. That was my way of fitting in; being the “class clown” became a shield, a shell, a way to protect myself from ever having to be vulnerable. A mask I could put on to make people laugh and smile so they never actually asked me, “How do you really feel? Are you actually ok?“
So people liked me… But I didn’t feel “cool”. I can’t explain why; I just never felt like I fit in. Like I wasn’t part of the “in-crowd”, an outsider to the tribe, someone who didn’t belong. So I’d turn down invitations to hangout with people, instead staying at home playing video games or teaching myself to program or taking apart my entire PC, cleaning it, learning how it all worked, putting it back together again. I’d turn down party invitations too – I never went to a single party throughout all of high school or university. (In fact, I’ve still never been to a proper “party” in my entire life – I later realised it’s just not my thing). But the more I turned down invitations, the more of a hermit I became. My parents, concerned for my welfare, even started pointing out to me that I wasn’t doing much socialising anymore, but I was able to lie well enough and tell them I was happy and they had nothing to worry about.
My parents were actually brilliant in all of this. They’d constantly encourage me to go to parties and hang out with my friends. They warned me that saying no to everything would mean eventually people would just stop inviting me to things. My dad took me to play tennis with a bunch of people each week, which was at least some socialising, but I was too shit scared to really talk to anyone there.
Eventually, the other kids just stopped inviting me to stuff. That hurt. Of course, I don’t blame them – you can only invite someone to hangout with you so many times before it starts to hurt you every time they keep saying no. But even though it was my own doing, it still hurt.
At some point I discovered pornography too – though, back in those days porn was pretty damn primitive. Anyone who was alive back then will tell you the internet was not what it is today. We were on 28.8k dialup internet (later 56k – wow!). It’d take several minutes to download a tiny, low-resolution picture, and video pornography didn’t even exist back then. But those images were enough to hook my young teenage mind, and I found myself looking at more and more porn, finding creative ways to get around my parents snooping through my internet history. By the time I was 16, I was absolutely addicted to pornography, to the point where it was seriously interfering with the rest of my life and my happiness in general.
I also started playing more and more video games, and started shutting myself in my room more. I’d come home from school and look at porn for hours until my parents got home, then play video games until I went to bed. Needless to say, with how much I hated school, my lack of real social interaction, my spiralling porn and video game addiction, and my general depression and feeling of “something is wrong, I feel trapped”, my mental health started to take a dive.
My parents staged an intervention… well, multiple interventions. They forced my to get an after-school job, pushed me to leave the house and hangout with other kids my age, and limited my access to video games and the internet. At one point my dad even took my computer out of my room and put it in the living room so they could monitor my access. All of that helped a little… but I was still depressed. And now it was almost… worse… because I couldn’t just hide in my room and play video games and watch porn to escape from the shitty feelings. Now I didn’t have my self-medication tools to at least distract me temporarily.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so against socialising with the other kids. It’s probably just that I didn’t really like any of them, and didn’t really click with any of them. But one thing I do know is the more anti-social I became, the bigger a problem it grew into. Again my parents tried to help, and pointed out many times that it wasn’t healthy for me to have basically no friends. Well, I had “friends” at school – but I didn’t hang out with anyone outside of school.
It became a vicious cycle. Because I wasn’t hanging out with other kids, I felt like a weird freak; I became the loner. Which made me feel like maybe I wasn’t good enough to hangout with any of them. I started thinking they were all out there living the coolest lives ever, while I was stuck at home, being a loser. Yes, that was entirely my own doing… and to this day I’m not entirely sure why I started being such a loner. Maybe I just felt like I was the only one in school who felt like school was prison; torture (nowadays I know plenty of people felt like that – but I didn’t know that at the time). I felt like everyone else was coping with school, but to me it was absolute hell on Earth. I felt like the outsider right from the beginning.
After a while the loner thing became my identity and I felt hopeless and helpless – like there was no way for me to fix it. I’d become a loner, and I’d always be one. It felt like me vs the world, and not in a good way. It felt like everybody was against me, or didn’t notice me, or had forgotten me entirely. I spent more and more time just being by myself. And since I didn’t like myself and didn’t like my own company, that was a tortured existence to say the least.
I must admit, there were some positive side-effects of my self-inflicted solitude. I got pretty decent at Photoshop (a skill I still use to this day), and taught myself how to program/code. I wrote a lot of weird little software projects and made a tonne of Flash games (remember Flash?). I learned how computers worked, learned how to navigate the ever-growing internet, taught myself how to do my own research and discover new interests and learn more. Oh how I loved gaining knowledge; I’m so blessed to have grown up with the burgeoning internet.
Of course, the internet also made porn far more accessible to me and other young boys looking to self-medicate and escape their lives. For me it started out the way it does with most teenage boys – I’d look at pretty innocent pictures of pretty women, secretly wishing they could be my girlfriend. Over time I needed more and more hardcore stuff, like a drug addiction that kept escalating, until I was at a point where only the filthiest, most degrading porn would make me feel anything. It got to such a bad point that I was spending hours and hours a day looking at porn, and by the time I was 23 I was looking at porn for sometimes upwards of 8 hours a day.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Throughout all my childhood, my mother was absolutely wonderful and always there for me. But my dad, no so much. Don’t get me wrong – I learned a lot about stoicism & masculinity from him, but more through observation at a distance, rather than any life lessons he wanted to give me or wisdom he wanted to impart. In fact, the best way to describe how my dad raised me is, “He didn’t.” Some fathers are abusive, some fathers are wonderful, some fathers are deadbeats, some fathers are absent. My father was just kinda “there”.
He barely ever talked to me, and any time he did, it was no more than a sentence or two. With my sister and my mother he’d do far more talking but with me I felt like he just couldn’t be bothered. Like I was a burden, a hassle, something “in the way”. Like the task of being a father to me, teaching me to be a man, wasn’t his to fulfil. I felt like I had to figure out most things entirely on my own – how to deal with bullies, how to talk to girls, how to shave. Oh, how I fucked that one up – the first 20 times I tried shaving, I didn’t even know you needed shaving cream or to wet your face first. I scrapped and cut the shit out of my face for months, until finally my mother noticed my scratched-up face and taught me how to do it properly. Something a father should have taught a son, for sure.
Dealing with my emotions and my hormones was also something that would have benefited from some fatherly wisdom. My father has never been great at expressing himself – I call him “emotionally-autistic” at the best of times. Any emotions – either in himself or expressed by someone else – cause him to shut down and go silent, as if he can’t handle them. I learned how to deal with my emotions through my mother’s teachings, but she’s only one person, and what I really wanted was for my dad to teach me as well. I needed to be taught how to be a man – having to figure it all out for myself absolutely made me feel like the universe didn’t really give a shit about my welfare. Like I wasn’t important; like I didn’t matter.
I can remember asking him quite literally hundreds of times to throw a ball with me and play catch, or play tennis with me, or take me fishing, or take me to the hardware store with him, or just hangout with me and bond a little. 99% of the time he’d make an excuse like, “I’m tired from work” or “Another time, I promise”… and of course, “another time” usually meant several more months of begging, pleading, nagging, feeling like a burden. Every now and then he’d relent and take me to the hardware store with him, and even a couple of times fishing. Those were some of the highlights of my life, and even to this day, I have incredibly fond memories of those times. But we’re talking once every 3-6 months, and for a young man who already feels lost and disillusioned with his life, longing for just a little bit of attention from his father, once every 3 to 6 months is not enough.
Looking back, I know my father loved me – and our relationship is a little better now. Not perfect; in fact, far from great. But I know he loves me now, and that’s all I ever wanted. There’s many reasons why he was so ambivalent in his parenting. The biggest of which is he was terrified he was going to be a bad father like he thought his father had been to him… Funnily enough causing a self-fulfilling prophecy that ensured the very thing he was terrified of was exactly what ended up happening. Loser’s mindset and all of that. I’ve long-since moved past it and forgiven him, but man… as a teenager and in most of my 20’s it absolutely ate away at my soul. Feeling like your father doesn’t give a shit about you is rough, and I empathise with everyone who went through something similar.
By the time I came out of high school, I was well and truly bitter, jaded, miserable and kinda fucked up. I had no social skills after neglecting them for years. I was lost, unsure what I was supposed to do with my life, with a really bad porn addiction, a bad video game addiction, and no hope for my future. I had literally zero friends (I’d dropped most of them shortly after leaving school). Not having much of a plan, I did what everybody kept telling me I should do: I went to university.
What a mistake. More of the same – it felt like I was still trapped, being forced to study for exams and work on assignments and learn things I didn’t really want to learn. I made no friends at university, hated every semester, and as time went on and my depression spiralled, I stopped going to class. I ended up taking a year off, and then when I came back, I still couldn’t force myself to go to class, and was eventually suspended until I could get my shit together. They were pretty nice about it, even offered me counselling, which I of course turned down. I wasn’t ready to admit to anyone – not even myself – that I needed help.
During those university years, from about age 19 to 23 or 24, life got worse; way worse. I had a girlfriend I lived with, but it was not a pretty relationship. It started out normal enough: we’d met during high school and liked each other well enough. She was my first, and I was hers. On paper it sounded like a sweet story. But my mind was all sorts of fucked up and I was not in a place to be dating anyone. She wasn’t much better – a lot of that was my fault – and the two of us were a match made in hell.
As the relationship went on, we’d fight more and more. Small arguments and disagreements at first, but over time, it turned into full-on abuse. That is the right word for it – we were abusive to each other, sometimes violent, rarely empathetic. She’d say the most evil, malicious, fucked-up things a human being could ever say to another human being… and I’d try to one-up her by saying something even worse. Each day was a competition to see what creative insults and evil shit we could come up with. Things like, “You’re nothing without me. Nobody else will ever love you, because you’re pathetic. You’re stuck with me, and I hate you. You don’t deserve someone who loves you.” Two people trying desperately to ruin the other person, before that person ruins them, until one of us was reduced to tears enough to leave the room, leaving the other one the victor. I’m not proud of that time in my life, and I’m sure she wouldn’t be either.
Looking back, we clearly both hated ourselves more than we hated each other, so we used one another as punching bags for all our pent-up self-hatred, rage and vitriol. We were miserable together, but we stayed because the alternative seemed worse – being truly alone. We were in an enmeshed relationship neither of us knew how to get out of.
By this stage I was deeply suicidal too, and would have suicidal thoughts multiple times a day. She’d, of course, use that against me, often telling me to do it, and that I was a pussy for not being man enough to end my life like I was always saying I wanted to. I started to idealise the thought of suicide, knowing it’d be an end to all my misery and suffering. I’d get the knife out of the kitchen drawer and hold it to my wrists, often in front of her in the middle of a fight, willing myself to do it as she egged me on.. but I never could.
I’d be crossing the road and I’d see a big truck or bus coming towards me, and I’d think to myself, “If I just close my eyes and stop right here, this could all be over.” I researched different ways of ending my life, from pills (they often just kill your liver, leaving you in agony for the last couple weeks before you die from it), to slitting my wrists (I was terrified of the pain), to jumping off a building (I’d heard horror stories of people who survive the fall only to be a vegetable for the rest of their lives). I wanted out, but I couldn’t find a way that didn’t also involve pain. I was terrified of being alive, but I was also terrified of the pain of death.
I went through years of feeling like this; years of daily suicidal ideations. Years of misery, suffering, torturing myself and her, and her giving back every bit as good as she got. Years of pain, and the good times became less and less frequent, the happy memories fading into the background the more fights we had, until there was nothing good left. Just… suffering.
I made myself a promise: “I will be dead by the time I turn 30”. That became my mantra; I’d repeat it every time I had a dark moment, or a bad fight with my girlfriend, any time life wasn’t worth living (which was most days now). In a weird way it gave me comfort and resilience; all I had to do was keep toughing this pain out, and if I could make it to 30, I was allowed to die. It gave me hope, oddly enough – death at 30 would bring an end to all my suffering. I started looking forward to hitting 30, because it meant I could die.
Looking back, I can see now the only reason I picked 30 was because I was so terrified of having to go through with it, that I picked an age that seemed unfathomably far away (funny now as I sit here writing this, I’m almost 34). By putting it off until I hit 30, I didn’t have to keep wrestling with wanting to kill myself vs being terrified of the pain. I could worry about that when I was 30; I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. After all, that was almost a decade away.
So the awful relationship continued, with both of us doing our best to hurt each other seemingly as often – and as deeply – as we could. I ended up cheating on her countless times, with girls I wasn’t even attracted to and didn’t actually want to sleep with. Obese, equally-unhappy girls I met online after weeks/months of talking to them. By this stage my own health had taken a nose dive and I was pretty chubby too, with no style or dress sense, no grooming, and a lot of days I wouldn’t even shower. Each time I’d cheat on my girlfriend I’d feel like an absolute evil piece of shit, breaking down and crying, often in front of the girls themselves. I’d swear to myself that I’d never do it again, and for months, I wouldn’t. Only to repeat the cycle again.
And the lying – oh how the lying tore me up. Having to hide my cheating from the person I claimed to love, claimed to care about, absolutely destroyed my psyche. Having to look her in the eyes and pretend I wasn’t going behind her back was horrible. There’s a reason I always advocate honesty – something unspeakable happens to your soul when you tell a lie over and over and over again. It’s… dark.
But with the relationship being so horrible and miserable, and my life being a complete trainwreck, I’d inevitably want to go back to finding some escape. And the thrill of sex with someone else – the thrill of cheating on someone, as fucked up as it is – was an escape from my miserable existence… Even if that escape was always short-lived and always just brought more pain.
I knew at the time it was fucked up, vile, evil, totally against who I am as a human being and the values I hold… but I was in too much self-pitying, pain and anguish to care. When you’re deep in nihilism and feeling sorry for yourself, convinced that nothing matters, it’s very easy to justify hurting someone else.
My girlfriend caught me once or twice, reading text messages on my phone and confronting me. I’d always downplay it and pretend it was just fantasy, not reality, but of course she wasn’t dumb. She just had low self-esteem, and would yell at me for a day but then just kinda… forget about it and the cycle would go on. It was about as toxic a relationship as you could ever imagine; two people chasing the bottom of the barrel and dragging each other down every step of the way. Each day was a new chance to see how much lower we could go; how much darker we could become. Stare into the abyss for long enough, and eventually the abyss stares back at you.
I could keep talking about my toxic relationship for ages; we were together for about 5 or 6 years in total. There’s a lot of darkness to cover there, but if I did this story would be the length of 10 novels. I don’t think there’s much to gain from us spending the next 20 paragraphs exploring the depths of human suffering and misery. Needless to say, the relationship was the most pain-inflicting thing two people could ever do to each other, and no matter how many words I write about it, I’ll always fall short in explaining how tragic a time it was.
I also missed my family – my girlfriend and I had moved over 2000km away from both our families. I especially missed my mother; terribly so. I felt lost without her – she had always there for me, and phone calls are never going to be the same as a hug in-person. I even missed my father – for all his flaws, I still loved him to bits. I still missed being around him. Compounded with the fact I didn’t have friends, I felt incredibly lonely.
To cope with things, I turned to something I’d never actually tried – alcohol. I had my first drink sometime in my early 20’s, even though I’d always told myself (and anyone who would listen), “I’ll never drink in my entire life; I’ve seen how drunk people act. I’m better than that.” But when faced with the pain of a mutually-abusive relationship, no friends, no hope, daily suicidal thoughts, no direction in life and a deep-seated self-hatred, alcohol sure looks inviting.
It started out slowly – a beer here, a glass of wine there. I liked the way it made me feel, and just like porn, video games, tv and cheating, I liked the way it distracted me in the moment from the rest of my life. Sure, every time it wore off I came crashing back down to reality, but by this stage I was spending most of my time hiding from reality anyway, and alcohol was another great tool in the fight against self-awareness. It helped me avoid having to admit to – and fix – my problems.
I splashed out and bought a few different expensive liquors, and over the next few months added more and more to my collection. I bought a cocktail recipe book and told my girlfriend I was “learning to make cocktails”. And at first, that’s what I did – I learned about 50 recipes and actually got pretty damn good at it. I could do shaker tricks, I knew what swizzle sticks were, I knew that setting an orange peel on fire gives a different flavour to just putting it in raw, I knew how to make simple syrup, I could measure shots by eyeball and I knew all the different names for all the different types of glasses. For the first time in a long time, I had a hobby I was kinda passionate about.
But of course, when you make cocktails, someone inevitably ends up drinking them, and that someone was always going to be me. You know where this story is going – the cocktail-making was a nice, convenient rationalisation for my drinking habits. I started getting drunk daily, and then multiple times a day, and then I was basically drunk all the time. And drunk people don’t make healthy, rational decisions – I looked at more porn, I cheated on my girlfriend more, the fights got even more fucked-up, I spiralled deeper and deeper into darker and darker recesses of my mind. I had a job throughout all this – a job I was actually fairly decent at and paid ok – but it was becoming harder and harder to keep my alcoholism and mental problems out of the workplace. Eventually I quit because I knew I was going to have a breakdown.
Once I no longer had a job, things really went downhill. I did nothing but look at porn, watch anime and TV shows, and sleep. My sleep schedule was totally fucked, my head was a mess, but I didn’t care.
My porn use at this time got worse and worse. Often it was 8 to 12 hours a day, to the point where my dick wasn’t even hard anymore – I couldn’t get it up. Sometimes I’d still keep trying to jerk my soft dick, pathetically and desperately attempting to keep it going so I didn’t have to go back to my horrible, shit life, wanting any distraction from my own self-pity and misery. Looking back, it’s obvious I had a huge porn and sex addiction. (I later got counselling for it and went to a “Sex Addict’s Anonymous” help group.) All the sex I had back then with random girls I met was very self-destructive; an addiction I threw myself into just to distract myself from the pain and self-hatred… even if it was always short-lived.
The deeper into misery and depression I got, the more I lost my grip on reality, and lost my attachment to the outside world. I became a recluse who’d never go outside, at this point surviving solely on the savings I’d put aside over the last couple years at my job. But that money was only going to last for so many months, and as the numbers in my bank account kept counting down, I found myself feeling like a complete breakdown was on the horizon. I started avoiding reality entirely, barely going outside, ordering food delivered to the house or getting my girlfriend to bring food home. She enabled me, not really being all that concerned with how little I was going outside. It got so bad that towards the end, I couldn’t even go outside to check the mailbox; she had to come with me.
And whenever I did force myself to go outside, it was absolutely horrific; I was a paranoid wreck. Years of self-hatred meant I was utterly convinced I was a terrible human being that everyone was secretly judging. I’d look around, scanning everybody’s faces to see if anyone was looking at me, thinking I was a piece of shit. If someone even looked in my general direction, I’d take that as proof they were all secretly looking at me, secretly hating me, secretly knowing how shit a human being I was. I’d so internalised this idea that I was a horrible excuse for a human being, that I just assumed it was the objective truth. I didn’t even see it as low self-esteem; more like I was just being honest and correct in my evaluation of myself as a worthless piece of shit. Perhaps even less than worthless, because I also felt like a burden to anyone and everyone who ever had to come in contact with me. Surely they’d all be able to see that just by looking at me.
Eventually, I just stopped going outside.
But before I got to this point, I still had one person I spent time with in-person who clearly cared about me – my grandfather. I could write books and books on my grandfather; he’s by far the biggest character I’ve ever met in my life. My grandfather’s ability to spin a tale made the movie Big Fish seem like amateur stuff. He had the gift of the gab, and was able to “spin a yarn” and tell a story with seemingly no effort, to anyone and everyone he met, a hundred times a day. He’d chat to strangers, to children, to old ladies and middle-aged men, to shopkeepers and postal workers, and everyone else he crossed paths with. He had so many jokes and wisecracks – hundreds, maybe even thousands of them – and he’d sing songs and tell limericks and do everything he could to put a smile on as many faces as possible.
My grandfather was the king of cheering people up, of making them smile, of getting shy people to open up with his wonderful sense of humour, amazingly wild and often fantastical stories, and his cheeky smile. He was a lover of life, a lover of people, and one – if not the – kindest person I’ve ever met.
I hated him.
I hated everything about him – his joy for life, how easily he seemed to make friends with anyone and everyone, his inexorable, unrelenting optimism, his love of humanity. He held up a mirror to my own self-hatred, my own inadequacies and my own darkness; he was the yang to my yin.
Hating someone who’s been nothing but kind, loving and good to you his entire life is a quick route down a very dark, evil and lonely path – it wears away at your very soul. I knew I shouldn’t hate him – he was the embodiment of “good” – but that’s precisely why I hated him. I felt like he was the very opposite of me, and the more good deeds he did, the kinder he was to me and to everybody else in his life, the more obvious it was that I was not a good person. Or at least, I wasn’t acting like one.
Eventually it got to a point where I’d spend less & less time with him, see him less, avoid his phonecalls. I was always polite to him, and I don’t think he ever knew that I hated him (thank god – he didn’t deserve that). I think even at the time, even through all my malice and self-hatred, I knew being mean to him was a bridge I could never un-cross; it was the ultimate sin. He was the most “good” person I’ve ever met in my life, and hurting him felt unredeemable at the time.
Years later, after I fixed my depression and turned my life around, I was so much kinder to him – I wrote him long letters telling him how proud I was to have him as my grandfather, how much I admired him, how good he was to my grandmother, how much he taught me about being kind to others and making people smile. I’ll always be grateful to him, and I’m glad we had a stronger relationship in the years after I overcame my depression.
But during the period where I hated him, and hated myself, I grew more and more resentful of existence itself. I felt like everything was pointless, meaningless, like this tortured existence of mine was some cosmic joke against me – like I was the victim. I was miserable, hateful, angry at the universe and everyone in it. I thought my grandfather was a naïve idiot who didn’t really know how evil the world was. Later on as I got older I came to learn he knew EXACTLY how dark and evil the world can be – he just chose to focus on the positive. But at the time, I thought he was just ignorant and child-like.
My mind at the time was a constant flurry of noisy thoughts – I was neurotic, overthinking everything, and anxious, angry and scared all the time. I was like an animal running on instinct most of the time; I had a very short fuse and I’d have a knee-jerk, instant reaction to almost everything. There was never a pause between me feeling an emotion and then reacting to it. Think how a scared dog acts – snarling at everyone, reacting to the tiniest things – that was me. I had no self-awareness, no critical thought, everything made me angry, and I was almost like a robot – acting on instinct and emotion with zero awareness of what I was doing or how I was acting. “An animal running purely on instinct” really is the best description of how I was.
Needless to say, I had zero friends by this time, and even if I had wanted some (I didn’t, I just wanted to be alone), I wouldn’t have had the skills or the knowledge on where to even start making some. Any time my family would call, or visit once a year, I’d put on a smile and lie to their faces, pretending everything was ok and I wasn’t in a deep, dark pit of hopelessness and despair. They suspected I was depressed, and would often ask me about it, but I’d always lie and insist I was wonderful. I was so terrified of anyone finding out about my depression I went above and beyond to put on a happy face and not let them see the cracks forming underneath.
My girlfriend, to her credit, told me several times to go talk to a counsellor or a psychologist, but I avoided it. I was shit-scared people wouldn’t be able to handle the horrors of the real Andy, and if they found out how dark my thoughts were, they’d reject me and run away. A few times I looked up some psychologists in my area, but just didn’t have the courage to tell someone, “I’m a total piece of shit and I want to kill myself every hour of every day. I’ve tried to do it hundreds of times now but I’m too much of a coward to actually do it.”
The hardest thing to deal with was the feeling I was wasting my potential, wasting my life. I felt horrific guilt at the very core of my being. I felt like I was throwing my life away; wasting opportunities that had been given to me. Both my parents had said to me all my life, “You’re capable of truly great things, Andy. We know you’ll make an impact on the world”.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything. So trapped in my own misery and obsession with suicide, there was no way in hell I was going to fix my issues the way things were going. I’d been headed down a dark, fucked-up path for a decade at this point; I was a runaway train headed towards the inevitable train-wreck. I was getting close to my breaking point, dangerously close to the edge… Something had to give.
Chapter 2 – Optimism
And give it did, though implode would be a more apt word. My life came crashing down one day when my girlfriend finally worked up the courage to do what I wished one of us had done sooner: she told me she was done, and broke up with me. Everything fell apart that day.
I’d pretty much run out of savings, and my porn, alcohol, video game and TV addictions had all gotten to a point where I couldn’t tell where one day ended and the next one began. The day she left I had no choice but to call my parents, sobbing like a pained animal, years of built-up suffering and anguish bubbling over and out across the phoneline. I couldn’t even tell them what was wrong, instead just saying, “Daddy… Daddy… Mummy…” like a child crying out for help over and over and over again. That was an incredibly painful experience for both of them; no parent wants to hear their son like that.
They were amazing, despite their incredible hurt and pain from finding out I’d lied to them and hid my problems for a decade. Me hiding it and lying to their faces over and over again really, really, really hurt them, but they were gracious about it. They said they’d strongly suspected I had been bullshitting them all these years, but since I’d always been so insistent everything was great, there wasn’t much more they could have done.
My mother was an angel during this time, jumping on the very next flight and flying across the country to be with me that night. I can remember that conversation vividly: She looked me dead in the eyes (though I was looking down at the ground) and lovingly, but extremely firmly, said, “You need to tell me everything that’s going on with you. Everything. No more lies.”
It took some effort, but over the next 5 or 6 hours I told her everything that’d I’d been feeling, all the dark thoughts I’d been having, how I’d wanted to kill myself for many years now. I told her about the porn and alcohol and how I was out of control. I told her I couldn’t go outside anymore. I told her all of it. And through everything she never judged me, but said the one thing I really needed to hear most: “This is your rock bottom. You don’t go any lower than this. You will now start to pull yourself out of the hole you’ve gotten yourself into. I will help you, but you have to look up now, and not go any lower.”
The weeks that followed are a bit of a blur – I was a complete mess. I was finally letting out all the hurt and anguish and torment I’d been bottling up inside for years, so I wasn’t exactly rational. On top of that, I was grieving like crazy over my girlfriend leaving. Yes, we’d been horrific to one another, but she was the first girl I’d ever dated, the first girl I’d ever kissed, the first girl I’d ever had feelings for; my “high school sweetheart”. I was so utterly convinced at the time that she was “the one” for me, despite how abusive and toxic and dangerous a pairing we were. Not having her felt like I was literally dying – I really did feel like this was what death must feel like.
My mother helped me get rid of most of my furniture the next day, and I packed my suitcase and flew back home with her, to stay with her and Dad. I was terrified of how my Dad was going to handle all of this, so certain he was going to hate me.
But the most painful part was he didn’t hate me… he hated himself. He struggled to move past the fact I’d lied to him – often to his face whenever they’d come to visit – about my depression. The whole time he’d known something was wrong, the way a parent just knows something isn’t quite right with their kid, but I’d always told him everything was fine and he shouldn’t worry. He blamed himself for not pressing the issue a little more, for not grilling me more, for not doing something when the alarm bells had been ringing in his head for years.
He also blamed himself for not being there for me, and I couldn’t even disagree with that – that had certainly been a factor in my depression. Months later when he was in a better place, my mother gently, but truthfully, said to him: “Yes. Perhaps if you had been there for him a little more, things might have turned out differently.” It took him about a year to get to a point where he was ok.
Those first few weeks at my parents’ place were rough as hell. I’d spend hours a day when they were at work just crying, sobbing, screaming, bawling my eyes out for literally hours and hours and hours at a time, until no more tears would come out, until no more sound could escape my throat, until I was silently screaming, inaudibly howling. Like I was getting out every last bit of emotion I had been bottling up for years; like wringing out every last drop of liquid from a sponge. I felt hopeless, full of despair, pain, anguish, now even more than ever, because I finally had to face up to everything I’d felt, everything I’d done, every mistake I’d made, all the years of wasted time and bottled hurt and the guilt of cheating for years, on top of all the abuse to and from my girlfriend. And without my coping mechanisms of porn, or alcohol, or video games, or anything else, I just had to sit there – in that pain – and endure it.
After a week, my parents gave me a to-do list to do every single day, to occupy my time. It was always little, easy tasks like “do the dishes”, “fold the laundry”, “make your bed”. I remember at the time saying to both of them, “My life is over, the love of my life left me, I want to kill myself, what the hell is the point of this stupid list?!?” But my parents were firm, and told me, “Just do as you’re told. Do the list.” I argued, I told them the list was idiotic and pointless and a waste of time, but my parents are stubborn sons of bitches… that’s where I get my own stubbornness from.
“Do the list.”
So I begrudgingly did their stupid list while they were at work, in between hours of crying and sobbing and screaming into pillows and punching the couch or my bed or sometimes my own face – anything to get all the pain out. It was cathartic sometimes, but I felt like there was a never-ending well of pain I was drawing from; like I could never get it all out. In between bouts of crying/screaming – and sometimes even during those bouts – I’d do things from the to-do list. I’d wash the dishes whilst crying into the sink, staring at my own reflection in the window and thinking how fucking bad a person I was. I’d fold the laundry whilst sobbing, or yelling, or screaming like a wounded animal. I’d make my bed, vacuum the house, mow the lawn, all whilst expelling the pain I’d built up over the last decade.
And as I kept doing that stupid list each day, something strange happened. I started to feel like I’d done something each day… like I’d achieved something. Yes, it was all meaningless bullshit – monotonous household chores – but it was better than nothing. My parents started telling me they were proud of me each day for getting the list done, and I started to take pride in my own ability to get through that list. I had started to catch the self-improvement bug.
I started asking them for more tasks, and as the weeks went on, I started adding my own stuff to the list. I realised that if I could make my bed, vacuum the house, do the dishes and mow the lawn… then I could fix other things too. Success snowballs. Jordan Peterson talks about making your bed and doing other small chores as the cure for depression in his book, 12 Rules for Life. It absolutely works; it’s something I’ve used to help a tonne of my coaching clients. And sorry Mr Peterson, but my mother and father beat you to the punch 7 years before you released your book.
I’ll give credit to my father too for being there for me at this stage – as he started to move past the shock and hurt from being lied to over the last decade, he did a better job being a father to me. I can remember a time he and I were sitting in a restaurant, eating pizza and talking. I was still a little weird about being around people, still paranoid people were looking at me or judging me or talking about me. I can remember looking around at the other tables a lot, until he said, “What’s wrong?”
“Everyone’s looking at me, they’re probably talking about me too.”
I vividly remember him looking around to make sure nobody was actually looking (of course, nobody was looking at me) and then he said in the most serious, matter-of-fact voice he could muster, “Andy. Nobody gives a shit about you. They’re all too busy with their own problems to care about you.“
That statement hit me like a tonne of bricks. It was something about the way he said it, the bluntness of his words (my dad never swears). In just that one moment, it was like he waved his magic wand and fixed my paranoia about other people watching me – I instantly realised he was right. Nobody did give a shit about me. Nobody cared if I was fucked up, or depressed, or had issues. Nobody was sitting there judging me. I was the only one judging me.
That gave me the impetus to deal with my agoraphobia properly. My first few timid steps outside were terrifying – I remember a 10 minute walk around the block being about all I could manage the first day. Then I tried being out for as long as I could – I managed almost an hour. I realised if, “If I can be out for an hour, then I can do 2 hours”. 2 hours turned into 3, and the next day I set myself the hardest task of all: “I’ll go to a shopping centre and be around people.”
I walked for about 30 minutes to get there, the entire time my heart racing, threatening to explode out my chest. I walked into the shopping centre expecting something bad to happen – people to point at me and yell, “Look at the freak!” or something – but… nothing. Everything was ok. I walked around for about 30 minutes, even working up the courage to say hello to a worker in the grocery store, eventually walking back outside and starting the walk home. I remember calling my mother as I walked home and saying, “Mum. Guess what I just did? I went to the shopping centre by myself for 30 minutes.” She was so over-the-top elated and proud of me, almost crying tears of joy over the phone. That gave me even more motivation to go even harder.
This is why I’m always going on about The Slight Edge, and just taking tiny little baby steps each day – this stuff snowballs. One day you’re suicidal, can’t leave the house, feel like your entire life is falling apart around you… but if you just take tiny little baby steps every single day – even if all you can do is make your bed or do the dishes – you have no idea what greatness you’re truly capable of achieving. Before you know it, you’re outside around other people and things are ok. For someone who’d been a recluse for several years by this point, this was fucking magical.
It didn’t stop there. I’m skipping some details, but over the next year I pushed myself to go to bars alone and go clubbing by myself 3 to 5 nights a week and talk to bartenders, waitresses, random strangers. I even made quite a few friends along the way. It was terrifying at first, but I knew I could do it – after all, if I could do my to-do list in the middle of anguish and despair, and could then start going outside despite my agoraphobia, then I could go to a bar alone. The Slight Edge in action.
I started seeing a counsellor to help me work through everything. I remember talking to her about going to bars and clubbing, and she was elated for me – “That’s a huge step!” She asked who I was going out with, and I told her I was going alone, in order to face my fears and agoraphobia. “Wait… What?” She was in complete disbelief, telling me nobody goes to clubs and bars by themselves – that’s something 99.9% of the population cannot do. That was one of the first moments where I gave myself a pat on the back for something I’d achieved; one of the first moments I actually felt proud of myself.
My father helped me fix up my resume and then drove me around town, pushing me to go into every business and talk to the owner, shaking their hand and introducing myself and asking if they had any job openings. I handed out about 50 resumes one day, and the very next day I had a job – and a bunch more offers I had to politely turn down.
I started adding, “I’ll cook dinner” to my to-do list a few days a week, and even though I sucked at first, I got pretty decent at following recipes and cooking some pretty good food. I’d cook every single night for my parents, eventually branching out and trying harder and harder dishes. After a year I was very competent and I’d even cook for guests, which I really loved doing. A hobby I was passionate about – much like I had been with the cocktail-making – but with no unhealthy consequences this time.
My counsellor started to teach me CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It’s a fancy way of saying “focus on the positive instead of the negative” – exactly what the book You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought focuses on. Our sessions ended up giving me epiphany after epiphany after epiphany – like each week I’d walk out of there a completely new person. It was amazing and deeply helpful to have someone who would just listen and let me talk, and help me discover how my mind worked and how to improve myself, in a judgement-free environment.
Throughout all of this, I was still in pain over the breakup with my girlfriend, and I didn’t want to admit things were actually over. I tried calling her a couple of times and she was nice enough to pick up, but both times she told me, “I think it’s best we don’t talk.” After the second time, my parents gently told me, “Don’t call her anymore, honey. She doesn’t want you to.” I really struggled with that.
I remember a conversation in the car with my mother, where I was talking about how much it was killing me not having my girlfriend. Yes we’d been toxic to one another. Yes we’d been horrible, abusive, fucked-up, evil. But I did love her. And my young, naïve brain felt like I’d never find love again – like I’d ruined my one and only chance. My mother was empathetic, but gently said, “You’ll find love again. You’re a very kind-hearted young man; you’re a beautiful person.” I remember that compliment really meaning something to me, because I’d spent so many years thinking I was such a piece of evil, vile filth. That compliment really stuck with me.
But I turned to her and said, “I won’t find love again. Even if I do, it won’t be the same… It won’t be her. You don’t understand, mum. You don’t get it. You don’t know what I feel for her. I’ll never find another girl like that.” She replied, matter-of-factly, “There’s 4 billion other girls on the planet, Andy. Some of them will be just as good as her. Some of them will be better.“
I remember that flooring me… it was my first exposure to the concept of it’s a numbers game. I couldn’t argue with her logic, and even though my heart said she was wrong, a part of me knew there could be other women out there. But it was the last part of what she said that really hit me hard: Women better than her? Better? How was that possible? Of course, in time I came to realise how utterly on-the-money she was with what she said. There are plenty of women out there who are better. My mother’s always been very wise, and I’m incredibly grateful she gave me that dose of reality when I needed it most.
And over the rest of the year, I didn’t just recover; I flourished. At some point I read You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought, as well as a few of the other books I talked about here. Those books help me decide it was time to start focusing on being happy. After all, I’d spent the last 8 years being pessimistic & negative, and that hadn’t worked out for me. Maybe it was time to try being an optimist.
I started looking for the silver lining in everything. If something went wrong, I’d try to look for some way this could be a good thing. Maybe a life lesson it was trying to teach me. Maybe some way this would actually benefit me in the long-run, even though it seemed negative in the moment.
I still had a tonne of negative thoughts – all the time, constantly, seemingly every minute of every day. Years of negativity and self-hatred was a hard habit to break. My counsellor told me to find things to be grateful for – reasons to be happy, even in a negative situation or event. At first it was hard – I’d have a negative thought, then try to find something positive to be grateful for, but my mind would say, “That’s a stupid reason to be grateful. Who the hell would be grateful for this shitty situation?”
I had to fight that thought – by yelling in my mind, “NO! I’m grateful for this!” I had to have that struggle multiple times for the same issue – sometimes 100 times – often doing it for hours, driving myself crazy. I’d keep combating it and replacing it with a positive thought, over and over again, until eventually my mind would get tired of fighting me and say, “Ok fine asshole, you win. I’ll stop saying this particular negative thought. But here’s another negative thought for you to deal with instead…” I then had to fight that new negative thought 100 times over the next few hours or days until it went away too.
I can’t say all of this was an easy process – I had to force myself to do it, and there were times I felt like I was going a bit insane. It felt weird to be having debates in my own head, like I’d lost the plot – but I did it anyway. I felt like I was fighting my own mind, fighting a never-ending onslaught of negative thoughts. But I refused to lose – I didn’t want to give in – because giving in to the negativity was worse than being “crazy”. So I kept it up, turning thousands of negative thoughts into positive ones and looking for the good in everything I possibly could. I was literally brainwashing myself into thinking positively, by countering every negative thought with a stern, “NO!” and then thinking of a positive thought instead, every chance I got, hundreds of times a day.
This process of searching for things to be positive about became my life – it became something I did constantly, at all times – and that’s something that’s very much become who I am as a person today. Almost every piece of content I do for my website, my podcast and my YouTube has a positive takeaway, a point I want to give you; a silver lining. I look for the positive in everything – even really negative events in my life. One of my missions with my content is to teach you how to find the positivity in everything too.
And after a few weeks of debating with myself, feeling like I was being “crazy” by having these arguments with my own mind, something magical happened. I realised there were slightly less negative thoughts bouncing around my head. My mind was… quieter. Not all the time – I still had some horrible, dark thoughts a few times a day – but they were clearly diminishing in frequency. And more importantly, there were moments where there was nothing but nice thoughts in my head. Thoughts like, “I could be happy… I think that’s possible. I think one day I could be really happy.” Thoughts like “The world is kind of… nice.” Thoughts like, “I think I like people. People are… good.” And occasionally, maybe once or twice a month, “Maybe I’m good too.”
Over the next few months those moments of nice thoughts – those moments where I felt nothing but peace and contentment – lasted longer and longer. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for almost an entire day. I kept debating any negative thoughts that came up, swatting them away – they were now mere annoyances rather than all-consuming torrents of self-abuse. I got to a point where the good thoughts became the norm and the negative thoughts were the minority. Life became… nice. I liked my thoughts.
No, I liked myself. I liked who I had turned myself into.
I became obsessed with focusing on the positive, and the world started to become warmer to me, brighter, more full of colour, less dark. I finally realised the truth about my grandfather – he wasn’t naïve, or ignorant about the world – he just made a conscious choice to focus on the positive each day. Now when I hung out with him, I’d look at him with a kind of awe and reverence, finally understanding that he was perhaps one of the smartest men I could ever know. He hadn’t been the dipshit, going through life ignorant about the way things really were. I had been. Holy shit.
Fast-forward almost a decade and these days I barely have any negative thoughts. I can’t even tell you how few I have, because I honestly don’t remember them. Swatting them away – focusing on the positive and looking for that silver lining with each negative thought – has become such a habit I do it automatically without thinking about it. It’s a habit I’ve reinforced millions of times over the last 10 years. It was incredibly hard during those first few weeks, but like everything else, you get better at what you practice. If your head is full of negative thoughts, forcing yourself to think of at least 1 positive thought for every 1 negative thought you have is a brilliant starting point. Over time you’ll build up a habit of doing this every time you have a negative thought, and now congratulations! You’re being more fair and balanced with your thoughts – 1 positive thought for every 1 negative thought.
These days I don’t even realise I’m focusing on the positive – it takes no mental effort. It’s like there’s a janitor permanently in my head, sweeping away the negative thoughts before they even get a chance to manifest into conscious thought, and replacing them with positive ones. I almost never ruminate on the negative, and I certainly never talk to or about myself in the negative. I have become an optimist. I still have struggles sometimes – I’m only human – and I obviously still get sad or lonely or a bit down sometimes. But I don’t get negative about feeling negative – I don’t beat myself up for it. I accept the sad emotions without any judgement, without any debasing self-talk.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing to get to the present day though; I made plenty of mistakes and got complacent over most of my mid-to-late 20’s. I got into another bad relationship and gained a bunch of fat, stopped hanging out with friends as much and became a bit directionless, before eventually finding Good Looking Loser and starting my journey there. I lost weight (77lbs), hit the gym, beat my approach anxiety, figured out a healthy relationship framework with a woman I adore (my girlfriend Imogen, obviously), went on to have tonnes of 3somes, and got to the point I’m at now. And now is pretty damn amazing. Life is fucking lovely.
Thank god I didn’t kill myself.
Chapter 3 – Hope
So that’s my story thus far. Of course, I’ve skipped a lot of details; it’s hard to distil almost 20 years of your life down into a concise article. But the takeaway message is: I came from a very dark place, with years of self-abuse, cheating, self-inflicted pain and all sorts of mental issues, and I turned it all around mostly by focusing on the positive and taking action to change things (starting with a small daily todo list). If I can do it, you sure as hell can too.
So now let’s talk about you.
Whether you’re depressed as hell, feeling lost, or even if you just have a couple of unhelpful thinking habits, I’m going to do my best to give you some resources and a plan for action to start turning things around. I can’t stand the idea of even one person having to suffer through what I had to suffer through, so please let me help you. Please listen to what I say below, and at least just try a couple of the things I suggest.
If you’re extremely depressed, I know you’re hurting. I know you feel alone, and I know it seems like nobody truly understands the hell you’re living in. And they don’t understand – even I can’t understand your exact circumstances and how you feel. I’m not you.
I do understand it gets better though, if you just start by taking one tiny baby step. You don’t have to do anything monumental. I know it’s incredibly hard to want to do anything, so let’s start small. I’m not telling you to fix your entire life, and I don’t want you to think about how far you have left to go or how many problems you need to fix. Let’s start small, with one thing, and get that sorted first. No matter where you’re at right now, no matter what struggles you’re dealing with, it is all fixable, I promise.
Even if your circumstances are worse than mine were, even if your hell is darker than mine was, you’re not a special kind of fucked up; you can turn it around. But you do have to take action – even just a tiny little baby step. Your problems aren’t going to magically fix themselves. I wish I could snap my fingers and fix things for you, but I can’t – You need to be the one to fix your life.
“If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
Watch this video (it’s mandatory before you keep reading – it perfectly sums up a lot of what I’m about to tell you):
Start small. Really small. Pathetically small. Smaller than you think is even reasonable. If you feel really depressed and hopeless and feel like you can’t do anything right now, start by making your bed. This is the exact advice Jordan Peterson gives in 12 Rules for Life, it’s the core concept of the book Mini Habits, it’s mentioned in The Slight Edge, and of course it’s the life-saving advice my parents gave me when they made me do that “stupid” to-do list every single day.
Yes, some days you won’t want to make your bed – you’ll say it’s a waste of time, it’s stupid, it’s pointless, “Why even bother when existence is meaningless and everything in my life sucks?” One of the biggest mistakes people make in life is saying, “I feel shitty, so I won’t work on my goals right now. I’ll wait til I feel better.” The thing is, working on your goals is what makes you feel better. If you just sit around waiting for the depression to fix itself, you’ll be waiting forever – depression is often a response to your current circumstances. So let’s fix those circumstances and build a life you can get excited about. That only comes by taking action right this second, in spite of the fact you may not want want to.
So please, I’m asking you to trust me – like I had to just trust my parents. Just do those small little tasks each day – even just one like making your bed – and I promise it’ll start to snowball. Each day you complete your to-do list, no matter how “pathetic” and “pitiful” the things on that list are, give yourself a pat on the back. Or join my Winners Club if you’d like me personally to give you a pat on the back and push you each day – that’s what I’m here for. Or tell a friend or family member – but you need to share your daily victories with someone. When you’re depressed, you desperately need all the encouragement you can get.
Over time, as you start to build that to-do list into a habit, and as you start to rack up more of those little victories and that sense of accomplishment you get from ticking things off your daily list, you’ll start to feel a little emboldened. “Maybe I could add a few more things to my list…” Add them. As you achieve them, you’ll add more, and you’ll start to grow courageous enough to do some bigger things like fixing up your resume, cleaning up your diet, fixing your sleep. Keep pushing, slowly but surely gaining more confidence, and before you know it you’ll be doing things that right now seem utterly impossible. Like I said, don’t think too far ahead or you’ll just feel overwhelmed; instead, focus on the tiny little baby step(s) you can take today.
There’s a guy on YouTube I follow called BigNoKnow – a guy who’s suffered from depression and severe anxiety for years. In a Q&A video, he was asked, “What’s the one thing that’s gotten you through all your mental issues?” His answer:
“Having a routine. Doing mundane tasks every single day, even when I don’t feel like it. That is the only thing that’s kept me sane.”
There are other habits that’ll help you – going outside, getting some fresh air, fixing your sleep, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol, removing stress from your life, making friends. Start slowly building those habits up one at a time, with little baby steps each day.
When you’re depressed, when it’s hopeless, when you feel like there’s no way out, make a list of tasks to do each day. Do something – anything – each day and keep on slowly pushing forward a day at a time. You won’t feel like doing it, you’ll likely fight against it the first few days or weeks, but force yourself to do it and you’ll slowly start to pull yourself out of the hole that you’re in.
You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought
While you’re taking those tiny little baby steps, grab a copy of You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought. It’s absolutely mandatory for overcoming depression, or just improving your life in general. Even if you’re not depressed, grab this book. I recommend it to EVERYONE reading this right now, no matter if you’re depressed or perfectly happy. Buy it.
I mean it.
This book will literally change your life, but only IF you do the exercises in it and build them into habits, just like I did.
And building habits is what this book is all about – it teaches you to focus on the positive and see the silver lining in most situations, just like I learned to do by forcing myself to swat away the negative thoughts and come up with positive ones to replace them with.
It’s also an incredibly positive and motivating book in itself; I go back and re-read it every now and then when I want to feel absolutely spectacularly positive about my future and my life. It’s the very definition of a “feel-good” book, whilst also helping you build those positive habits that’ll last long after the initial motivation wears off.
I even did a podcast walking you through a few of the exercises from the book (I do them with you live on the podcast), so you can see what I’m talking about:
I told you the book was good. Buy it. Seriously. It’ll help.
My Other Resources
I’ve written a tonne of articles that directly cover overcoming depression, dealing with that overwhelming feeling of “it’s hopeless” or “it’s too late for me.” Here’s where I’d suggest starting:
- Don’t Kill Yourself.
- What to do When You Feel Hopeless and Helpless
- Depression is a LACK OF…
- Always be Working on Something if You Don’t want to Become Depressed
- The Meaning Of Life & How to Be Happy
- Questions to Ask Yourself if You Want a Successful Life
- Don’t Worry, You’re Making Progress (Bad Days are Ok.)
- Discipline & Willpower Don’t Fucking Matter
- Stop Being a Cunt to Yourself
- Give Yourself Permission to Suck
- When You’re In a Rut…
- I Am Always Full of Doubt
- You Are Here Now.
- “I’m Losing My Will to Change”
- Shut Up and Be Grateful
- My Transformation
- My Recommended Reading List
If you keep doing those little baby steps each day, you’ll get to a point where you’re in a decent place (be patient with yourself – that may take you a few weeks or months to slowly build up your daily good habits if you’re in a really dark place like I was). Good work – I’m fucking proud of you.
Now it’s time to start really improving your life, and building a life worth living. Fitness, improving your looks, having friends who care about you, having hobbies and most importantly having goals you care about. Start by reading these step-by-step instructions on improving yourself and turning your life around:
- How to Make Friends
- The Slight Edge (How I’ve Achieved all my Goals)
- How I Lost Weight (77lbs / 35kg)
- Fixing Your Sleep (Sleep is Paramount)
- Improving Your Looks
- How to Start Anything
- Write a Daily Action Plan (To-do List)
- How to Get Strong/Gain Muscle
- How to Meet Women on Tinder/Online Dating
- How to Start Hitting on Girls in Public
- I Can’t Get Laid Because…
- How to Relax (The 5 Minute Meditator)
Building an awesome life really is just a process of taking tiny little baby steps each day and improving yourself, a tiny bit at a time. Life gets better with each improvement you make, I promise.
Make self-improvement your religion.
Make building yourself up your life’s purpose.
Focus on the Positive / Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
As the book You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought will teach you, focusing on the positive (looking for the silver lining, or coming up with 1 positive thought to counter each negative thought you have) is absolutely the way to rewire your brain and turn yourself from a pessimist into an optimist. I literally changed my entire personality by doing this exercise over and over again until it became an ingrained habit – you’re reprogramming yourself. Psychologists use the term Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which really just means being aware of your thoughts and then countering the negative thoughts with positive ones – exactly like I did myself. I’m giving a very simplified version of CBT, but that’s the gist of it.
Start with You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought – it teaches you CBT without using the complicated jargon psychologists use. And in the mean time, while you work on being more positive, remember this: You have control over the positive thoughts, but less-so your negative ones. Everybody has negative thoughts (they’re called intrusive thoughts) – they often just come into your head without you wanting them to. So don’t beat yourself up if you have negative thoughts, don’t get mad at yourself, don’t say, “Why the hell do I have all these negative thoughts, what the hell is wrong with me?” Now you’re just adding one more negative thought to the pile.
Instead, take a deep breath, remind yourself that everyone has negative thoughts, and focus on looking for a positive thought or making one up. You can’t control some of your negative (impulsive) thoughts, but you can choose to come up with a positive thought. If you’re bombarded by negative thoughts for an hour, you have the choice to think positive thoughts for 1 hour and 1 minute – thus outlasting the negative. You may not always have the choice to not be negative – sometimes you find yourself in a negative mood which is out of your control – but you definitely have the power to then find something to be positive about.
Gratitude is also a great answer here – finding things to be grateful for in your life. I covered how to use gratitude in a podcast episode, and Mark Manson wrote a great article called Shut Up and Be Grateful. Go listen to/read both of those.
Making Friends/Having a Support Network
I’ve said this to a tonne of my coaching clients: No man is an island; you can’t do this alone. You’re not supposed to. Let others help you; rely on them, let them support you, and when you’re in a place where you’re able to, support them in return. Together you’ll build each other up; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
If you have no friends (I didn’t for many years), here’s my guide on making friends.
You’re welcome to sign up for my coaching programs, which is an even more supportive environment (and you’ll get daily access to me for support/encouragement/counselling/etc).
On top of that, start telling any friends or family members you trust about how you’ve been feeling, what you’re struggling with, any dark thoughts you’re having, etc. You don’t have to blurt out, “Hey, I’m depressed!” if you’re not comfortable; just start small, with those tiny little baby steps. “I’ve been feeling a bit shit lately” or “I feel like I can’t achieve anything” or “I feel like I’m wasting my life and running out of time”. Little conversations that’ll help you open up and not feel so damn alone – being alone is your enemy when you’re trying to overcome depression.
I wish I hadn’t taken pretty much a decade to tell my parents that I was depressed; I was making myself needlessly suffer for all that time when I could have reached out and ask for help. Nobody overcomes depression without a support network of at least one or two people they can talk to when they’re having a bad day, and nobody builds an awesome life without having people in their corner who are rooting for them. You’re not a pussy for asking for help. And you are certainly not a burden, even though I know it can often feel like you are. People want to help you; so give them the opportunity to.
I’m going to very briefly mention medication (anti-depressants) here, because I’d be remiss not to mention it. Medication does work for some people. However, I usually list it as a last resort, and only after trying all the things in this article, as well as getting regular exercise and fresh air (go outside every day). Anti-depressants can have side-effects, and in many cases can take a bit of work to come off of.
But if you’re really suffering, and you really feel like there’s just no point, and you can’t bring yourself to take action (and now remember, even just one tiny little baby step counts as an action); anti-depressants can help. Talk to a doctor first, and know that they should only ever be a temporary solution to get you through the initial hump, while you start taking action and doing the things that will naturally start making you feel better. And then, when you’re ready – and with the direction of your doctor – you can slowly taper off them.
But again, I’d do everything else listed here first. 99% of people I give counselling to end up improving their lives and never needing medication by just taking those tiny little baby steps every day to start clawing their way out of the hole.
I absolutely recommend talking to someone about your depression, your life, the reasons you’re not happy – you need someone who’ll both listen and care. If you go to a counsellor/psychologist, that last point is the most important – you have to feel like they care about and want to see you do well. Psychologists/counsellors are just people; which means some of them will be great, some of them will be average, and some of them will be utterly incompetent. Too many people go to one or two counselling sessions, don’t click with their counsellor, and declare, “Counselling doesn’t work!” Counselling absolutely does work – but you’ll likely need to shop around a bit and try a couple of them before you find one who you feel comfortable talking to.
I also offer depression counselling if you need it – you’re welcome to send me a message & I’ll help you. I’ve helped tonnes of people with depression using all of the methods I mentioned above (as well as a few more). You can pay per session with me, there’s no obligation to see me every week or anything – just any time you need to talk. And one thing I can promise you – probably more than any counsellor or psychologist you’ll go to – is I’ll absolutely give a shit about you. I really, really, really care – deeply – because I went through almost a decade of hell myself. I do not want to see anyone else have to suffer through what I went through, and I’ll do everything in my power to change your life – I’ll pour my heart and soul into helping you work through your depression.
I don’t want this article to devolve into an ad for my services, but I wanted you to know that I offer it if you need it.
The bottom line – whether you see me, or another counsellor, or a psychologist, or just rely on other friends & your own support network – is your problems can be fixed. I promise even if you think it’s hopeless, even if you think your problems are significantly worse than anybody else’s and you can’t be helped (something I’ve heard from about 50 clients at this point, all of whom went on to massively improve their lives) – everything is fixable. You can be helped. As The Cosmic AC said in my all-time favourite short story, Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question:
“No problem is insoluble in all conceivable circumstances.“
Which means, if you just keep trying, you will eventually solve any problem and overcome any hurdle – as long as you just keep going. You can change your brain, change your habits, improve your life – just like I improved mine. Please reach out to someone – me, or a psychologist/counsellor, or friends and family, or even an internet forum – and fix things.
Please. Take the fucking help.
You’ve read all the way to the end. Now it’s time to start taking some action. Read through this whole article again if you need to, and then start with Chapter 3 – Hope. Start working through the list of resources I wrote, start writing a daily to-do list of tiny little tasks you can work on – even if it’s just “I will make my damn bed”. Build a support network, reach out to a counsellor if you need it, and start challenging those negative thoughts and looking for positive thoughts. You can do this.
I was a complete and utter mess of a human being; I cheated, I was vile and evil to people who were nothing but kind to me, I hated myself and I took out my anger and self-hatred on everybody I could – especially myself. The world was dark, cold, unimaginably depressing and life was not worth living. I was able to overcome all that and beat my depression and turn myself into an optimist. If I can do it, you sure as hell can too.
UPDATE: I also talked more about my depression, going to prison, the lowest points in my life and then climbing up to the highest points here: