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Practical Notes on Depression From a Semi-Famously Depressed Person

Depending on how you know me, this may or may not come as a bit of a surprise:

Most people I meet expect me to be depressed.

This is because I am, perhaps, most famous for releasing a few albums of very, very depressing music.

For some strange algorithmic reason, this song I wrote somehow has 2.5 million views on YouTube.

People who know me through non-musical contexts are typically surprised by this.

And they are generally more surprised by the fact that I receive about 1-2 messages a week from depressed people asking for advice.

I don’t claim to have any special expertise on the subject at all – clearly, I’m neither a doctor, nor a therapist, nor even remotely qualified to be one.

But I’ve been very open, creatively, about my struggles with depression – and public vulnerability is often in very short supply.

Recently, while responding to someone on Instagram I realized I should put some thoughts down on the blog and hash them out a bit.

So, here you are: My thoughts on depression, from a semi-famously depressed person.


I’ll tell you what helped me. 

1: For one, realize it is all chemical.

Your body is a highly complex system, and depression is a physical negative feedback loop.

Don’t give it any moral weight – it’s like throwing your back out. It hurts like hell, but it means literally nothing about your worth as a person, or your future, or your character. It’s an emotional knee injury, nothing more. 

2: Healing is primarily about time.

Lives go in cycles, systems work in cycles, everything happens in cycles.

All cycles have down periods, by definition. Can’t have an “up” without a corresponding “down”, otherwise it wouldn’t be an “up.” Part of the added pain of depression is thinking we shouldn’t experience it – but it’s part of the package.

Many “depression hacks” are placebo + good timing (“I started feeling slightly better, so I started exercising. Then my depression lifted!”) Sometimes you need to just do your best, embrace the suck, and release the expectation that you need to “fight” to “get better.”

Time everything. It’s really just a matter of sticking around to see the far end of the tunnel.

3: Once you let go of the guilt and blame – might as well spend your time working on your quality of life.

Quality of life improvement, like many things, is best accomplished with a barbell strategy.

Imagine a barbell. On the left, you have risk avoidance. On the right, you have high risk, high potential reward behaviors. In the middle, you have balance. 

People instinctively go for the middle. “The golden mean,” and all that. But really, the middle brings the boredom of safety without the rewards of risk. It’s safe but it’s boring and it doesn’t get you very far. 

Instead, focus your attention sequentially – first on the left side of the barbell, then the right.

Meaning:

Cap your downsides first. Take care of the basics – avoid the big risks.

What’s the big risk with depression? Fucking killing yourself. So take care of that first. How can you insure that won’t happen?

Be around other people. Get a therapist. Meditate or medicate if you need to. Check yourself into a hospital if it’s bad.

Always ask for help if you need it. If you can’t handle the above, I guarantee you can find someone who will do it for you. Really have no one? Walk into the nearest emergency room.

No messing around with the worst-case scenario.

There’s a reason they take your shoelaces in the hospital. Take all your shoelaces away.

Once that’s taken care of, move on to the next thing. Depends on your situation, but what’re the major contributing factors to everyday depressive episodes?

  • Poor sleep
  • Screen exposure past sundown
  • Poor hydration
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise

The BASICS.

I’m not saying these things cause depression; they just make it harder to get out.

Take them one at a time. Focus on small behaviors and habits that slowly build positive momentum. Make your foundation solid.

Can’t do great things if you can’t sleep and you’re strung out. 

(By the way, you don’t need to be perfect – you just need to not be operating a deficit. I don’t always get a perfect night’s sleep, but I’m not consistently sleep-deprived, either. We’re not optimizing, here…just making sure we’re covering our bases).

4: Once our basics are taken care of – and not before – we move a small amount of our attention to the right side of the barbell. 

Risk. Risk is our friend, in small quantities.

Too much and we’re overstretched, with too much downside.

Too little, and we’re bored of ourselves with nothing to look back on with pride. 

Take one thing that entails a risk – personal, emotional, financial, whatever – risk that’s important to you.

And put some time – say 20% of your time – towards it.

  • Start a business.
  • Learn to attract the romantic partner of your choosing.
  • Learn Jiu Jitsu.
  • Travel to Ireland.
  • Start a podcast.

Whatever. 

Put yourself in a position where you can fail, and where you must struggle to grow. 

The great secret to everything is that we die in the absence of struggle.

Growth is what sustains happiness – growth and service to others.

But…

It’s hard to serve if we can’t do anything. 

The more you focus on growth, the more you learn to validate yourself – the scale for success is internal, not based on what others think, but on what YOU think.

Relative growth is all about where you came from, not where you are

This is the core of true freedom, both of action and of expression: internal validation.

Once you got your first thing, you start a new thing.

It never ends.

Constant growth begets constant change, which brings interesting people into your life, which begets more change. 

Sooner or later, you will look back and not even recognize your own life.

So. 

1. Strip depression of its meaning
2. Realize that it’s time more than anything that helps, so take the pressure off. 
3. Take care of the basics and cap your downside
4. Risk wisely

That’s all I got.
It isn’t much, and everyone’s different –

But I hope if you’re feeling depressed, this gives you some context.

Sincerely,

Your Semi-Famously Depressed Friend

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10 Comments

  1. Jonathan

    Thank you for everything

  2. Agi

    This was a really good read. On the “good” side of the cycle right now, but I’m saving this for when I inevitably need some perspective in the future. Thanks for everything, Dan.

    • nolessthan

      Thanks for reading!

  3. literallywho

    Thank you depressed bald man

  4. Gail Collins

    Dan
    Having dealt with depression My entire life and having read everything I could get my hands on, I complement you highly on your take on how to move through depression. Excellent read dan. Thank you.
    My dad just died this past year which overflowed my beeker. My life has always been complicated. Fact of my life. Sharing our stories help a lot
    Please share this read with as many people out there as you can. I know I will
    Your family is beautiful. Love following your Facebook posts
    Gail

    • Ryan

      I saw this after someone posted it to the HANL subreddit. I’ve kept it bookmarked ever since as it’s an incredibly helpful reminder to keep on going and not to let the shitty thoughts takeover. Simple yet profound. Thanks Dan

      • Ryan

        I accidentally replied to a comment instead of posting one but my point still stands lol

  5. Sean

    Thank you Dan. As a depressed college student and musician, you’re work continues to inspire me.

  6. Philip

    Thank you for this Mr Barrett

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