How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression


Hello lovely friends! After a year and a half of painstaking work, my book on fighting depression is here. It’s called: How How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.

The book covers:
• The science behind depression
• The helpful (and unhelpful) dialogue around mental illness
• The debate between seeing it as a choice or disease
• Stories of survivors
• A secret culture of suicide worship
• An interview with a depressed doctor
• The problem with finding a “cure”
• My own attempt at suicide
• A myriad of voices from nearly two-hundred surveys conducted over a year

The paperback is here. The ebook is here.

For my video on depression, check here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xggg6xFObIE

Be blessed and love y’all, friends. A reminder that if you’re in a dark place, I hope you’ll reach out. You are truly more loved than you know. 
— J.S.


Holding On or Letting Go: The One Friend I Want to Help, But Can’t Anymore.

Anonymous asked a question:

For a while now, my best friend has been struggling with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I am the only one that knows this. She takes a lot of her issues out on me … But I can’t take the emotional abuse anymore. It’s an unhealthy relationship that has stopped being a friendship.

I have been asking God what to do. I have sat with her in her mess. In her screaming. In her crying. In her hopelessness. I have tried to give advice. I have prayed for her. I have been patient and worried and angry all at once. I have been bitter because everyone else gets to experience the side of her that I used to know, the happy, loving girl that puts on a mask to hide her pain.

I have decided to tell her that I can’t be the person she needs me to be for her. That she needs to seek professional help. This is going to be a really hard conversation … If you have any advice, I’d love to hear it.

Thank you so much for your honesty and for reaching out to me. I’m also very sorry about the heartache that you’re experiencing; I absolutely know how hard it is to decide between holding on and letting go.

I have to say this upfront, and it’s going to be a wildly unpopular opinion: You’re on to something that most people won’t admit, that “love” and “friendship” do not mean exhaustively giving ourselves out to the point of toxic self-harm. That would be unfair to you and enabling and coddling to your friend, which would end up destroying everyone involved.

Here’s something even more unpopular, and please believe me that I have a hard time writing this. I think that most of us have been bombarded with the Hollywood idea that if we help someone enough, that person will eventually get to an “epiphany” full of high fives and hugging, and that their recovery will get on some upward trajectory. You’ll also be demonized if you “leave someone behind,” especially if you’re considering to possibly “leave behind” someone who is depressed or suffering a mental illness (and I’ve suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, so I’ve been on both sides of this).

Most of us hate to admit when we don’t have the qualified “training” to help someone, and there’s a secret guilt when we simply don’t have the energy or time. So we almost force ourselves to help everyone, which can be good, because most people simply need encouragement and listening, but there’s a very small percentage that need something way beyond us. By now you’ve seen how truly difficult it is to bear with someone who might be beyond your “ability.” What you’re going through is commonly known as secondhand trauma, like secondhand smoking.

The truth is, most of us are unequipped to fully help someone who is suffering from an overwhelming mental illness. In fact, social workers and psychologists tend to get cranky about people who think they’re doing “hero work” by helping the mentally ill. It’s basically like a painter trying to perform open heart surgery. I know that even the best of my friends are limited when it comes to dealing with my own depression. I don’t hold that against them. What I see is that you’re not so much asking for permission to give up, but for permission to rest and to have a wise distance.

And I’m here to tell you, keeping a distance even from your most well-adjusted friends is not “leaving behind” your friend, but simply a necessary rhythm of friendship. Of course, I absolutely believe we’re meant to be there for someone, that no one is excluded from our love and company, and that we must move towards people who are hard to love. I’m not at all saying that it’s okay to give up, or that it’s okay to cut someone off at the earliest convenience. Yet there must be a point when we recognize that someone is abusing our trust, and that professional counseling is not only an option, but a very real next step.

I advise two things.

Continue reading “Holding On or Letting Go: The One Friend I Want to Help, But Can’t Anymore.”

A Letter to Social Media and Google Search Experts: You Don’t Understand Mental Illness (and I Wish You’d Try)

If there’s one thing I learned after a celebrity takes his or her own life, it’s going to social media and seeing that no one understands mental illness.

I’ve been a lifelong sufferer of depression, and not even I myself completely understand what’s going on inside.  Most of us assume it’s more of a choice instead of a disease, but it’s difficult to explain how even our choices under depression feel hopeless and powerless, like walking through a fog that has drained the colors out of everything.  There’s no particular reason it happens.  Mental illness doesn’t primarily come from external causes, but we blame ourselves, and so does most of our world.

My guess is that depression and anxiety and other such illnesses are not sexy enough.  Cancer portrayed by Hollywood has the inverse effect of making you skinny and attractive, and movie-autism gives you special math skills like Rain Man or perfect innocence like Forrest Gump.  It’s not fun watching a grown man just weep for two hours.

There will be no movie for my uncle, who has schizophrenia and paranoid delusions, and will often randomly get on his bike to ride from Florida to Ohio, with beans in his ears to block out the “demonic voices.”  It’s not tailor-made for a fundraiser.

That’s not to take away from any of these illnesses: but it points to our obsession with polishing our pain into a marketable story.

An illness like depression often leads to the inevitable symptom of death by suicide, and because of this, many will mock and sneer.  “They chose to do it, it was selfish.”  But unless you’ve actually been at the verge of this inescapable inner prison, then it will naturally seem over-dramatic and hysterical. No one understands unless it’s them, at the absolute edge of their darkness feeling like there are zero options left.

I understand this urge to criticize the mentally ill.  It’s not visible; it’s not physically tangible.  We inherently grade people based on their accomplishments, but even more, the “beauty” of their brokenness.  It’s an ugly thing.  We accept some diseases and not others.  We celebrate victory over cancer and Ebola and from organ transplants, but not depression, even though they all potentially lead to terminal conditions.

We only take mental illness seriously when it leads to death — but even then, we find such diseases beneath our charity, because we perceive it to be within the victim’s control.

Continue reading “A Letter to Social Media and Google Search Experts: You Don’t Understand Mental Illness (and I Wish You’d Try)”

Are Depression and Anxiety a Choice?

Anonymous asked a question:

A lot of hurting young people on my dash. Is depression and anxiety a choice? My pastor believes it is. “Generational curses”, “biblical strongholds”, etc. Thoughts?


All right, dammit: Who is this pastor? I’m a fifth degree black belt and I can break into a house by scaling a wall, so give me an address and a picture and I’ll have a friendly interrogation with him. I’m trying to see what he means — but no.

Seriously though, most people who don’t suffer from depression or anxiety just don’t get it. It’s like telling someone you have a migraine and they offer you a glass of water. You sort of want to punch their face off.

Pseudo-biblical language that doesn’t even speak to reality only shortcuts a huge issue. You can tell me to “rebuke it in Jesus’ name” all day long, but I need some freaking help.

Let’s get this part right: while not all our emotions point to legitimate choices, having feelings is NOT wrong. You’re allowed to feel your feelings, all right? It’s okay to be a human being and no one should ever blame you for that.

If you’re denying your emotions, you’re also denying your humanness. Even the spoiled little princess on the latest reality show gets a fair hearing on why she flipped a desk about getting the wrong-colored car (hint: it’s not about the car, but her emptiness). What’s important then is to examine why this is happening and how to react in the moment.

People go through different seasons and occasionally experience severe internal weather patterns that you don’t just “choose” your way out of. There’s no easy off-button for those cloudy emotional fogs that suddenly overtake you. A lot is at work here — upbringing, situations, spiritual warfare, personality — so blanket-answers will not help.

Continue reading “Are Depression and Anxiety a Choice?”

Jesus Says Take A Break

You need a break.      

I know you hate this idea, and so do I, but you really need to take a break.

Everyone around you is multi-tasking, phone-apping, book-cramming, reading or scheduling or building or flying – and you suspect they’re all more productive than you, so you’re pushing, sweating, clenching, bleeding to get this done. 

But you: you really need a break.

God commands rest.  How could He command rest?  I’d rather read my Bible and fight for the offering plate than REST.

Most of us have bought into the neurotic productivity of American Do-Ism, so you have American Idol and the Olympics and Like buttons and your GPA – so no, I won’t take a break, I can’t take a break, I have to keep up or shut up.

But a funny thing happens when you refuse God’s commands.  The very core of your humanity begins to break down.  You can probably already feel it: the restlessness, the twitchiness, the constant checking of your phone. 

See: God knows how you’re made and what’s best for you.  That’s what His commands are all about.  He knows that if I don’t take a break today, and tomorrow, and for a long time, that I’ll eventually consume more energy than I can create and my spirit will be crushed.  It won’t be any one thing on my schedule or any one exam or any one person: but the accumulated weight will be too much to bear, and I’ll either melt down or check out.

Continue reading “Jesus Says Take A Break”

Honestly, Half The Time I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

I always thought my parents and these grown-ups had a super-secret system for organizing their life and making Huge Forever-Changing Decisions. Writing checks and doing taxes and paying the rent was like second nature to them. Me in my little kid boots, a sore neck from looking up all the time: it was daunting to think of being a grown-up.

It turns out, they were guessing most of the time.

Continue reading “Honestly, Half The Time I Have No Idea What I’m Doing”

Question: The Ground War Against Depression and Anxiety

Facingfugue asked:
Hello! Your posts are a blessing. I see that you come from an area of knowledge in the psychology area as well spirituality . I have been struggling with anxiety attacks for the past two years. Do you have any advice coming from a perspective of a Christian as well? I have been doing C.B therapy but it really is not helping a lot. I used to be very depressed because it made me feel helpless, but Christ has been my refuge and HE has been my joy. The anxiety has been much harder to work out though

Thank you for your kind words!  I’m not sure I’m too knowledgeable about psychology but it does interest me a lot.

I’ve also suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. There was a suicide attempt in 2004 and I have cut myself before. CB therapy (Cognitive Behavioral) can be good for pointing out certain patterns and schemas, but may not be as helpful for treatment as you already know. 

Both therapy and the church can be really bad at handling depression.  Some people stuff it with drugs and others will say it’s “all in your head, get over it.”  Those who do not go through depression have no idea how debilitating it really is. 

There’s probably no formula/advice/plan I could give that’s 100% effective, but I can try to help from experience.  I’m also assuming that you already highly value prayer, reading the Bible, relying on the Holy Spirit, and attending church.  Medicine is also totally appropriate. That’s all the air warfare; here’s the ground war.

1) Be as honest as possible. Without being a victim about it, let people know what’s going on. Tell somebody. I made the mistake of hiding it too often.  Not that you want to announce it with trumpets, but even one or two close friends or your pastor should know when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. Some people will definitely be uncomfortable and ungracious, but then those people aren’t the ones who get you anyway.

Continue reading “Question: The Ground War Against Depression and Anxiety”