Don’t Fight Depression

As 2013 comes to an end, I feel some relief that what has been a difficult and confusing year is almost behind me. I mark the year boundary with my birthday (12/1) so December is an “unwind” month for me. Amy and I are at our house in Keystone with a variety of friends swinging through, working some, reading some, exercising, and just hanging out.

The first half of this year was marked with the deepest depression I’ve had since 2001. It came out of the blue and was a total surprise to me. The depression lifted at the end of May and I’ve now had about six months to reflect on it. For a while, I put together a narrative about what happened, dug into the root causes of it, and tried to make sense of how I ended up feeling the way I did. Eventually, I stumbled upon this brilliant explanation of depression from Allie Brosh and as a result stopped trying to analyze it.

During this period I heard from hundreds of successful people who also have struggled with depression. As I synthesized these discussions, I consistently heard that people were generally deeply ashamed of their depression. They hid it. They struggled with what it meant. And they were afraid to talk about it, especially with co-workers and investors. These conversations were liberating to me, and hopefully helpful to a lot of the people I talked to, as it created a context where serious, hard working, and accomplished people could explore depression – and what it meant – in a safe (e.g. with me) environment.

Another thing that came up a number of times in these discussions is the metaphor of depression as the black dog. I heard this for the first time many years ago from my dear friend Jerry Colonna. Yesterday a blog reader sent me a link to a phenomenal short video about The Black Dog. It reminded me of an important thing that I learned this year – “don’t fight depression.”

  • Govinda

    Best piece of advice- share your depression like taking a pill. Marry Christmas!!

  • Brian Clark

    Thanks for sharing this Brad. Here’s to a brighter next year.

  • jerrycolonna

    It was Mark Jacobstein ( who first introduced me to The Black Dog and I’ve been grateful to him ever since. Thanks to you, Brad, for cutting a deal with your Black Dog that allowed us to be there with you. In doing so, you’ve made it easier for so many folks to do the same.

    I love the film. It made me realize how grateful I am to my Black Dog. I won’t romanticize depression; doing so is dangerous and bullshit. But it is true that so much of who I am, the Man I Am Today (whom, finally, I love like no other, who–as the poet Derek Walcott says, has loved me all my life), stems from my life-long partnership, my walks with my Black Dog.

    He is there with me because of who I am. I am with him because of who I am. To reject him, to fight my depression, is tantamount to fighting myself. And we can all guess where such fights end.

    It’s a brisk, crispy cold Christmas morning and I’m back from a five-mile run. I’m 50 and lucky and happier than I’ve been in a long, long time. More than any other time in my life, I accept the totality of who I am. And my happiness isn’t a coincidence but a consequence of that acceptance.

    • So powerful. Can’t wait to see you in a few days. Amy and I had a magnificent talk this morning about looking forward and just being who we are.

  • Life is a Startup. Thanks for believing in innovation.

  • Sheila Lamont

    Brad, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the struggles of depression – particularly on this day when joy and sorrow can go hand in hand. And also many thanks for the gift of Allie Brosh’s wonderful explanation!

  • Melissa Pickering

    Brad, this was such a timely and appropriate post. 2013 in particularly was an incredibly tough year for both myself and my startup, and much as I’ve been trying to ‘live’ in the moment during the holidays when you’re supposed to, (so can relate to Allie Brosh’s amazing artwork!) it feels so forced and I can’t shake the entrepreneur blues…but nice to see there’s an empathic community.

    • Glad it was helpful – sending you good karma for 2014.

  • Thanks for highlighting this Brad, I think it’s difficult for men to admit they’re depressed or down so good to talk about it more. During the course of days sometimes I also feel down in a matter of seconds and all the problems seem to invite themselves to the party. After a few minutes I get back to normal which is figuring out what I can do instead of thinking about what I can’t. I don’t think of this as depression just over stressed but I do have a family history of major depression so I am lucky mine is mild.

    On a related note I’d like to know how and why a black dog was picked to represent this beast of an illness. We adopted a black puppy a few months ago and I can tell you it’s been nothing but pure joy and love, like other dogs I assume. She has won our hearts and lighted our lives in was I could never have even dreamed of. I’ve heard from SPCA that black dogs get adopted a lot less therefore being put down more frequently so this is not a good thing. wondering if anyone can shed some light on this.

    • I believe it comes from the English writer Samuel Johnson who used the term “the black dog” in the 1780s to describe his own depression (per Wikipedia).

    • DaveJ

      It appears to be a more generalized mythical thing that black dogs following you around are a negative/foreboding symbol.

      I also had to check and it turns out the Led Zeppelin song is not about this.

  • bobmonsour

    Thanks for sharing this Brad. I found Allie Brosh’s post as well as the Black Dog video to be incredibly moving and useful. I fall into depression from time to time and I always try to fight it. The Black Dog gets in front of everything I think I can and want to do when I’m down. I’ve had a good few months on a new project that has me energized once again. We own a wonderful black dog named Willie and I always find the constancy of his loyalty to be a help. I have a wonderful wife and a challenged son, but I also have much to be grateful for. I count your blog among the things for which I’m grateful. Wishing you the best for 2014!

  • Elizabeth Kraus

    I know that Christmas is not your religious holiday and I am not sure if you intentionally posted this on a day when many of us are expected to be “happy”, but I appreciate that you did. For me, the holidays make my Black Dog’s bark the loudest. I struggle with being obsessive compulsive and I have an unhealthy need to stick to a disciplined routine and push myself as far as I can humanly go every day of the year. This makes the holidays a stressful chore rather than a relaxing reward for me. Instead of slowing my normal life down to make time for wrapping presents and holiday cheer, I pile it on top of my already stressful and sleep deprived life and make myself even more prone to depression and irritability. And I stress for weeks about not being able to stick to my exercise routine and healthy eating habits, and being forced to just sit around and do nothing, my least favorite thing in the world to do. Although I have gotten much better about this over the years, it is still hard when everyone around me is so happy and can’t understand why anyone would see the holidays as a stressful chore. From all of the people who struggle to be happy over the holidays, a deep and sincere thank you for talking about this.

    • Thx for sharing Elizabeth. I used to be very down / grumpy / mopey over the holidays. My wife Amy has helped me a lot – she doesn’t put any pressure on me, but encourages me to just have two weeks of downshifting. I generally ignore all the festivities but do chill out some.

      I know a lot of people struggle with this time of year. I didn’t post intentionally on a particular date, but I’m thinking about it a lot right now.

      Hope you are doing ok – see you in 2014.

      • Elizabeth Kraus

        Thanks Brad! Enjoy your two weeks of downshifting!

  • Christina W

    Wonderful video and post. Thank you for sharing something that is so personal. It is so important to bring awareness to depression… to try to find ways to explain it to people that are not directly affected. When I first struggled with depression in my early teens I was very open about it. Unfortunately, I have come to regret that on more than one occasion. Nothing better to keep you depressed than being called “crazy” by people you love or to have people hold your “black dog” against you. It is so important to support and be patient with people around us that suffer from depression (or any other problem). If we lead by example I think it comes full circle and we are all better off for it. So thank you again for speaking about this so openly! I wish you all the best for 2014! Take care!

  • Mark Phillips

    Brad, do Amy or you have any suggestions/suggested reading for partners of depressed people.

    • Try Talking to Depression by Claudia Strauss and Martha Manning (per @jerrycolonna:disqus)

  • Bob Finegan

    Hi Brad,

    I just discovered your blog and read your posts on
    depression along with your Inc. article. Thanks for your story and all
    of your wise and helpful thoughts.

    You might be interested in
    the book “Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice,” about depression in
    people of high achievement. Here’s an excerpt:

    “The relation
    between great achievement and the depressive temperament has yet to be
    determined in detail, but there can be little doubt that, in some
    natures, depression acts as a spur. When the depression is overwhelming,
    the sufferer relapses into gloom and an inactivity which may be so
    profound as to render him immobile. To avoid this state of misery is of
    prime importance; and so the depressive, before his disorder becomes too
    severe, may recurrently
    force himself into activity, deny himself
    rest or relaxation, and accomplish more than most men are capable of,
    just because he cannot afford to stop…”

    This seems relevant to
    what you said about overwork being one of the triggers for your
    depression. I’ve had that experience too. You work
    like hell to
    succeed so you won’t become depressed, and the workaholic imbalance you
    create leads you into precisely what you were trying to avoid.

    think sometimes it can help to fight depression, as long as you define
    and wage the battle properly and with the right timing. For instance,
    you found excellent ways to restore the needed balance to your
    life—there’s scrappy fighting wisdom in what you did. Your story
    contains great implicit advice for others struggling with depression.

    I recently started my own blog for people who live with depression.
    You can find it here:

    Thanks again.

    • Thx – just grabbed a copy.

  • Paulette Murphy

    My black dog – PJ – taught me a lot about humor and the importance of simple play. I thought I attached photo.

  • anonymous

    I just want to say, thank you.

  • James Lyons

    I’m reminded of a George Bernard Shaw quote.

    “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

    • Perfect quote for this.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you…

  • Anonymous

    Thank you…