A Filmmaker's Guide to Depression

A Filmmaker's Guide to Depression

Today we're going to tackle a tough subject. Maybe the toughest subject of all. Depression.

It's not only something I've struggled with throughout my life, but it's a growing problem throughout our society, particularly in young people. And I have a hunch that's it's even more prevalent and widespread amongst us creative folks.

If you've spent any time on this site before, I'm sure you've noticed a consistent theme throughout everything... I put a lot of emphasis not just on the craft and mindset and business of film, but on living a good quality life.

That's why I ultimately chose to go ahead with this episode, even though it would have been so much easier not to.

Because nothing stops us from living a good life more than depression.

No amount of financial or critical or personal success can compensate for that. I mean shit, look at Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams. These guys had everything on the outside, but their internal lives were too much to bear.

That's why we have to talk about this. Because I can arm you with all of the strategies in the world to achieve success, but none of that will matter if we don't tackle this subject head on.

Now before we get into it, a quick disclaimer that I'm not a doctor, psychologist, neuroscientist, or really anyone qualified to talk about this authoritatively.

I've researched a lot and tried a lot of things to combat my own depression, and I've made a solid amount of progress over the years. But at the end of the day, I'm just a random guy on the internet.

So please take anything I say here with a grain of salt, and if you want expert advice, please seek it out.

Also, when I say I've made progress, that's exactly what I mean. I haven't "cracked the code" and mastered my depression.

Nope, it's still there, and I fully expect to struggle with it more in the future. But I'm learning to weather the storm, make my highs in life even higher, and make my lows higher as well, if that makes sense. I'm moving the needle in a positive direction, and I want to share some of the stuff that's helped me do that.

If you're game for going down that rabbit hole with me, I'd love it if you came along for the ride.

So let's get into the podcast. This episode features snippets from my conversation with Zack Arnold from Optimize Yourself. You can also listen and subscribe through iTunes, Stitcher, PocketCasts, Radio Public, Spotify, and the Google Play Store.

If you enjoy today's show, it would mean the world to me if you'd leave a rating and review on iTunes. That's the best way to support this small indie show and to help new filmmakers find it!


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Practical Takeaways from Today's Episode

Before we get started, a quick note about what to expect.

I wrote this both for people with depression—with an emphasis on breaking some of those patterns—as much as I did for people who don't feel depressed.

Because if you work in the film industry or are part of any creative community, you will undoubtedly come to know and have relationships with people who suffer from depression.

And I want you to have a good, empathetic understanding of what's happening with some of the people you interact with, because the more you understand, the more compassionate and helpful you can be as a friend.

And that's important, because community support is one of the most effective tools in the arsenal for dealing with these issues.

What is depression, and what are its symptoms?

So let's start with the basics. What is depression?

Here's how the American Psychiatric Association defines it.

Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Fortunately, it is also treatable.

That last bit about it being treatable is crucial, and we'll talk about that later. But the definition is straight forward enough. Here's where things start to get a bit trickier though.

Depression comes with a range of symptoms, and from what I can tell, no two people seem to experience it in the exact same way.

This is one of the reasons it's so hard to talk about on a broader scale, not only because of the size and scope of the problem, but the sheer number of ways it can manifest itself. As a society, our beliefs around health and wellness tend to be very symptom focused, which doesn't lend itself well to something like depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Crazy how much range there is in that list, huh?

It could show up as no appetite, or as eating far too much. It could be insomnia and not sleeping enough, or it could be excessive sleep. Again, this is why I say no two people seem to experience depression in the same way, because there's so much range.

The general consensus is that if you feel any combination of these symptoms for a period of two weeks or greater, you've had a depressive episode. And if those episodes happen frequently and intensely enough, you've got chronic depression.

So that's as medical as we'll get here.

That said, there's a ton more to know about depression from a medical and social context, so if you want to go deeper into the neuroscience of depression, I've found no better book than The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb. And if you're looking for the most comprehensive, enlightening book ever written on the subject, check out the Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon.

My personal experience with depression

Anyhow, let me tell you a little bit about my experience these past few years. Because depression has played a consistent role in my life.

Personally, I experience depression as a combination of extreme low energy and feeling this overwhelming sense of hopelessness and apathy. Symptom wise...

  • It makes me withdraw from the world. I stop going out with friends, stop answering emails, and basically become a hermit. Even more of a hermit than I already am as a super introverted person who works from home.
  • I start making poor decisions with my health. I stop exercising, my sleep schedule changes, and I start making very bad choices with food. And not surprisingly, all of these things compound the problem, making me feel even worse. It creates a downward spiral that's very difficult to pull myself out of.
  • I also find myself consuming far more media when I'm depressed. I stop producing work of my own (because I don't have the energy), and I endlessly consume hours of Netflix shows and news and YouTube videos. Not surprisingly, this deepens my emotional state even further, especially when compounded with the health stuff. It's kind of cliché at this point to talk about spending eight hours straight watching reruns of The Office, but that's exactly what happens when I'm depressed.
  • It's funny, for me depression is kind of like the bully that somehow convinces me to beat myself up and take my own lunch money. Depression puts me into a state where I'm far more likely to make bad decisions, or no decisions, and deepen the shittiness of my emotional state.

All in all, I can spend months at a time in these states. It's kind of like the world just stops for me, and eventually I come out the other side and everything starts back up again.

And the last few years have been pretty rough both personally and financially, so these episodes have been happening at least 2-3 times per year. If I'm not careful, the majority of a year can disappear out from under me without me really having accomplished anything.

It's bad news bears, which is why I've been so vigilant in trying to combat my depression. Again, more about that later.

One more poetic description of how depression feels

I want to share one more description of depression that I found during my research for this episode, one that really rang true in my experience that helps people really understand what's going on beneath the surface of a person, even when all seems normal on the exterior.

I found it in a guided workbook I picked up a few months ago called Dwarf Planet. It comes from an awesome non-profit called Heart Support, and it's highly recommended.

Anyhow, they did a survey, asking people to share their experiences of depression, and this one really stuck out.

Depression is the feeling of holding a brick in your chest. Sometimes it hurts so much that it crushes the air right out of you. It makes it harder to get out of bed, to get your groceries, to do everything in your day. There's nothing that will expel this brick from your body, so any hobby, passion, our outlet loses its appeal. Without release or a passion, you lose your purpose, comfort, and passions. You essentially lose anything that makes you, well, you. After carrying that brick around for days, weeks, and months, it accumulates weight. Rock bottom is when the brick has crushed your heart, your lungs, your stomach, and your desire to live. You don't eat. You don't sleep or you sleep too much. You don't move because you can't carry the brick one step further. You're paralyzed and stripped of your identity as the days pile up and it seems like there's no end in sight.

That quote gets me every time, because it feels like such an accurate metaphor for the experience. Depression is a weight that you carry everywhere. It makes everything in your life harder, and most times, it feels like that weight just keeps getting heavier and heavier.

And the worst part is that while you're in the middle of it, it feels like there's no possible way to get that weight off your chest, or even lighten it. It's just there, weighing you down.

Again, it just goes to show, you can never tell what kind of weight people are carrying around in their souls. Everything can be fine on the outside, but their internal world could be a mess.

Why it's so important for us to combat our depression

Alright, I think we've done enough now to identify the problem.

Let's talk briefly now about why it's so important for us to do everything in our power to combat depression.

  • Perhaps most obviously, depression takes the enjoyment out of everything. Filmmaking and creative work should be fun and fulfilling (at least most of the time), but depression makes us feel like shit and robs us of the joy of being creative.
  • It puts enormous strain on our relationships. And nothing is more fundamental to effective filmmaking, building a great career, and living a good life than fulfilling relationships.
  • A lot of the other mental blocks we talked about this season are also more prevalent when we're depressed. Our fear is stronger, our self doubt deepens, our stories about the world become less empowering. And the more that happens, the worse we feel and the less work we get done.
  • Depression perpetually robs us of living up to our potential. I don't know about you, but that really bothers me. Every time I go through a stint of depression, I beat myself up about the work not getting done, the people I'm not impacting. If it only happens for a few weeks of your life, that's not such a big deal, but if it's happening again and again, or it's persistent, your life can never be all that it could possibly be. Maybe I'm naive, but I think that's one of core purposes of our lives, to do our best to live up to our potential.

Lastly, and perhaps worst of all, the more often we're depressed and the more deeply we feel it, the more it becomes habitual.

After all, our brains are basically habit forming machines, and repetition of a state of being, even if it's miserable, will eventually leave your brain conditioned to feel that way.

I don't remember who originally said this, Tony Robbins maybe, but in chronic depression, our brains basically have a highway moving towards pain, and a bumpy dirt road to pleasure. The longer we stay in depression, the more it's like we're adding more lanes and better pavement to that highway, while completely neglecting the road that we need to be focusing on improving one step at a time..

So that's why it's important for us to push for the steps in the second half of this episode. Because unless we start rewiring some of these mental habits one piece at a time, they'll just continue to get stronger and exert more influence over our lives.

Dispelling the myth of the "tortured artist"

There's one other related issue I want to talk about before we move on. And it's something I've seen way too much of in the creative community.

It's when depression and pain become part of our identity, and we form a belief around these things benefiting our art. In other words, we embrace the idea of being a tortured artist, where the more pain we feel, the better we are as artists.

This is one of those myths that has been perpetuated throughout history in stories of tortured, but admired artists.

You’ve got your VIncent Van Goghs and Jackson Pollacks, your Ernest Hemingways and David Foster Wallaces, your Elvis Presleys and your Kurt Cobains. In film you've got Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, and plenty more.

Despite the countless examples throughout history of talented people who've struggled with mental illness, I'm going to come out and call bullshit on the idea that it benefits our work.

Sure, pain can be the basis for great art.

But as a creative person who's seen both sides of depression, I can tell you with absolute certainty that everything is better on the healthier, happier side of that equation.

Not only am I more creative when I'm not in a depressed state, but I'm capable of producing far more work, of higher quality, more consistently. It's also beneficial for all of my relationships, both personal and professional, which has even more of a positive impact on the work (and on my well-being.)

In other words, when I'm taking care of my mental health, my life is better and my work is better. Unequivocally.

And while I still believe that pain and suffering can be turned into art, what I've found is that it's far easier to create that art when you're outside of said pain and suffering. Not only do you function better on every level, but when you have some distance from your suffering, it opens up new perspectives and new ways to be creative.

So please take me at my word on this one. Don't let your demons become part of your identity for the sake of creating better art. You're doing both yourself and the world a disservice. We need you at your best so that you can produce more of the work that matters.


The art of combatting depression

Alright my friend, let's dive into the solutions half of this episode.

But I should first warn you again that when I say solutions, I don't necessarily mean we're going to solve this thing for good with the snap of a finger.

After all, like I mentioned before, I still struggle with depression to this day, despite everything I've tried and everything I know.

If you dig around, you will find accounts of people breaking out of depression and staying out, but I haven't figured out how to do that in my own life.

So the goal of this section is to share what I know, and what's worked for me, to get you making progress, digging your way out of that hole, and lightening the load you carry.

It's not going to be quick, and it's sure as hell not going to be easy.

But just like all of the best things in life, if we take positive actions consistently, even if those actions are tiny, they'll start to compound and create an appreciably better life for us over time. Our highs in life will be higher, and our lows will also be higher, as well as less frequent.

But you have to trust the process, and you have to keep at it. As I'm sure you know if you struggle with depression, it's all too easy to slip back into that hole and dig even deeper than you thought before.

Also, one last thing to mention before we get into this. I'm no fan of medication for depression, at least not in the realm of SSRI's. I've never tried them, and I don't ever intend to try them. But there are accounts of these drugs helping some people in a substantial way, so if that's a route you're interested in, please talk to a doctor and do your own research.

There's also some interesting research into using psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin to cure depressive disorders. This stuff is super early stage, and there's a lot of stigma, but if you're curious to learn more, check out Michael Pollan's new book, How To Change Your Mind. And here's a great recap of the book by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. I'm not condoning doing anything illegal, but we should keep an open mind about stuff like this, because there have already been clinical trials that have far exceeded the medical community's expectations. So this is a legit thing worth paying attention to, even if you're skeptical.

Alright, so let's dig into this. We're going to divide this section of the show into two halves. One for how to pull yourself out of depressed states, and the other for staying out. Let's get started.

Tips for pulling yourself out of depression

Remember that book I mentioned earlier, Alex Korb's The Upward Spiral.

That's the overarching metaphor we're going to use here for pulling yourself out of depression, and it's been incredibly useful to me.

So, just like depression can feel like a downward spiral, where things just seem to get worse and worse, we're going to actively create an upward spiral, where things get better bit by bit.

I like this approach because it's not overwhelming to the point of causing inaction. It doesn't require some massive life change or anything of that nature. You start with small actions. You do them consistently. You start feeling a tad better, and you add another positive action or two. And that's how you start creating the upward spiral.

It's generally not a speedy or easy path to recovery (though some small changes make a big difference), but it works if you're willing to commit.

So now I'm going to recommend a few different strategies for getting that spiral started.

Create the belief that it's possible

The first thing you absolutely must do is truly and deeply believe it's possible to make progress and eventually pull yourself out.

I know it can feel like nothing will ever help. I know it can feel like any action you take is wasted energy. That's the depression talking. It's skewing your perception of reality. It's putting blinders on your eyes so that you miss opportunities for progress.

Trust me, it can get better, and it will get better. Even though it doesn't feel like it, there are things you can do right now to start that process.

That's what you must believe.

Because like I mentioned in the episode on beliefs, the stories we tell ourselves become our reality.

If you tell yourself a story that you're stuck and helpless and that your efforts don't matter, you won't put in those efforts on a consistent basis. Why would you?

That's why the first step is to start building this one core belief.

How do you build a belief like this? Simple. You find stories of people dealing with depression and overcoming it. You validate the idea that there is another side. And you keep reinforcing that idea.

When you see stories of other people who've suffered, and who've gotten better, it opens a little pathway in your brain, it lets a little bit of light in.

So if you're looking for powerful, true stories that will validate the belief it's possible to get better, I've made it super easy for you.

Click here to read powerful personal stories of people working through depression.

Again, you don't need google or anything. I've done the work for you, and you can go straight to that link for a legit source that'll help build a belief that change is possible.

And if you don't do any of that, please take me at my word when I say it can get better. Though I still struggle, I know deep in my soul that I can take certain actions to move the needle in a positive direction. And I know that you can too.

Tell someone you trust what you're dealing with

The next step I recommend is to tell at least one person you trust what you're dealing with and how it's been affecting you.

Chances are, this will be difficult because depression is such a solitary, lonely experience, and it can feel like no one else could ever understand what you're going through. And your brain will likely scream at you as you click send on that text, or bring it up in conversation.

But you've got to summon five seconds of courage and do it anyway.

And if you're anything like me, it will feel like a bit of that weight came off your chest immediately.

Seriously, just the act of telling someone, or multiple people, can help lighten your load and make you feel less alone.

Quick note here... The goal isn't necessarily for them to help you through it, though that can be part of it if you want. It's really about connection. It's about being vulnerable and sharing your whole self with someone. As long as the person you tell isn't a complete asshole, this will deepen your relationship, which is one of the things that helps us get outside of ourselves and see the world more positively.

Hell, you never know, the other person or people you reach out to might also be silently struggling with this. In which case, you'd be doing them a massive service by being vulnerable yourself, because it opens the door for them to do the same.

Beyond simply telling someone, you should make a point to check in with this person on a consistent basis. It doesn't have to be anything formal. Even if it's just a weekly get together for lunch, or a skype conversation completely unrelated to depression. The point is to talk to someone you trust on a consistent basis, keeping that relationship alive and well.

Having someone in your life who understands what you're going through, and talking with them somewhat regularly, makes a world of difference.

Make a list of things that you enjoy

Next up, try to come up with a list of at least five or ten small things that boost your mood or make you smile or feel comfort. Ideally, they're small things that don't require a lot of energy or planning.

And then try to do just one of those things every single day. Even if it's just for 30 seconds.

The idea here is to continuously interrupt the pattern of negativity in your brain, and train you to focus more and more energy on the things that uplift you, even if they're tiny things.

So for me, it's snuggling with cats, playing guitar and singing (badly, I might add), reading fiction, listening to serialized podcasts, and going for aimless walks (generally while listening to said podcasts). Well, as long as it's not blisteringly hot, as it is right now in the Arizona summer.

Anyhow, I just want to mention that this is a bit more nuanced than just doing things that make you feel good. You have to choose things that genuinely lift your mood, without indulging behaviors that become addictive and deepen your depression.

If there's one thing I've noticed about my own depression, it's that it tends to push me towards behaviors that are pleasurable, but also highly addictive.

For instance, I definitely get some perverse sense of pleasure out of eating too much, scrolling endlessly through facebook, and watching hours of Netflix at a time, but those are the types of behaviors that only serve to deepen my depression.

So you have to be careful here. Find those simple things that give you a boost, that help you see the world in a slightly more positive light. But tread lightly, because we're hardwired to seek out pleasurable activities, and some of those activities can absolutely be addictive.

Exercise, Food, Sleep (The Big 3)

Next up, we're going to get into the realm of exercise, sleep, and nutrition. And this is probably the most impactful area of all.

These three things often tend to fall into neglect when we're depressed (they certainly do for me), which is one of the major factors for why depression feels like a downward spiral. Because without those three pillars of health in place, your body and mind just can't operate properly.

That's also why small changes in these areas can lead to the most sustained improvements if you do them consistently.

So to tackle this subject properly, I asked Zack Arnold, who has way more experience than I do on this stuff. Here's the transcript from what Zack said in this episode:

I'm a big believer that you need to be your own doctor, and not just go to the doctor that sits in the room with you for ten minutes and says, "well sounds like you feel depressed. All right. Well, let's try the Zoloft. Well, that's not working. Well, let's try the Effexor. Now let's try the Lexapro. Feel better? All right. Well, then it sounds like we found the right cure. We're done."

Most doctors are not going to look into lifestyle factors and really understand all of the behaviors that have led you to where you are. So what I've discovered for myself is that not only is constant movement important for my mental health, but if I don't incorporate regular high intensity training, then I'm going to have a propensity towards depression.

So what I've found is that I don't need any medication whatsoever if I'm exercising on a regular basis. So I found that movement is a huge lifestyle factor, not just for me, but for many many people, as the more lethargic and sedentary you are, the more prone you are to depression.

And guess what the vast majority of filmmakers do all day long? They sit and they do next to nothing, and what comes with sitting and doing next to nothing when I say doing next to nothing. I mean physically so you might be working 16 18 hours a day on the phone scheduling things on the computer writing scripts or whatever it is.

But if you're not physically moving that lethargy can lead to depression and what sitting all day long will also do is lead to much poorer dietary habits. Because your appetite suppression hormones are all out of whack. So that means that you start eating crap all the time, and crap is basically the diet that every post production facility orders for editors.

So what I found is that if you first get some semblance of movement into your routine that will then drive better dietary habits. And those two start to create the momentum where you feel better, you start to create things more, and you start to experience less depression. And the more that you have a taste of that, the more that you want to keep going and doing more.

Then above all of that. The one thing that I found for me and I would say, it's probably the one thing for just about anybody that's dealing with depression Beyond movement. Beyond diet. Is sleep.

When I was at the worst of my depression I had insomnia, I never have trouble sleeping. So I know the one I can't sleep, I have major mental health issues. I would barely sleep at all. Maybe an hour to a night and if it was an hour or two was very very low quality.

It got really really bad and I said, "you know what, I don't care if I'm eating crap right now. I don't care if I'm not exercising. Those are all things that are going to come, but my one thing, the domino that I have to knock over first that's going to knock everything over next, is going to be sleep."

So for about two months, All I cared about was getting better quality sleep. Once I started focusing on sleep., then I focused on movement. Once I had sleep and movement under control, then I focused on diet.

So what I always tell anybody that's dealing with depression is you have to get your sleep under control. Once you feel like sleep is under control then focus on movement then focus on diet, but don't try to do everything at once.

The only thing I would add is that I tend to prioritize exercise over sleep, simply because exercise will not only boost your mood and change your physiology within about 15-20 minutes, but it will also help you sleep better and regulate your circadian rhythm.

Now, I know exercise can feel like a daunting thing, especially when you're in the midst of depression. And that's why I recommend starting small. Like really small.

You might consider one of the various 7 minute workout apps, or go even smaller.

For me, it's going for walks while listening to podcasts. If it's too hot for that, I'll just climb the stairs in our house a few times, or do a handful of jumping jacks or squats.

Start as small as you have to in order to actually do it, then just focus on consistency, and building up the habit.

We could continue to go down this rabbit hole of talking about exactly how to exercise, how to improve sleep and optimize your diet. But that's something for another time.

For now, I've got two resources I want to share if you're interested in going deeper.

First is Zack Arnold's website and podcast. Go to optimizeyourself.me and check out all of that stuff.

Next, I've included links to some of my favorite health related books, articles, podcasts and other resources down in the extra resources below.

Practice gratitude

This next tip is going to sound like a bit of an empty platitude, but I promise that this is something that can change your outlook on life for the better if you do it consistently enough. Plus, it's backed by quite a few scientific studies.

Quite simply, it's practicing gratitude every single day.

Even if you can't get out of bed, and your head is swimming with negative thoughts, you can still find something to be grateful for in any given moment.

It could be big things like the fact you have a roof over your head, or for the people in your life. Or it could be little things like a nice breeze or a tasty cup of coffee.

There is always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest of moments. And if you make yourself look for those things, you will always find them.

The trick to making this work is to allow yourself to actually feel grateful in the moment. Don't just tell yourself that you're grateful. Reflect on the thing you're grateful for and let yourself feel a genuine sense of appreciation and thankfulness for it.

Even doing this once can impact your mood in a substantial way. Because gratitude's effects are most dramatic when we're at our lowest point.

If you want to make this a daily practice (and I very much recommend that), you can set a little reminder on your phone asking, "what are you grateful for right now?" Or you could grab a copy of the five minute journal, or the app version. The link to both of those is in the show notes for this episode.

Get 1% better every single day

My last tip for pulling yourself out is the most important. And it's advice you've already heard me share several times throughout this season of the podcast.

Just like you have to show up every day to tackle your big filmmaking goals and make progress in other areas of your psychology, so too do you need to show up every day with your depression.

Even on those days where you can barely get out of bed. Muster the courage and the effort to do one small thing that will keep the momentum going.

Because this episode is already super long (and I don't want to beat a dead horse), if you want some detailed strategies and mindsets for showing up every day, head back to the episode on turning pro.

Apply those same ideas to your depression.

Build routines and habits that slowly and surely move the needle. Hopefully I've given you enough ideas here for what kinds of things to fill your routines with.

Use the Seinfeld Method to make consistent progress every day

There's one last helpful model I didn't mention in the Turning Pro episode, and it's the Seinfeld method of building consistency.

So the story goes, an aspiring comedian once asked Jerry Seinfeld how to write better jokes. He replied, the best way to write better jokes is to write every day. He told the young comic to get a wall calendar, and every day he wrote new material, put a big red X through that day. Eventually, a chain will start to form, and you'll like seeing that chain grow. Your only job is not to break the chain.

This method works wonders for me. I have a massive yearly calendar on my wall and an array of colorful markers I use to keep track of goals and habits.

You can do this with an actual physical calendar as well, or use some kind of habit app on your phone, but find a way to keep track of your small bits of positive actions. You will like seeing the chain grow because it's a beautiful visual reminder of your commitment to own your life and your happiness, and you will be motivated to keep it going.

I'd also add one more rule into this whole equation. If you do break the chain for whatever reason (it happens to the best of us), don't beat yourself up, and don't allow yourself to go two days straight without your positive actions. It's easy to feel like a failure and lose faith in yourself and lose the progress you've made. So make a rule that you'll never miss two days in a row. That's how you stay on track.

A quick recap of the strategies for pulling yourself out of depression

So we've covered a lot in this section on pulling yourself out of depression slowly, so here's a quick recap.

  1. First, you've got to believe it's possible to make progress and get better. So research stories of people who've done it before you. Click here for a page of great stories that'll help.
  2. Next, tell someone you trust what you're dealing with, and get together with them on a consistent basis. Put it on the calendar if you have to.
  3. Make a list of small, low energy things that boost your mood, and commit to doing one of those things every single day. Just make sure you're not doing something with the potential of addiction or deepening your depression.
  4. Start taking small, positive steps with your health. Pick sleep, exercise, or food as a place to start, and get some small wins under your belt. Focus on consistency, and when you're doing well in one area, expand to another one.
  5. Practice gratitude every single day, even if it's for stuff that feels small. There's always something to be grateful for in any moment, no matter how painful, and there's boatloads of research showing how gratitude can lift your mood and your outlook.
  6. Lastly, view breaking free from your depression as would any other big goal in your life, and commit to show up every single day and get just 1% better every single day. Don't break the chain, and if you do, don't beat yourself up. Never miss two days in a row.

So that's all I've got for you in terms of creating an upward spiral and pulling yourself out of depressed states.

I can't promise that you'll break free from your depression quickly or easily, but I can promise you that if you do these things consistently, your life will get better.

And if you maintain a sense of curiosity about your depression, and keep learning about how and why it works, and how to improve the condition, and you keep trying things, you will continue to make progress and eventually the fog will lift.

Strategies for staying out of depression

And that leads us to the second half of this section on solutions, where I want to talk about ways for staying out of depression once you've managed to pull yourself out.

So I won't make this section nearly as long as the last one because this episode is already way longer than I intended it to be. But there are a few points I want to make here that will not only help you stay out of depression, but change your relationship with it.

Build healthy habits and routines that keep depression at bay

As Zack mentions, your health and wellness have to be on point if you want to stay out of depression consistently. For him, it's high intensity exercise a few times a week that helps to keep him sane and healthy.

And in my life, I've found that food is really the biggest indicator of when I'm getting depressed, and exercise comes in a close second place. When my healthy eating and workout habits start falling by the wayside, it's a clear sign that I'm slipping back into depression.

And conversely, having one bad day is enough to throw me into the downward spiral where I start ignoring my healthy routines.

That's why I've adopted one simple rule for those times when I feel the depression coming on.

Basically, I double down on healthy habits the worse I feel.

If I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it's imperative that I go workout anyway.

If something crappy happens during the day, I make damn sure to follow it up with some meditation or a healthy meal.

Because for me, one bad day is all it takes to slip back down the wormhole into a shitty place. And I view it as my responsibility to do everything in my power to prevent that from happening.

I know what happens when I get depressed. My work suffers. My health suffers. My relationships suffer. Everything suffers. For weeks or months at a time.

So anytime I have any inkling that I might be slipping back into depression, I double down on my healthy habits. The worse I feel, the more important those habits are.

Of course, it's not easy to make yourself double down on those healthy routines when you're not feeling it. There are days where it feels impossible. But I've found the best way to tackle this is to treat it like Steven Pressfield's concept of Resistance. Go back and listen to the turning pro episode for more detailed strategies on how to do that.

Finding the root of your depression and treating it

This next idea is maybe the most important one in this entire episode.

As you get more acquainted with the cycles of your depression, eventually you'll be able to identify the root causes of it. Once you find those roots, you'll start to see depression more as a symptom rather than a disease. And that's a powerful way to reframe it, because it means you can treat the root cause to start getting rid of the symptoms.

So once you're out of depression, I'd implore you to keep developing your self awareness and looking deeply for those root causes. When you have one of those bad days that might throw you back into depression, stop and try to identify what caused you to feel this way.

For me, one of the most effective techniques for getting that information is to do some stream of consciousness journaling. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and then just write nonstop about how you're feeling and what might have caused it. Don't edit or stop to think. Just write. Honestly, I don't know why this technique works so well, but it's a magnificent tool to dredge up stuff that you're not quite consciously aware of, but is affecting you in various ways.

Maybe you'll find that your depression is set off by stress from your job. Maybe it happens when a project of yours falls through or doesn't perform well or a client doesn't like it. It could come from financial stress. Maybe it's set off by things that happen in your relationships or with your family. Maybe something traumatic happens in your life, or you remember something traumatic that happened earlier in your life. Or maybe you just get really busy and stop taking care of your health.

Point is, there are all sorts of things that can throw us back into the downward spiral of depression.

But when you start spotting those patterns and identifying the things that start your downward spiral, we're back in the driver's seat, so to speak. It means you can start counteracting your depression before it take hold of your life. It means you can create strategies and systems for dealing with those root causes you know will send your mood and outlook downhill.

A quick example that's common in the film community

Here's a quick example that I've seen a lot in both myself, and in the filmmaking community at large. If you constantly have high hopes for your scripts or film projects or business, but those hopes never seem to materialize and create the big break you were looking for, that can be more than enough to throw you into a cycle of depression.

Hollywood, and the film industry in general, likes to present itself as this glamorous, fun, profitable endeavor.

And many filmmakers do get into the business for those reasons, only to be hit with a completely different reality. The business is largely unglamorous, incredibly hard work, that rarely pays off financially in any kind of big way unless you stick around for years and years.

When our expectations don't line up with reality, it can be the source of a lot of emotional distress.

So if you find that to be the case in your own life, then you might want to spend some time exploring how you set goals and expectations.

Just from personal experience on this one, I've found with the film industry, it's generally best to pin your expectations to things that are directly within your control. Because the more you cede success to things you have no power over, the more likely you'll be let down when things don't go your way.

So if before your definition of success came from getting into a bunch of prestigious festivals and winning a bunch of awards and making a bunch of money, you might want to temper those expectations and focus strictly on processes that are within your control. Barring something crazy, it's in your control to finish the script, pre-produce it effectively based on whatever budget you have, get the film made, and execute on a marketing and promotion strategy.

If you focus only on those factors that you can control, putting in your greatest effort and doing your best to make something you're proud of, that needs to be enough to keep you emotionally stable, or even make you happy. Anything beyond that in terms of recognition and money is just gravy on top.

It is indeed difficult to think this way when we've all been conditioned to chase after things that are out of our control. But somewhat paradoxically, I've found that the more we stop chasing the end result and focus on the process instead, the more likely we'll actually get the end result we're looking for.

Be of service to others

Ok, so I have one last tip for you before we wrap this thing up.

Find ways to be of service to others.

Because once you start serving others, in ways both big and small, your world gets bigger and it genuinely produces levels of contentment that you can't get any other way.

And perhaps most importantly, being of service is one of the absolute best ways to develop and fulfill a larger purpose in life. When you have purpose, it's much easier to keep yourself out of depression I've found.

So how do you go about being of service?

There are a million different ways this could happen. You could start doing nice things for your friends and family (or complete strangers) with zero expectation of getting anything in return. You could start volunteering. You could start a blog or a podcast to share the most important things you've learned about film or life or anything else. You could serve people through the art you create, telling stories that are empowering and uplifting. You could start mentoring someone who'd like to grow to where you are.

Again, there are so many different ways to serve. Personally, I do this through my work at Filmmaker Freedom, through volunteering at a nearby cat shelter, and just generally doing nice things for people without expectation of return.

But take a few minutes to think of a few ways you can incorporate service into your life consistently, and start doing it.

Even if you only do 10 minutes of selfless service a week, it will start to change you and broaden your world. And the more that happens, the less power depression will have over us in the long run.

Alright my friend, that's all I've got for you in terms of depression.

It was incredibly valuable for me to do all of this research and synthesis of ideas, and I hope that it was equally valuable for you to take all of this in. I know it's a lot, but like I before, the more we can arm ourselves with knowledge, the more capable we are against an enemy like depression.

Good luck in your battles, and don't ever hesitate to reach out to me if you want to talk about it.


Further Reading & Resources

Article: Mastering Depression and Living the Life You Were Meant to Live - Daniel Jeffries

I've read a lot about depression over the past few months, but this article remains my single favorite piece of writing about it.

Book: The Upward Spiral - Alex Korb

Probably the most practical, down to earth book I read in my research for this episode. It's a great primer on the neuroscience of depression, but it's full of strategies for making things better. And that's why I recommend this book more than any other, because I've used those strategies, and they work.

Book: The Noonday Demon - Andrew Solomon

This is far and away the most comprehensive book ever written on depression. It's beautifully written, and has plenty of harrowing and hopeful stories.

Workbook: Dwarf Planet - Heart Support

This workbook will help you understand your own depression better, and it will guide you towards healing through all sorts of practical exercises. Plus it's got a lot of unique insights into depression that I didn't find anywhere else.

Book: How to Change Your Mind - Michael Pollan

This is a book about psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). There's a ton of stigma around these substances thanks to their explosive growth in the 60s, but the therapeutic potential for psychological and neurochemical disorders is massive. These drugs have helped people overcome depression, addiction, PTSD, amongst many other mental illnesses, and the body of peer-reviewed research is continuously growing. Keep an open mind, because this stuff will likely be at the forefront of depression treatment in the years to come.

Website: Beyond Blue's Personal Story Section

This is my favorite source of honest, uplifting stories of people working through their depression.

Website: Optimize Yourself - Zack Arnold

You heard from Zack in this episode. He's probably the most inspiring dude I know in terms of battling depression. And he built an entire site around taking care of yourself so that you can win your battles with mental illness.

Website: Precision Nutrition

When it comes to scientifically valid, non-dogmatic nutrition and exercise advice, I can’t recommend Precision Nutrition enough. Plus, if you’re looking for some kind of course that helps you build good healthy habits, their coaching program is phenomenal.

Website: Nerd Fitness

If Precision Nutrition feels a bit too science-y and overwhelming, you might really enjoy Nerd Fitness. It’s the best health and fitness site around for people who hate other health and fitness sites.

App: Headspace

This is what I use to meditate every single morning. There are lots of great meditation and mindfulness apps out there, but the experience I’ve had with Headspace over the past two years has been nothing short of wonderful.

Book: Triggers - Marshall Goldsmith

When it comes to books on creating new habits, I’ve read most of them and I’m reasonably sure that Triggers is the most practical of the bunch. Plus it'll help with identifying the causes (or triggers) that can start your downward spiral into depression.

Book: Sleep Smarter - Shawn Stevenson

Getting better sleep is one of the best ways to start feeling better when you're in a depressed state. This is the most practical book I've found for getting better, more rejuvenating sleep consistently.

Five Minute Journal - Physical Version, App Version

This is a daily gratitude journal, and it rocks. I've gone through a couple of them in my life, and they always do the trick for boosting my mood, and keeping my outlook on the more positive aspects of my life.

Article: A CEO's Radical Treatment for a Lifetime of Depression  - Hollywood Reporter

A good reminder that we have to keep trying and pushing and fighting our depression, even when nothing else has worked before. For this dude, he found peace on the other end of electro-convulsive therapy, even though it's super stigmatized. So be willing to try new things in your fight, because eventually, something will work.

Article: My name is Wil Wheaton. I live with chronic Depression, and I am not ashamed - Wil Wheaton

This is the piece that originally inspired me to go out and make this big-ass podcast episode. The more we can talk openly about this stuff, the more we can confront our demons and make them known to the world, the better our internal lives will be.


If you enjoyed this podcast episode, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

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