TL;DR: Who’s running this thing, and why?
Hi there, I’m Steve. Over many years, I figured out how to claw my way out of a downward spiral of depression, suicidality, and obesity, and into an upward spiral of happiness, physical fitness, and the life of my dreams.
I’ve gone through all kinds of sources, including religious teachings, old philosophers, and modern thinkers. I’ve extracted the good parts and thrown away the BS from everywhere.
I was able to piece together an understanding of why most life-transformation attempts fail and how to make myself the exception in so many ways, most notably weight loss and happiness.
A plea: Learn from my research, but especially, learn from my mistakes. (I did this the hard way, and still got unbelievable results!) Learn from my mistakes, and learn from the mistakes I watch everyone else make time and time again. That’s my primary learning mechanism now, and believe me, it’s so much nicer than continuing to make all the mistakes yourself.
Several trips to Hell and back
I wasn’t a particularly unhappy kid, but then I turned 13.
I started that year reasonably happy – I didn’t mind my life much at all. By the end of the year, I was in a downward spiral, absolutely dreading each new day. I was in a major depressive episode for the next four years, my entire time in high school. 1
Then, in the middle of that, when I was 15, I was diagnosed with cancer: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Due to some medical incompetence, it was pretty advanced before they caught it, and I went through intense regimens of chemotherapy and radiation.
(My visiting nurse noted that the “cocktail” of drugs I was on would have killed her. They merely had me bedridden, and occasionally in so much unbearable pain that I’d just scream until my voice was gone, then cry myself to sleep.)
As an aside: both of those were awful. But if I had to deal with one or the other again, I’d take the cancer and chemo in a heartbeat. The pain of depression is just as bad, and at least having cancer didn’t make me feel like I’d failed as a person.
But I was dealing with both at once. Life was terrible that entire time. Looking back, I’m convinced that my extreme religious upbringing was the only reason I didn’t kill my teenage self. I believed that if I killed myself, I’d be tortured for eternity in Hell, somehow experiencing even more pain than I was already, with literally no way to ever stop it. It didn’t seem possible, but I just wasn’t willing to take that chance.
But there was a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, high school would be over, I’d turn 18, and society would acknowledge that I was actually a human being. Everyone kept telling me that college would be so much better, because you have so much more control over nearly every aspect of your life.
I never actually wanted to go to college – I still hated schooling. But everyone around me told me that the only way to succeed in life was to get a good job, and the only way to do that was to go to college and get a degree.
So I went away to college. Found it only slightly better than high school. After four months, I saw the depression starting to come back and cut it off early by dropping out. I moved back in with my parents and enrolled in the local branch campus of a state university. That was a tiny bit better – I lasted a year and a half.
But it still wasn’t working: I still had no reason to believe that there was actually a life I wanted on the other side, even if I could finish a degree. So I dropped out again.
This time, I knew something huge had to change. I hated everything about the small town where I grew up: the long trips to any decent store or restaurant; the hot, humid summers; and the cold, icy winters. I also hated a lot about myself, most notably the fact that I weighed about 270 pounds.
Well, desperate times call for desperate actions. I convinced myself that if I lost the weight and lived somewhere nice, that I’d finally be happy. I really had myself believing that that was all it would take, and I threw myself at it 100%. I took two jobs, cut back to a strict 1200-calorie-a-day diet, and started exercising—hard—for an hour every day. In spite of the torture I was putting myself through, I actually felt kinda good during this time.
In five months, I’d lost 110 pounds and using all my savings, made the move to three time zones away without any real plan. I bounced from job to job, and even made a half-hearted attempt to start my own business.
I felt great at first, having put in the work to achieve the life of my dreams. But that feeling subsided quickly. Three years (and a huge amount of credit card debt) later, I slowly realized that I was no closer to any kind of life that I actually wanted, and I’d gained back almost all of the weight. The depression came back hard.
By this point, I’d rejected the extreme religion that I was raised with, and therefore my fear of Hell was gone. So this was the first time that I seriously considered killing myself.
I passed the time researching suicide methods. I considered a bunch of them, and decided which one I would use when the time came. Strangely, that was actually a comfort. As I thought through the consequences, I realized that if the pain of depression ever became so terrible that I simply couldn’t endure it any longer, I knew how to make it stop. I would never have to suffer endlessly.
That led directly to a decent mechanism for coping with the worst of the depressive symptoms – the ones that came from seeing my life as intolerable, meaningless, and never going to improve. Rather than declare that my life definitely wasn’t worth living, I decided to treat it like a scientific experiment:
Is life worth living? Should I kill myself? I honestly don’t know. So here’s what I’m going to do right now: I’m going to tentatively go with the reversible option while I devote my life to finding out for sure, one way or the other. If a tolerable life is out there, I’m going to find it and live it. If I can fully convince even the most optimistically-skeptical parts of my mind that it just isn’t possible, I’ll know that killing myself is the right decision. The experiment is on.
As the first phase of this grand experiment, I hypothesized that the problem might have been the fact that I lacked any kind of actual plan when I made the last move.
Maybe if I’d actually thought things through a bit more, I’d have come up with a plan that I could tolerate and would leave me with enough money to live on. So, rather than kill myself right then, I decided to give it one more go. I declared bankruptcy and moved back in with my parents to regroup and start planning.
A year after that, I’d come up with a plan and a backup plan, and made the three-time-zone move back to civilization and a milder climate. It quickly became clear that Plan A wasn’t going to work. So I made another move and started on Plan B. This time, the money part was working out OK – there was just the small problem that I still didn’t actually like my life. The depression started coming back.
I started planning even more specifics of how I was going to kill myself, including the exact means and location, and made sure they’d be available when I needed them, because it was looking like the time might be soon.
Then, after one particularly bad social interaction, I realized that I couldn’t take it anymore. Something major had to change right now. Having my plan available, I seriously considered pulling the trigger that night.2
But I kept feeling like I was so close to a decent life. There had to be something else I could try, didn’t there?
Over the years, I’d seen a couple of therapists and a couple of psychiatrists, and tried a few antidepressants. Nothing seemed to have any effect. But maybe I hadn’t given professional help a fair shake. Maybe they had the missing piece. But I was hurting. I didn’t have time to mess around, so that night, I called the suicide hotline.
I decided I was going to be completely honest. The only thing I wouldn’t share is the specific details of my plan, so they wouldn’t be able to stop me if I did decide to go through with it at some point.
The person I spoke to was kind and well-meaning, but didn’t have anything to tell me that I didn’t already know. I told her that I want to live, but it’ll only work if I can find a tolerable life, and I’m out of ideas. In response to her questions, I said that I had a plan and was considering following through that night. She wanted me to promise that I wouldn’t – I chose to be honest and say that I couldn’t make that promise.
A short while later, a police officer showed up at my front door and escorted me into the back of an ambulance.
After two days in an ER holding area and another two in a mental hospital, I learned something: treatment for severe depression (at least where I was) consisted of a bunch of ineffective drugs plus constant direct supervision so as to physically prevent you from killing yourself right then and there. And pretty much nothing to do all day but think – not the greatest situation for people whose mindset leads them right into stew-and-ruminate mode.
I realized that this was going nowhere, so I started telling the doctors what they wanted to hear, and they released me the next day.
Spinning my wheels: four years of “blah”
Still desperate and pretty much hopeless, but not quite ready to give up on the experiment, I made arrangements with my parents to move back in with them one last time. And I would not budge until I had this mess figured out once and for all, one way or the other.
I started regularly seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. Talking my situation through with the therapist helped me work from the brink of suicide, to just malaise – I now merely disliked my life, rather than despising it.
Life became just tolerable enough to keep the experiment going for a while longer.
Beyond that, I made basically no progress for the next four years. Fortunately (as it turns out), my parents wanted to help out however they could, and patiently put up with me and paid my living expenses throughout.
I tried to figure out what was going on – the biggest thing was why I couldn’t hold a job without quickly spiraling into depression.
I did some research, and found that my symptoms matched up perfectly with a rare disorder of the circadian rhythm… that there was no good treatment for. I had a messed-up sleep schedule, and it looked like my only hope was to find a job that had an extremely flexible schedule, doing work that I could tolerate, and that I’d be able to actually get the job, not having a degree or any particular credentials.
I ran out of ideas quickly. Any ideas that anyone came up with failed immediately on one of those criteria. Eventually, I just started passing the time with TV, video games, and reading. I was living solely on the hope that something might come to me at some point.
After four years of this, my therapist pointed out that I wasn’t making any progress, and even suggested that I might be better off seeing someone else.
Starting my upward spiral
Finally, while combing the internet looking for a fresh distraction to pass the time, I stumbled across a meditation program for sale that made some huge promises.
The promises seemed outlandish, but they also seemed to be backed up by a fair amount of science. I was enormously skeptical, but if it delivered even a tiny fraction of what it promised, it’d be a game changer. Plus it had a really long money-back guarantee. It was a longshot, but I had no better ideas, so I plunked down most of my disposable income for the next year and gave it a shot.
My upward spiral into the life of my dreams started that month.
Oddly, it was the support material that was the trigger I needed. Something shifted in my mind, and I literally broke down in tears of joy mid-page. I had just learned why I was miserable and how to fix it.
With the right mindset in place, I started feeling better immediately. After that, things just kept building on each other.
Two months later, I started exercising regularly.
Nine months after that, I found some new resources about my disorder, did some experimenting, and found a way to get my sleep schedule back to normal.
With a world of possibilities now open to me, I spent the next month evaluating options, and decided to learn software development online.
While I was in the middle of that process, I found an eating program designed to work with both your mind and your body to lose weight sustainably. I enrolled, started treating myself better with my food choices, and ended up losing 140 pounds, for good this time.
A year after deciding to learn software development, I moved again – this time to accept an entry-level developer job. And I survived. A genuinely tolerable life was starting to emerge.
A year later, I left that entry-level role to take a mid-level position elsewhere for a 50% raise.
A few months after that, I started using another program, which came at life transformation from a different angle. Adding some of its ideas to what I was already using, I actually started experiencing genuine happiness for the first time in my adult life. Only occasionally at first, but getting more and more frequent as time goes by.
My next mission
As I considered everything I’d learned and how I was able to put it into practice, it became clear to me that all the information that you need is out there, but it’s scattered in pieces all over the place, and most of those pieces come with bundled with layers of science-abusing, new-age (or traditional!) garbage that will only hold you back.
All there years, all I needed to turn my life around was this toolkit, but it’s in pieces all over the place, and most of the pieces are in a thick layer of baked-on crud.
I came to the realization that my calling in life is to take what I’ve learned and use it to help others up. So that’s what I’m doing right here. I’ve been to the depths of despair, and I’ve emerged completely transformed and loving my new life.
I sat around making no progress for years. But once I had the first piece of this framework in place, most of my suffering was gone immediately, and a rapid upward spiral started.
As I write this, that first piece clicked four years ago, and now I’m happy and living a better life than I would have ever thought possible.
I’m no one special – all I had going for me was persistence and an intense curiosity, which led me to discover and curate this understanding and these techniques. So you don’t even need that to reap the benefits. You can transform your life – let me show you how.
Take a look around the site and see what I’ve posted already. As I write this, it’s not much yet. But rest assured that just as I wasn’t going to give up on my experiment until I’d learned for sure whether or not life was worth living, I’m not going to stop posting new content here until I can look at myself in the mirror and say that this is the resource that I wish I’d had years ago.
Join me on this journey. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and sign up below to be notified when I post new stuff and receive email-exclusive extras.
- I suspect it had to do with my becoming an adult, programmed by biology to be independent and ready to accomplish something meaningful, but (like all teenagers) still being treated by society as a child who can’t do anything useful and still needs strict supervision.
I had a major case of what psychologists call learned helplessness.
- A figurative trigger, not a literal one. I’d decided there are far too many horrible ways a gunshot can go wrong.