Why superstars contemplate suicide and how they survive | Picking up the pieces after depression
Have you ever wondered why it is it so many rich, successful and even powerful people have endured such painful lows that they didn’t want to go on living?
I know what it feels like to give up on life. I battled depression and anxiety for years until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
In 2005 I asked God to take my life. I was at an all time low, I felt totally miserable and hopeless. But nobody knew because I was hiding my depression.
I had a successful high paying career, I had been on Oprah, in magazines, and wrote my first book.
But even with all that, I knew I couldn’t go on living that way. It was too painful. I felt trapped, like I was living a lie. I wasn’t living true to myself. And what’s worse, but not so uncommon, I felt like I wasn’t good enough.
Any of this sound familiar?
Have you ever felt like you were living a lie?
Ever been so stressed and nervous trying to live up to someone else’s expectations?
Many people were shocked to hear me go live on a video rant about my experience with depression. But since sharing my personal journey in my first TEDx presentation, I’ve found that I am not alone. There are many high functioning depressives and major movie stars, billionaire CEOs and artists who have felt like I do.
Many celebrities explain that their artistic life includes major highs and lows. When we are on an upswing, our creativity soars and we feel invincible. For example while in production on films or music projects we put all of our amped up energy into creation we experience euphoria and when the crowd and fans go wild we feel powerful and ecstatic.
When the production ends or a negative review comes in we may crash and begin to question everything. Do we really matter? Is the fan love conditional? Will we ever reach the top again? This can trigger an existential crisis and dark thoughts may take over. The contrast between the high and the low can be devastating.
Thoughts of suicide are not uncommon among creatives, whether we act on them or not depends on many factors. Many times it is one simple conversation, a smile from a stranger, one comment from a fan that gives us a reason to not go through with it.
If you are feeling hopeless or contemplating suicide there’s help here. You are a valuable part of this world. Call the Lifeline 1–800–273–8255 Available 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
It can be hard for people to understand that despite all of the success, money, awards and fame many celebrities still feel like we aren’t good enough and we don’t even enjoy the success as much as you’d think. There is often a pervasive fear that we could lose it all if someone discovers that we are not truly worthy of admiration or fame.
I’ve shared before that this imposter syndrome was partially to blame for my depressive experience. Striving for perfection and hungry for the approval and validation by family, medical peers and the media left no room for joy in the face of all my achievements. Never feeling good enough and a near constant feeling of insecurity made me feel hopeless. After years of working even harder it took its toll with burnout and low moods.
The Golden Handcuffs
Being famous can even feel like a prison or trap. The higher you climb that fame ladder the more perilous is the fall especially when you have many people counting on you. When you feel that your staff, family and fans depend on you and you realize that being the superstar is not actually fulfilling can create the impression that you are a slave or prisoner to your celebrity status.
In my case, I did feel trapped, imprisoned by my business and ongoing duties. So much so that in 2005, in the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced, I asked God to take my life. I couldn’t see a happy future for myself and I didn’t want to go on living that way. When you don’t any see a way out of your problem or an end to your pain sometimes ending your life feels like the most logical solution. Depression affects our thinking to a degree that rational thoughts don’t often penetrate the bleak outlook and dead-end feeling.
These feelings often drive people to abuse alcohol, prescription medications, shopping, sex and food to medicate and ease their emotional pain. Addiction and alcoholism sometimes lead to the ‘rock bottom’ events that ultimately prompt some to get help or to look to spirituality for relief.
I went on a quest to find answers to my existential angst. I tried psychotherapy, self-help workshops, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. None of which created lasting change or relief for me. I did learn more about myself and how the mind-body-spirit function though. But ultimately it was my surrender and calling out to god that led to my spiritual awakening that set me free from depression.
I broke free from the dark episode by realizing that I wasn’t actually trapped and that I could choose again how to live my life. I said yes to life and living according to my true desires and values instead of trying to live up to external ideals and expectations. For me it was about living in alignment with my true life purpose.
Along the journey I gained incredible insight and support by speaking with therapists and a psychiatrist. Though trying antidepressants and anti anxiety medicine didn’t improve my symptoms, being in a therapeutic setting allowed me to make sense of my thoughts and emotions. I learned that what I was feeling was not uncommon for high performing people and I discovered that I wasn’t crazy.
My psychiatrist put my depressive years into context as he explained how many other creatives have similar experiences for the same reasons I did. Believing the dark thoughts, thinking we are crazy and alone, feeling like a misfit, assuming we are bad or broken/detective because we have what others want but we are still miserable — all of this has been seen for centuries (maybe even millennia!) among artists, poets, actors and musicians.
When I decided to share my personal experience of living with and hiding the depression I battled in my TEDx I felt the need to come clean and declare who I really am as I embarked on a new phase of my career. I had no idea that the talk would get more than half a million views and would inspire so many to reach out for help.
Sharing my story also led me to start talking about what it was like to live with depression as a physician. Apparently my openness helped many see that the stigma attached to mental illness and seeking help through psychotherapy needs to be removed.
The reason I stayed quiet and suffered in silence for so long was because I felt ashamed for being, what I thought at the time, weak. I was afraid of seeking therapy early on, while in medical school, for fear that people would think I wasn’t as strong or as capable as others in the medical profession.
The shame I felt for not being able to ‘get my s — t together’ made me feel worthless. It also left me feeling incredibly isolated and alone. The few times I tried to confide in people close to me about how empty and sad I felt I was met with comments about how I should be grateful. And that since I had everything I must be crazy to not be happy and on top of the world.
So I withdrew and endured the pain alone. While each day I’d struggle to put on my happy mask to go back out into the world to work and continue supporting others. But as my popularity grew I felt like a fraud. I was helping other people live in alignment with their heart and soul, to pursue their dreams and to live free with passion, but I wasn’t brave enough to do it myself.
Like so many of the other high functioning depressives I’ve met on my journey I got to a point where the pain of living an inauthentic life was too much to bear. Staying silent meant more years of isolation and living a lie. And I wasn’t willing to do that anymore.
I finally released my latest book, I Love You, Me! My Journey to Overcoming Depression and Finding Real Self Love in January 2018. It’s funny to think that sharing my pain with the world and admitting to the existential crisis that led to my spiritual awakening set me on the path that I am on now. I feel that it has become my life’s purpose to help others understand that when you’re hurting emotionally because you’ve tried to live up to a false ideal, that pain is simply a warning sign for you to look for a new path.
I discovered along my travels that many other cultures raise children to follow their true calling and they have less of the types of depression we have when we aren’t aligned with our life purpose. Many indigenous communities and tribes allow young people to explore and express their talents before committing to one trade or another.
While not everyone will leave their chosen profession like I did. Not everyone will leave their home country, like I did. Not everyone will go on TV, stages and radio shows to talk about their awakening like I did.
But everyone can find a path to living as their authentic self, without shame, guilt or remorse. We are all destined to find our way back to our real self. We are all meant to live with passion and purpose using our talents in service to a greater mission.
So I’m happy to gather and lead a tribe of people from around the world who can now connect for support, ongoing guidance and community as we break free from the molds of conformity.
Having a supportive friend or group to share openly about the struggles we face can make such a huge difference, especially when we feel like we can’t talk to our family. We need to talk to someone who is willing to hear us as we finally externalize some of the crazy thoughts in our heads, to gain perspective and get help. Coping through substances or shopping or relationship hopping only delays our true happiness and stability.
You are no longer alone!
Join our community and the Real Self Love Movement at www.realself.love
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Originally published at www.andreapennington.com on February 4, 2018.