5 Successful People Who’ve Dealt With Depression
One of the most insidious parts of depression is the way it makes you feel powerless and alone. But there’s some comfort in the thought that someone as successful as, say, Beyoncé has had her own battle with the blues. We’re not saying you have to be like Bey – in the midst of depression, just getting out of your pyjamas can be a huge achievement. Perhaps you’ll find some commiseration, and even some wisdom, in the experience of these prominent people.
In an interview with Oprah in 2010 the author of the Harry Potter series revealed that her struggle with depression provided the inspiration for Dementors, the flying Grim Reaper-esque creatures who try and suck your soul out through your face.
“It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness… I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are.”
JK Rowling is the first fiction author to become a billionaire. She has not only created a much beloved series but also left a lasting cultural impression: who hasn’t sorted themselves (and/or friends) into Hogwarts Houses, or used a Voldemort analogy to describe certain politicians?
Another person who has used their experience with mental illness as part of their creative work is Patrick Marlborough, a stand-up comedian and writer based in Western Australia.
You have almost definitely seen at least one of his articles shared on Facebook. They’ve been translated into seven languages and go viral more often than not: his article Depression Steals Your Soul and Then It Takes Your Friends had more than thirteen thousand likes at last count, and his article on What It’s Like To Have Borderline Personality Disorder was featured on Snapchat.
As a comedian whose published writing consists mostly of articulate insights about depression, it is useful to note that Patrick considers the “sad clown” trope to be “kinda bullshit.” He references the Pagliacci joke from Watchmen, which if you haven’t heard it goes like this:
Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown, Pagliacci, is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor, I am Pagliacci.”
Patrick writes about comedy and mental illness for Junkee and can be found on twitter at @Cormac_McCafe
Even Queen Bey is not immune to the blues. Beyoncé has said that the period of time when Destiny’s Child was first beginning to really take off triggered a deep depression, partly due to several changes in the group’s lineup and breaking up with her boyfriend of seven years under the increasing scrutiny of fame.
“I didn’t eat,” she said. “I stayed in my room. I was in a really bad place in life, going through that lonely period: ‘Who am I? Who are my friends?’ My life changed.”
“I don’t want to feel the void I see in a lot of celebrities … the unhappiness underneath the smile.”
It’s important to remember that depression doesn’t discriminate, and can strike at any time. Life changes can bring on depression, and just because it is not chronic does not make it any less serious.
Huh is an internet entrepreneur who was the CEO of the Cheezburger Network, as in I Can Haz Cheezburger whose pictures of cats with funny captions forms the flagship blog of the network. While Cheezburger existed before Huh and a group of angel investors bought the company, it was his influence which expanded the company and brought them to a peak of 375 million page views per month in 2011. He has basically done a huge service to humankind. Who hasn’t felt a bit better after looking at some pictures of cats on the internet?
After Huh’s first start-up folded he got depressed. Founders of start-ups have extremely high rates of depression, the nature of their jobs encouraging them to equate the company’s dollar value with their own self-worth. Huh suggests that in a perverse way, suffering depression actually helped him because it gave him some perspective on the high pressure aspect of the business, saying “It wasn’t until after I seriously contemplated suicide that I was ready to handle a $30 million check.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Wrestler/actor/meme personified, in a lot of ways The Rock presents the ideal aspirational figure. Forbes ranked him as the highest paid actor in the world in 2016, he’s shredded to within an inch of his life, and he just…seems really nice?
Although everything definitely turned out ok for him, things looked pretty bleak at one point in his life. After being passed over in the NFL draft and then being cut from his Canadian Football team, The Rock found himself in a downward spiral. When the team offered him a place again, he declined, preferring to follow in his father’s footsteps and go into wrestling (against his father’s wishes).
Being cut from the team that he had worked so hard to join felt like a devastating blow, but one that was possible to recover from, and which ultimately led to his amazing current career. In part of an Oprah’s Master Class series The Rock highlights this need to stick it out.
“I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and ‘Hey, it’s gonna be OK. It’ll be OK.’ …Hold on to that fundamental quality of faith. Have faith that on the other side of your pain is something good.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression you can find helpful resources at beyondblue.
Yvonne Buresch is a Perth-based freelance writer whose favourite hobbies include going out for breakfast and lying perfectly still after having eaten too much breakfast. You can find her on Twitter @cakey_face