Talking Openly About Depression: Tim Ferriss, Kendrick Lamar

Two famous people from very different walks of life have been talking about their experiences with depression recently. Both have some fascinating and moving things to say.


Tim Ferriss is the author of The 4-Hour Workweek and other books, also a blogger, podcaster, marketing and lifestyle guru. In his various media platforms, he comes across as a very upbeat person, bursting with life and ideas, committed to taking risks and trying new things and seizing the day.

In a new post titled “Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide”, however, Tim Ferriss talks about a period of depression during his senior year in college when he contemplated suicide. He follows up the autobiographical account with some advice and perspective for anyone dealing with depression now. Definitely worth reading in full.

He notes before recalling his worst period, “It’s incredible how trivial some of it seems in retrospect. At the time, though, it was the perfect storm.” That’s nearly always the case. Serious depression and suicidal thoughts are never rational responses to circumstances, no matter how dire. Utter despair, the feeling that the future can never get any better, is never rational. Ferriss’s life since 1999 demonstrates just how spectacularly irrational that despair can be.

Elsewhere, Kendrick Lamar, one of the biggest-selling and most critically-acclaimed rappers on the scene, has been speaking publicly about his struggles with depression.

His latest album To Pimp a Butterfly includes tracks entitled “i” and “u” with sharply different emotional tones. Lamar talked about the two songs in a Rolling Stone interview:

When Lamar released the new album’s first single, “i,” last September, many fans weren’t sure what to make of it. A blast of pop positivity that samples an Isley Brothers hit recently heard soundtracking a Swiffer commercial, it felt like an odd move for Lamar, who’s known for more complex fare. People called it corny, mocked its feel-good, “Happy”-style chorus (“I love myself!”). “I know people might think that means I’m conceited or something,” Lamar says. “No. It means I’m depressed.” …

“I’ve woken up in the morning and felt like shit,” he says. “Feeling guilty. Feeling angry. Feeling regretful. As a kid from Compton, you can get all the success in the world and still question your worth.”

Lamar says he intended “i” as a “Keep Ya Head Up”-style message for his friends in the penitentiary. But he also wrote it for himself, to ward off dark thoughts. “My partner Jason Estrada told me, ‘If you don’t attack it, it will attack you,'” Lamar says. “If you sit around moping, feeling sad and stagnant, it’s gonna eat you alive. I had to make that record. It’s a reminder. It makes me feel good.”

Lamar also points out that the fans who scratched their heads at “i” had yet to hear “u” – its counterpoint on the album. “‘i’ is the answer to ‘u,'” he says. The latter is four and a half minutes of devastating honesty, with Lamar almost sopping over a discordant beat, berating himself about his lack of confidence and calling himself “a fucking failure.” It’s the sound of a man staring into the mirror and hating what he sees, punctuated by a self-aware hook: “Loving you is complicated.”

“That was one of the hardest songs I had to write,” he says. “There’s some very dark moments in there. All my insecurities and selfishness and letdowns. That shit is depressing as a motherfucker. But it helps, though,” he says. “It helps.”

Here’s part of another interview Kendrick Lamar did with MTV:

A Guardian review piece titled “Hip-hop’s blue period: how rappers are tackling depression” mentions Lamar along with Earl Sweatshirt and Drake as part of a trend toward emotional introspection in hip-hop, in contrast to the exaggerated bravado that rappers often assume.

I’m grateful to Kendrick Lamar and Tim Ferriss for talking about this stuff publicly. They’re both highly successful, multi-millionaires, living the kind of life most people dream of. Both could have chosen to keep this private history private, chosen to maintain a more cool and confident public persona. “Inspiring” is an overused word these days, but yeah, I find both stories inspiring.

Elsewhere on this site: Celebrities Who Battled Depression including Jon Hamm, Demi Lovato, Ken Griffey Jr and Lorraine Bracco.

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