Fighting Depression - Shelby Stanger
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Fighting Depression

A friend recently told me my Facebook pictures traveling across the globe and surfing made him depressed. I felt awful. Not just because I hate when my friends are sad, but also because I’ve suffered from depression. Prior to quitting my fulltime corporate job in 2009, about six doctors told me I had depression. In kinder words, I told all six of them to go to hell. I am an athlete. Athletes don’t get depressed, I thought.

Instead of listening to doctors’ orders to take a pill and see a therapist, I ran miles until I injured my foot. I did headstands in the middle of the night to fall asleep. I gave up sugar, then alcohol, then coffee, and then at points I took each of them back up again. I went to a Buddhist monastery and learned to meditate. My friends called me a “hippy.” I surfed until I couldn’t paddle my arms. I experimented with an array of vitamins the guy at Whole Foods told me were good for “boosting the mood.” And I drank Kombucha tea, by the crate.

Some of my healthier recipes – the yoga, meditating, balanced exercising, eating greener and cleaner – worked.

Eating Clean

Eating Clean

The rest were haphazard attempts to nullify a pain so deep, I thought it was just PMS on steroids. I was moody, sad, then angry, and then just really sad. I called in sick my last few months of that job, a lot. I think most of my friends assumed I just went surfing. On many of those days, that’s exactly what I did. When I was done with work, I’d surf or swim in the open ocean alone, secretly wishing a large fish would eat the chunk of my brain that wouldn’t stop spinning. Depression felt a lot like swimming through seaweed. From the surface, it looks so easy to swim through seaweed, but if you have ever swam in the open ocean, you know how difficult it is to cut through such viscous weeds rooted deep to the sea’s floor.

Swimming Through Seaweed

Swimming Through Seaweed

At the time, I thought my depression was a result of breaking up with a long-term boyfriend or being in a job that I no longer cared for. It was an awesome job, but I wanted to be a writer, and at the time I was in marketing.

A few months after feeling like I had PMS on steroids, I eventually started to feel a sense of numbness so deep, I stared at my ceiling for hours at a time. One night while stuck in sig-alert-style L.A. traffic, I finally broke down and started crying in my car. At that point, I realized I needed to get help. A week prior to the traffic incident, my parents planted the seed when my mom lovingly drove to my house one night, concerned. She laid it all on me with a tone that finally made me get it. “Your grandpa committed suicide when I was eight, your grandma was an alcoholic, your dad died when you were 11, the list of “isms” in your genes is a mile long! What makes you think because you surf and run and do yoga makes you exempt?!”

I quit my job. I saw my therapist. I took a pill. I started pursuing my dream of becoming a writer, which was hard. The life of a freelance writer is up and down, and it’s still hard, but it’s rewarding enough that I am not giving up. I eventually learned how to really meditate, to eat clean, to work out in a less extreme fashion than competing in triathlons and running miles for hours at a time, and I started being nicer to myself.

After a few years of up and down and sometimes using men and extreme adventures to deal with the depression that crept back in and out from 2009 to 2013, I found balance. I discovered a way to not be a “starving” writer. I attempted to write a book, which was a cathartic experience, and I fell in love. The depression lifted.

Last year, I cut the lowest dose pill that I already took in half, and began to feel everything I felt in 2009 all over again. The brain is funny that way. I breathed through it. I meditated. I was in New Zealand at the time, and I believe New Zealand’s clean air and hilarious citizens helped get me through it. The man I fell in love with was also incredibly supportive, and using humor and honesty made everything better.

When I came back to the U.S. I started doing neurofeedback. The Spanish soccer team and Red Bull athletes use it. It worked a little. Meditation worked more. That athlete in me will always try to “will it” away. The smarter version of me knows I just have to breathe through depression when it comes. That’s the only way it ever goes.

Last year, I wrote a book about my story using surfing, adventure and eventually love to fight depression. There are some hilarious parts where I went on extreme adventures and dated extreme guys. There are points in the book where I think my writing is brilliant, and others places where the writing is garbage. The book is not ready. I got scared of writing the truth — of admitting that I ever had or have depression. That itself set me back, which is part of the reason I decided to write this post today.

There’s a big misconception about what the face of mental health looks like. I bet most people would never assume a surfer girl with a Cheshire grin could get depressed, or that it ran in my family, and that at times it still affects me.

Happiness=Breathing in Fresh Air By The Sea

Happiness=Breathing in Fresh Air By The Sea

I don’t post the times I am sad on Facebook. Who wants to put a picture of themselves crying on Facebook? Now, that’s really crazy!  I do think that there’s a lack of honesty in social media that can be confusing for people who have used sites like Facebook to compare themselves to others. I, myself, have been guilty of the destructive behavior of comparing myself to others on a social engine that isn’t totally real.

It doesn’t work.

I am not sure where this is going except to say I am really sorry if my pictures have ever made you sad. I have chosen a path that while not easily, has led me to find my own version of happiness. I have experienced depression and it is a terrible feeling, but one I no longer want to keep running from. I also know that if I am totally honest with myself and with others, and do as much in my life with love (from writing to teaching surfing to talking to my friends) as I possibly can, that the depression goes away.

To my friend who got depressed after seeing my surfing pictures, I am sorry. If it makes you feel better, you can come visit me on my next adventure. To everyone else who reads this –  love yourself and others a little more today than you did yesterday. That’s one answer that’s foolproof.




Sometimes you have to put up with the rain to see the rainbow.

“Sometimes you have to put up with the rain to see the rainbow.”

  • patricia

    February 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm


    YOU ROCK!!! I am Soooo PROUD & HAPPY for You & Most of ALL I get it Now
    Esp when you came to my Office that day & reached out to HELP me !!!
    So honored to call you my Friend:)


  • Mikal

    February 6, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Brillant piece of writing, Shel! I’ve never been more proud to call you my friend. Thanks for taking the leap trusting us with your story. You’re nothing short of amazing, and that’s always been a good thing.

  • Shanti Hodges

    February 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Shelby…I loved this! Thanks for writing it. I think I might have fit in somewhere along that path. Cool. Glad I got to be a little touch in your history
    xo shanti

  • Susan Korte

    February 6, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Brilliant and I love that Love helped play a huge part.
    Thank you for putting yourself out there. Thank you for sharing.

  • Caroline "BEAST" Hoit

    February 6, 2014 at 3:58 pm


    You rock and thanks for sharing the real YOU. I am honored to have you as a friend & wish I could see you more often, but am so happy you have found love and are pursuing your vocational dreams.
    This post is emotionally honest and raw, something social media often lacks, and I also really respect your persistence and diligence to work at being a healthy person and not depressed. Thanks for sharing your genuine feelings and experiences. I am sure many more will appreciate.

    And by the way, I would love to meet you in some far away destination where there are hot surfers:)

    big love,

  • Shelby Stanger

    February 6, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Thank you all for all the kind, awesome comments. It means a lot to me. Today, I really would have rather woken up and written about “Twerking” or “Surfing” or the “Men of San Diego,” but I felt compelled to write this raw and unedited piece instead. By the amount of online and personal messages I have received, I am really glad I did. This whole process has given me a lot of compassion for human beings everywhere.

  • Michelle Villemaire

    February 6, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Oh Shelby, I LOVED this! You don’t know me but I’m friends with Felicia. I can completely relate. Well, to the depression, NOT the running!! And to how social media paints a false picture of happiness. I battle depression and anxiety myself and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it. Often people will say similar things to me– “Oh, your life looks so great,” or “I feel like a bad mother when I look at your pictures!” and I feel awful because they are only seeing what’s in the frame. The real stuff (the mess!) has just been pushed to the outside. Thank you for your courage. This was beautifully written. If we ever meet in person be prepared for a hug.

  • Shira Mendelsohn

    February 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Beautiful piece! Your honesty is truly moving. Thank you for sharing. I’ll always remember your story.

  • Jerry

    February 6, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    YOU RULE!!! I am so glad that I got to give you a squeeze before you took off. Massive amounts of love, patience, happiness and joy, oh and of course _____________________, your a writer you get to finish it…xooxxoox

  • Francesca

    February 6, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    You are a beautiful person with a beautiful story. I will help you write it if you will let me, and are ready.



  • Kel

    February 7, 2014 at 2:03 am

    If you wake up and write about tweaking I will never speak to you again. This is way better, life changing, drum beating, wake the fuck up, you are in charge of your own mind stuff. The world needs more of this and less about pretty much 98% of everything to help it get going again. You are your own God people. Wake the fuck up. Take charge of your thoughts, take control of your life, stop being a victim and live, not a little but a lot. It’s all up to you.

  • Chris Aguilar

    February 7, 2014 at 10:10 am

    thank you – the more those of us who have this talk about it, the less stigma, less shame and really for me – I don’t feel so alone in the struggle. thank you for your honesty and being so candid.

  • Poppy

    February 7, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you Shelby for posting this. It is so comforting to hear the truth about something so many of us (myself included) have suffered through. Being honest about it is the only way to work through it. Stay strong!

  • Ilene Schwartz

    February 8, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I am so proud that you are my cousin – what a thoughtful and inspiring piece. It’s wonderful that you are sharing this with so many readers. You will no doubt help others out there who are struggling. Love you and wish you lived closer to us!

  • Liz Clark

    February 15, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Shelbs…you are so courageous to have opened this window into a reality that so many people deal with but are ashamed to talk about. I’m so proud of you…the self-love and honesty will encourage others to be nicer and more honest about their similar situations. We live like total weirdos in this modern era and think its not normal to feel disconnected and depressed!?!?? Keep doing what makes you feel connected and breathing through the rain to get to the rainbow. Know that the intensity of the hard times is equally and brilliantly reversed on the other side…so i’m happy we feel a LOT, whether it’s UP or down… rather than only a dribble. Love you Sista!! balance and harmony are on my storyboard too!! We rise together when we share with each other. So thanks again Fearless One!! Xx liz