Popularly Unpopular: When Having So Much Means So Little

A common misconception is that successful individuals do not feel depressed or suicidal. However, my definition of 'successful' might differ from yours. I do consider myself a successful entrepreneur in the fitness field. From where I came from in life, I'm not even supposed to be in the position I'm at right now..

This was not easy to write. I'm writing this as unapologetically me.
"Started from the bottom, now we here.."

When I first decided I wanted to become a personal trainer, it was mostly brought on by several life-changing obstacles. My mother's heart attack and subsequent recovery forced me to leave college temporarily to return home to take care of her. After getting a job in fast food, I continued to contribute to her unhealthy lifestyle by bringing home fried food at night. [Hey! We were dirt poor and the food was free!]

After my parents' divorce, my sister and I lived with my mom. The divorce and stress of balancing a 2 kid household overstretched her and drove her to heavy drinking and smoking on a daily & nightly basis. The stress, hard partying, drinking, horrible eating habits all contributed to the heart attack a few years later.

Suddenly, I was the man of the house. I wasn't ready, but the role was forced onto me. My mom couldn't work. My sister wasn't old enough and her medical condition deemed her incapable of working any stressful jobs. I was barely into my first year of college with no redeemable skills.. And while I'm being honest, I was a selfish, shitty human being at 19 on top of all of that.

After leaving school to take a full-time fast food job to provide for the next several years, I began taking classes in the health/nutrition field at the local college in my spare time. My goal was to educate myself on proper nutrition to better serve my mom's recovery post heart attack. Around this time, several personal issues with other family members involved forced me into moving out on my own.

Great. Now I'm a broke kid making minimum wage, out on his own while trying to go to school. I can do this, right? Just need to make sacrifices... I'd turn to friends.

What friends? Remember, I wasn't a pleasant person and a bit of an introvert at the time. After a series of short term living situations and after finding a full time job in the computer field, I was finally starting to obtain an identity of self-- the problem was, and we all suffer from this, I wasn't Justin the funny guy. Or Justin that played guitar. Or Justin who can be a bit of an ass if he has a tequila shot. No, I was Justin who did *insert job title here*.

I hadn't seen riches, so I could live with being poor

We all WANT that identity. That friendship. That feeling of being appreciated for who we truly are and not what we do. However, in the most outlandish, bizarre and beautiful way-- being alone is somewhat freeing. When you're isolated, it's quiet. But you also have the ability to do whatever you want without your peers judging you. After all, they don't even know you exist, right?

It's a long story, but the "in a nutshell" version is, I opted to live in my car. Part of that was circumstance. Part of it was a methodical choice. And part was because I had found a passion, a passion that would only turn into a dream if I dedicated every last breath I had to achieving it.

Fitness. In particular, personal training. I decided that this would be my calling. The problem was, I was about an unathletic as they came. And nobody is going to hire a fat personal trainer who goes to the KFC/Taco Bell just so he can have fried chicken and tacos in the same meal. [Don't judge me until you've dipped chicken poppers into mashed potatoes]

The problem for me was, when I decided to pursue this dream I didn't just grab onto its coattails. I grabbed it by the throat and choked every last breath out of this dream. I wasn't going to fail. That's the tragically beautiful thing about living in your car. You either succeed or you starve to death.

Through trial and error, I learned the best places to park my 1998 Ford Escort to avoid being woken up by the police when I tried to sleep at night. Walmart parking lots were the best, followed by the occasional acquaintance's driveway. And if I was living like a king that weekend, someone's couch. I showered at the local gym and worked out every day.

Nobody knew who I was. I was just this kid that wanted to be a fitness trainer. After a year or so, I was that annoying kid who thought he knew everything. It rubbed other trainers the wrong way. I never made friends in the fitness industry-- I consider that a huge disappointment, since this was my passion. But I'm the one to blame. It was my attitude and willingness to push  myself to the top that didn't make me friends.

"Solitude and isolation are painful things and beyond
human endurance" -Jules Verne

We all have our stuff. We all are dealing with something at any given moment. In recent years, my sister's death acted as the catalyst for my mood changes & sudden depression and not-so-nice thoughts.

But you'd never know it.

Not one person approached me or made it known that they had noticed personality changes on my part. To this day, I can't tell you if I was just suppressing the depression until I was alone each night, or if I am just an amazing actor.

But I digress.

Over the last several years, I made it my goal to train anyone and everyone. From there, I accidentally fell into a niche. Through a mutual client, I was introduced to a young woman who was training for a state pageant. I'll admit, at the time I didn't understand the significance of the levels of pageantry [i.e. highschool, prelims, state, nationals] and don't get me started on my confusion with the systems.. [WHY ARE THERE SO MANY MISS SOUTH CAROLINAS?!]

After training this girl for months, she won her state pageant. Ok, cool. But apparently that was a big deal. Because I gained 10 new clients from her because they liked the way she looked in swimsuit. Good for me! I could go on about how this snowballed, but you get the idea.

Specializing in pageantry opened up other doors. I'm now the go-to trainer for many successful models, TV personalities, and certain actors when they happen to be in my town. All because of pageantry.

A few years ago, I acquired a personal training studio. I had to turn away potential clients on a daily basis because I had no room in my schedule! My Instagram went from a few hundred to currently more than 18k followers. Whatever I was doing was working and it was working well!!

Then, I was voted best pageant fitness trainer in the United States! Whoa! The next year, best personal trainer in the Upstate! In ten years I went from homeless to successful all because of my own work ethic! And along the way developed a reputation doing it! Everyone wanted to work with that guy...

But I felt nothing on the inside.

Everyone wanted to train with Justin because Justin knows fitness. It's my job and I put myself in this position and I'm forever thankful.

But I still feel alone. Isolated. In recent memory I've had some horrible thoughts cross my mind. Thoughts of  "I don't want to be here anymore". I immediately recognized that this isn't normal or healthy, so what do I do now?

Well, lots of people know me, I'll just reach out to a few to let them know what's going through my head. Maybe I just need someone to listen to me. Because after all, us trainers are glorified therapists!

And therein was my problem. Everyone knows me as Justin the fitness guy. Not Justin who's okay at karaoke. Not Justin who loves REALLY spicy wings. Not Justin who still indulges in pro wrestling. Not Justin who's guilty pleasure is Taylor Swift.

I don't necessarily have friends. Mostly everyone I know is someone who contacted me for personal training. I don't have time to go out and I've lost the art of meeting people organically. After feeling these thoughts, I reached out a handful of people I trusted privately. "Hey, I'm having some not so cool thoughts, want to chat?". Followed by the dreaded "left on open", or the other party has read your message and opted not to respond, or to ignore.

I've been faking happiness so long that I've forgotten what real happiness feels like.

We usually only publicize the happy parts of our lives. "Hey, look at me! I'm doing great!". But when your phone goes down. When those cameras turn off. When those likes, comments and fake online admiration go away, what are you really left with?

A month or so ago, I wanted to make a point. I wanted everyone to know that even someone such as myself goes through depression. I posted a raw, real unedited iteration of exactly what was going through my head. That I do have scary thoughts. That I am a human being too, that has the exact same thoughts and feelings as all of you do when alone.

Want to know the really scary part? Besides the public "likes" and comments, one person reached out to me privately. One. Of the thousands that saw, liked and read every single word of a fellow human being reaching out for help, one person took initiative. That person knows who they are and they understand how appreciative I am of them.

But what about someone who's suffering alone, with WAY less social outreach that someone like me has? I took a chance and shunned my public persona to let everyone know that on the inside, I'm not right. I have an audience of thousands and thousands of peers who did nothing.

What about that one person who has no audience?

I never felt more alone in my life than when I posted publicly that I wanted support. I wanted friends. I didn't want to be saved. I wanted mutual support. The thought that I help so many people, give away so many fitness programs, and do my best to be accessible to everyone in the fitness world-- but myself couldn't find that support system among the same individuals.

Look, I'm an adult. I'm tough. I have had these feelings before and I will always manage to power through them each time they come around. But some aren't so strong to deal with their loneliness, their isolation and their suicidal thoughts.

I hope that you truly take my story to heart and can use it to reach out to others. So, how can you help? Firstly, many don't even know they're suffering from depression. If you do reach out, do so privately. Understand that you may not receive a favorable reaction. Understand that they just can't "snap out of it". It's an illness, and in some cases might need medical treatment.

The most important that you can do? Offer a helping hand. Offer to be a friend. But mean it. Being sincere in your efforts goes a long way. Encourage and even initiate enjoyable activities. Sometimes, someone just wants someone to hang out with.

And above all, be kind to others.

As difficult as this was to write, I don't regret being real, being myself, and being candid-- something that many of us have trouble doing.

I love you all.

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