How To Deal With Depression: Progress, Not Perfection
I remember watching a television show where a personal trainer took on coaching his overweight friend in achieving his fitness goals through living his life better, eating better, and structuring his life more effectively. I remember one scene from the show explicitly, where the overweight friend was eating a sandwich. After the overweight friend took a bite from the sandwich, his trainer made a strange face and said, “Turkey isn’t crunchy. Why is that sandwich crunchy?” And the guy eating the sandwich immediately looked ashamed and said, “Well, I put potato chips on it.” And right at the moment, when I totally expected the trainer to rip the guy apart, he said instead, “Well… progress, not perfection.”
That was my first real introduction to the concept of progression. I was a perfectionist, and trying to be perfect for the 30+ years that I’ve been alive really hasn’t worked. My time on Ink Master made that very clear to me. I remember initially thinking everything was going right. Everyone had been telling me my whole life how amazing I was. “You’re a child prodigy,” “If you’re this good at 16, imagine how great you’re going to be at 26,” and all that. I was in for a rude awakening.
My First Appearance on Ink Master
Before I get into things, let me introduce myself. My name is Robbie Ripoll. I’ve been a professional tattoo artist for just over 20 years, and I’m the founder of the non-profit organization The Rad Movement. I started an informal tattooing apprenticeship under my father at 12-years-old, and was awarded my professional tattoo artist title at 16-years-old. I went on to own multiple successful tattoo studios, including Ink Doctors and Chapel of Love. I’ve also appeared on Paramount Network’s wildly successful TV series Ink Master a few times, even battling my brother head-to-head in Season 5.
I thought I was hot shit when Ink Master initially came around and approached me. I remember thinking, “Fuck yeah, Ink Master! I’m gonna run that shit.” I watched every episode and devised a meticulous plan. Well, the day I got there they told me, “This is your new house, and this is now your tattoo studio,” and I went into a corner, cried, and all of my plans went out the window. I literally balled up in a corner and cried for probably an hour. Every day from that point until the end of the show taping was filled with tears, fear, regret, depression and an inability to want to do anything. I just wanted to stay in bed; but I couldn’t, because the Ink Master crew was waking me up, and I was on their time.
There was a strange beauty in all that pain that I didn’t understand until much later. Ink Master forced me to view myself from the onlookers lens – and that was a hard pill to swallow. I clearly thought very highly of myself… too highly. In my head I was “Robbie from Ink Doctors,” “Robbie from Chapel of Love,” “Robbie from Ink Master.” I really got ahead of myself, and Ink Master knocked me back into place.
The Beauty In the Pain
I had a beautiful house, a giant shop, people working with me, people working under me, I felt like I was the king. But inside, I was disgusting. I was hurting, and having such a hard time being myself. This was the beauty in all that pain that Ink Master brought onto me; it forced me to look deep inside myself. Ink Master told me: “You chew people up, so you’re going home.” My biggest fear was that they were going to find out that sometimes I overwork people while tattooing, and it totally got exposed.
But here’s the thing: it’s okay, because you’re going to overwork people sometimes. Especially as a tattoo artist, we’re all going to do too much in our race toward perfection. This is why “progress, not perfection” became so import for me in my battle against depression.
For a tattoo artist, a great example of this concept is being honest and upfront with not only your clients, but with yourself, and saying, “Hey man, this may not heal great. But come on back after the healing is done and I’ll hook it up for you with the touch-ups.” That makes a world of difference. But if you’re afraid to talk about it, bring it up, expose it, then you’re constantly hiding and hoping that no one finds out what a fraud you are. I lived that way for a long time. I was so enveloped in all of the bullshit, I didn’t realize I could come out of it.
Ink Master represented, for me, a beautiful regression and then progression. It took me to the darkest places of my life. I wanted to kill myself after the show. I closed my tattoo studio because I didn’t have the will to make the effort every day. My work was killing me emotionally because I was devoting so much time to it. And the people I loved the most – my wife and my son – I wasn’t around them. I was working my fucking dick off all the time.
Around this same time I lived in a giant 6-bedroom house with a theater room, heated pool and Jacuzzi – the works. But I didn’t own it, that was my problem. It wasn’t actually mine. I really started digging deep and hating myself over that. I felt terrified of living life, and depression to sink in. It was to the point that I wanted to kill myself, and it manifested as a 20-30 second fleeting thought process that would come and go. But I thought about my wife, who is not my son’s biological mother, who chose to take care of us, and I especially thought about my son. I didn’t even realize until an entire year later that I had never even told my wife that I wanted to kill myself.
I was so ashamed that I couldn’t even tell my best friend, the woman I loved the most, that I wanted to kill myself. It was terrifying. It felt like an eternity stuck in my head, but in reality it was only a couple of years.
While I was there in that deep darkness, I built up a little courage and Google’d, “How to be happy.” I ended up up finding a video from a guy named Brendon Burchard. It was more about how to be happier, but at this point in time, I didn’t care. I felt like a failure in business, in tattooing, in life, as a father, as a husband… there were so many bad things that were floating through my brain. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I didn’t see any way out of my depression. Unquestionably something was going to give, and I had to make a change.
At the time I thought self-help was cheesy as fuck. But I remembered watching my dad read Tony Robbins books and really respecting that. My dad was always my superhero. He taught me how to tattoo. He taught me how to be a man. When I reflected on that, I realized that somehow I had forgotten that you have to read, listen, and outwardly seek the things that you want to fix inside.
So, I started really digging into his videos. And as with everything in life, especially the internet, if you dig just a little bit it will lead you to something else… which leads you to something else, which leads to something else, and so on. A lot of it was really hard for me to accept.
Coping With Gout and Saying “Goodbye” to the Old Me
I used to be an alcoholic. Strike that; I was a fucking drunk. Drinking was my escape from life and depression, and I was a really bad person at times. I used to date the wrong women; there had been abuse toward me, and I used that abuse to justify and reciprocate more abuse.
Around this time I was also diagnosed with gout. I’d struggled with high blood pressure since I was in middle school, and had been overweight most of my life as well. I was over 300 pounds a lot of my adult life; 280 was my comfortable spot. Gout hurt me bad. As much as I love a good cry and I can appreciate the cleansing and cathartic nature of crying, I was crying purely out of pain too often and I couldn’t deal with that anymore.
My whole life I had been “Fat Robbie,” and at that time, I was still “Fat Robbie” in my brain. I’m still “Fat Robbie” some days, when I’m not being conscious of who I am. I had to really detach from that old “Fat Robbie” persona, and for the first time, I saw myself really doing it.
In due time, after roughly 6-8 months of consistent reading and focus on improving myself, heavy workout and diet routines, I started feeling different. Not only feeling different, but looking different. I put a Pic Stitch together around this time to show off the “new Robbie” in a 4-picture split screen. It got the biggest response I’d ever received on social media, more than any of my tattoos. The outpouring was amazing. People were telling me how great I was doing and how proud of me they were. It’s important for me to note, however, this wasn’t enough on its own; I still had to dig down inside and find the rest. But it was a great start.
I looked better than I ever had – I had biceps. My big belly was disappearing. I was doing something with my life. I had to start realizing that I’m not that old, crazy, abusive, self-harming “Fat Robbie” anymore. This was a new guy. I was taking the steps to become the person I’d been dying to be my whole life.
In the world we live in, it’s so easy to hate yourself all the time. For anyone that wants to change, all you have to do is start. Starting is undoubtedly the hardest part; and gout forced me to start, otherwise I don’t know if I ever would have. My biggest internal enemy ended up becoming my road dog.
After my experiences with Ink Master, gout, and my commitment to improving myself, I was set on a new path. It was wild how this transformation came about through of the most unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences of my adult life so far. I thought Ink Master would be my coming-of-age. In my mind, I was going to get rich and famous. I had to put my ego aside, and that was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Your ego, much like gout, is that silent passenger – always with you. In hindsight, it’s clear to me that these experiences were critical in becoming who I needed to be, rather than who I was complacently being.
Through all of the pain I’ve learned to balance my relationships in my life. I’ve learned to communicate better with the folks around me. I’ve learned to value human beings a lot more than I used to. And it’s all still kind of new to me: respecting, loving, and giving gratitude. I’ve always had tons of love to give. But I’ve also always had a lot of anger inside to combat it. Proper exercise at the gym helps me love more. Nutrition, meditation, and yoga help me love more. And sometimes, dicking around and doing nothing helps me love more, because at the end of the day, we have to love ourselves first. And the best part of it is, all of these difficult things I’m doing to make myself better are helping the people around me at the same time.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You From Doing the Things You Need To Do
All in all, the journey was difficult. It was undeniably terrifying, and still can be for me just about every day. I came from being overweight and suicidal with everything in life that I had ever wanted, to giving up everything, all of the bullshit, losing the weight, and learning to love myself. I’m here, happier, and ready to rock. If you’re going to take anything good from this, please remember: you’re rad. You have it in you. All you have to do is get on board. Get over your bullshit; refuse to be a victim. Don’t be afraid to do things you don’t want to do. Don’t be afraid to dig deep within yourself. Promote the things you love, and stop bashing the things you hate.
In summary, I hope the experiences and insights I’ve found on my journey can help you make sense of your own battle with depression. Make sure you check out more of our Articles, where you can find free, high-quality, uplifting stories just like this one. If you like those, you also need to check out The Rad Podcast where I interview some of my closest friends about past and current personal growth journeys. Thank you for reading, and stay rad!