Today is the fourth anniversary of Supernatural actor Jared Padalecki’s ‘Always Keep Fighting’ campaign, which has been life changing — and life saving — for so many people. It took tremendous courage for Jared to not only launch a charity campaign to fight the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety so people can get the help they need, but to open up himself and share his own struggles. The campaign itself was important, spreading the message that is a theme of Supernatural, but nothing is more powerful and more validating than knowing that someone you admire has also faced depression and anxiety, and come close to giving up. That’s what Jared had the courage to share.
Jared began to talk about his own mental health struggles in a few interviews, and then he decided to do something unprecedented — share his story in detail, written in his own words, in a book. I’m honored that he trusted me to edit and publish Family Don’t End With Blood. If I had admired him before (and I did), the experience of working alongside him to tell his story made me admire him a million times more. It is not an easy story to tell, intensely personal and not the kind of story that a “celebrity” often shares so candidly. But Jared knew that the only way for his story to make a difference and truly inspire someone else was if he told it exactly how it happened – even when that was difficult. He was anxious the whole time, wanting the chapter to be perfect and simultaneously questioning how it would be received. All I could do was validate his anxiety and provide a metaphorical shoulder to lean on when the task was almost overwhelming for him.
The chapter that he eventually wrote, after two long years of working on it and struggling with it, is more than thirty pages long. In it, Jared writes about his lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression, starting the AKF campaign, and about his own darkest, most hopeless times. It’s a struggle that many of us can relate to.
Throughout the campaign, I still knew I wasn’t yet okay. I was able to function at a high level: I finished the filming of season 10, fulfilled my day-to-day duties as a husband and father, even did another AKF campaign with Jensen, but I still didn’t feel 100 percent. Something was still eating at me and beating on me. I could sense that, though my head was above water, I was sinking.
Those of us who have encountered bouts of depression and anxiety know that the demons can remain at a lull for months (or years) on end, and then reach a boiling point inside of a day.
That is what happened to me.
On top of the weeks, and months, and years of feeling the need to break down, but not feeling that I had permission to.
Plain and simple.
I sat in a park in Geneva, surrounded by thousands of people, young and old, celebrating their beautiful day off, and I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. All my pain, all my self-doubt, all my insecurities, came to a head. I hated myself.
The next part of his chapter is heartbreaking, a moment by moment account of just how bad it got and how he managed to eventually crawl his way out of that darkness and hopelessness. By the time he managed to get on a plane and head for home, he was barely holding it together.
I had god-awful anxiety the entire time, and no one to turn to for help. I found myself LITERALLY mumbling “Always Keep Fighting” to myself and even grabbed a pen from my bag and did something I hadn’t done since high school: I wrote on my arm. “AKF” up and down my left arm, over and over and over again. It seemed to calm me down better than listening to music or reading, so I did it, and I didn’t stop until I ran out of space.
Just like so many others, it was the mantra of “Always Keep Fighting” that got Jared through that difficult day. I know countless fans who now have those words on their own arms in a tattoo that they can touch and see to remind themselves to keep going.
None of us can do it all alone. We all need someone to have our back sometimes, to support us when we’re struggling, to carry us when we need it. Jared found the courage to speak up so he was able to connect with people to lean on that day. With his encouragement, many others have found the strength to share what they’re going through and ask for help — leaning on his words and inspiration so they too can always keep fighting.
Fandom wanted to give back to Jared and let him know just how big a difference AKF had made in many people’s lives. At San Diego Comic Con that year, fans held candles and the entire gigantic Hall H chanted ‘Always Keep Fighting’ over and over to let him know what he’d accomplished. Jared writes about that moment in Family Don’t End With Blood — his awe when he realized what was happening, his gratitude for all that the fandom has taught him and given him.
The light that was given to me that day still sits in my office (as does the note that was handed to me on the stage explaining what was going on). It always will. It is more valuable to me than any award or accolade ever will be. It helps put to rest one of my greatest fears: that I’ve let the fans down. Sometimes, when I still feel like I’ve failed somebody, or let somebody down, I’ll walk into my office, and see it, and remember that I have an entire family out there that wants me to know that “just” me is “just” fine.
It’s the same message that Jared sends to all of us in the chapter he wrote. I have heard from thousands of people that when they were at their lowest, feeling like they truly could not go on, reading Jared’s words and knowing his personal story gave them the strength to keep living. I’ve heard from many who found the courage to reach out and get help because of Jared’s example. That’s what he wanted to accomplish, both with the chapter and with “Always Keep Fighting”, and I hope he knows just what a big difference he’s made in so many lives.
Reach out for help if you need it – and Always Keep Fighting!
National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255
To Write Love On Her Arms – https://twloha.com/find-help/
Crisis Support Network – https://www.randomacts.org/crisis-support-network/
IAmAlive Text Chat – https://www.imalive.org/chat.php
You can find Family Don’t End With
Blood at the links on the home page
and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble