Globally more than 350 Mn people struggle or suffer from depression. This number is staggering and has been brought to light in the last couple of months. It’s taken me a while to author this article because depression is a difficult thing to put out to the public. I’m writing this article from first hand experience as I live with a subset of clinical depression I like to call entrepreneurial depression.
I am not a doctor and none of these statements should be looked at as a diagnosis or a basis for treatment, but I encourage all of the entrepreneurs reading this article to step back and look differently at the core of your triggers.
I recently left a company that I helped build. It was a difficult and stressful time, but I shook it off as another experience. Three weeks after I left, I snapped. My mind raced, my heart pounded, and negative thoughts flooded my soul. My “black dog” was back and I was terrified. My initial reaction was that I was experiencing a feeling of failure (as i’ve done many times before). As entrepreneurs we know the feeling, we hate the feeling, but we thrive on the feeling. Failure is something we do, it’s the best form of learning and sometimes it can create the most enriching experiences. However, failure is like a tattoo, the pain can be intense, the feelings are often conflicted, and it sticks with you forever. Failures are overcome, but not forgotten, they pile up and morph your self image as you grow older. – Failure was not my problem.
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It took weeks of obsessing and sorting through my emotions, until I landed on a conclusion. My issue isn’t, and has never been failure, it’s been abandonment the entire time. The worst feeling in the world is being deserted or cast off hoping that someone or something else will save you. My partners have been great people but poor shepherds, and creating that distinction is something that was difficult for me to realize.
To abandon someone is to cease to support or look after them, and as entrepreneurs we often times need that stability to ground our ambitions. Having too many ideas, and too few people that care is (to me) one of the worst feelings you can experience. It leaves you vulnerable, and exposed to negative criticism. You scramble to lock on to something or someone, but in the meantime you are left naked, alone and terrified of what’s next.
If you’ve struggled to manage, Here’s how I approach my depression:
- Depression is a manageable disease. *that is the most important thing to ever remember.
- Depression can happen at anytime, for no reason. However it’s likely that you have anxious emotions that triggered your episode. Step back and list all of the things that have frustrated you in the last two weeks.
- Energy is scarce and depletes quickly. Taking a walk in the morning followed by short naps, and eating (when possible) is critical to a clear thought process.
- Stay away from caffeine. Many people try to combat their lack of energy with caffeine. This will not help, and potentially make your mind race more and cloud judgement.
- Lay in bed with a pen and paper, and start thinking. Even if you don’t write anything down, it creates a focus point to bring yourself out of the depths of your emotions. This can be difficult and often stressful, but you learn a lot by lying in a safe place and opening your mind.
- Seek help. Your family is great support, but not always the best help.
- Talk things out with your significant other. It is as difficult for them to manage the effects as it is for you to manage keeping your head above water. Clearly explain what your going through and try to articulate the steps you’ll need to take and their role in your management.
- Take one of your many ideas and play with it your self. See what you come up with, it might just surprise you.
- Exercise when you have the energy. Even if you’re not a very active person like me, go for a walk around town, stretch on your floor, cry like you’ve never cried before. All of these things will calm you down, and lower your blood pressure for a more relaxed feeling.
- Don’t blame yourself. Remember it’s not your fault, and you can’t change who you are. The faster you except the burdens the faster you can find a solution.
Managing depression is no different than running a business as long as you understand what departments are affecting your growth or decline in the market. Create a structure, surround yourself with culture, embrace opportunities with skepticism and remember that you’re not the only company (person) with the same struggles.
Clinically, I have depression. I will live with it, and I will deal with it as it comes and goes, but understanding your emotions behind difficult situations allows you to move ahead of the “what is happening” and decide the “where to go next”. It is my hope that all of you find the answers. It’s a difficult road, and a struggle to the finish, but after all we’re entrepreneurs and that’s what we live for.