(Originally sent by email 6/27/18)
“Admitting you struggle with depression is like admitting you can’t reach your bootstraps. It’s assumed that successful people can just “shake it off.” But that’s not how it works.”
~ Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars.
This is my first Wednesday Wisdom in a while. Truth be told, I haven’t felt particularly wise lately.
In fact, for the last 6 months, I’ve been on a roller coaster with my health with mostly terrifying downward chutes.
It’s just been in the last couple weeks that I’ve started crawling out of the valley, and feeling the wind at my back again – and that’s given me the strength to write again.
I was also compelled to write about this topic after the tragic losses of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – both of them entrepreneurial souls who suffered from mental health issues.
Bewilderingly, mental health is still a taboo topic in our culture and the men and women suffering from those issues don’t talk about it for fear of being labeled “crazy”, “weak”, “unstable”, “a mess”, or worse.
Let me start by saying that when I was younger, I was in that judgmental camp. I especially couldn’t understand how people with depression couldn’t just “snap out of it”.
“Get some exercise, eat healthier, do something productive, help someone else…,” I thought (and judged).
As I grew older, I realized depression and other mental health conditions weren’t quite that simple and I grew more compassionate and less judgmental towards the people who struggled with these issues.
Stil…I never thought I would be one of them.
I was different. I was strong. I was healthy. I was stable.
My fortitude was rock solid.
Until it wasn’t.
It’s funny how easy it is to judge something or someone until you go through it yourself.
Karma always gets the last laugh.
For me, a combination of business challenges, financial challenges, and difficult family issues that had been building over a number of years came together in the perfect storm, drowning me in overwhelm, anxiety, fear, and panic.
I love words like “challenge” and “difficult”, by the way. They put a nice, easily digestible coating over trauma and tragedy.
What I really mean is that my life felt like it was hit with a category 5 hurricane. It’s been more than a “challenge” and beyond “difficult”.
Debilitating, paralyzing, crippling, and incapacitating are more accurate.
It’s been the hardest time of my life.
A true dark night of the soul.
And I’ve had to scratch and claw my way back to the light, often moving 2 steps forward only to fall 10 steps backward…
…until recently when my forward steps finally started outnumbering those in the other direction.
I never planned to write about any of this publicly – in fact, I planned to keep it hidden from everyone except those closest to me – but the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade were sobering reminders of the insidious nature of mental health issues in our culture.
And you can’t stamp out a disease when it’s insidious – the very definition means that it’s hidden, crafty, sneaky, and inconspicuous…
…but with devastating effects.
The only way you can begin to fight it is by bringing it to the light, talking about it openly, and slowly removing the stigma that keeps so many people suffering in isolation.
There’s also another reason I chose to write about this…
…a quick Google search will tell you that entrepreneurs suffer from mental health conditions at an alarmingly higher rate than the general population.
It will also tell you that two of the main driving factors behind these diseases, and ultimately suicide, are disconnection and isolation.
Entrepreneurship is already an isolating pursuit, but as online entrepreneurs, we double down on the isolation by working from home..behind a computer screen…by ourselves…for long periods of time.
Bottom line: I think I’m far from alone in this industry, and yet there are times in the last 6 months where I’ve felt desperately alone…
…like I’m the only one who can’t get it together and everyone else is thriving in life.
Have you ever felt like that?
Afterall, mental health issues aren’t something we post on Facebook, it’s not what we talk about when we see each other at T&C, and it’s not what we talk about at our masterminds when it’s our turn to share a “challenge” we’ve experienced.
As marketers, it’s also certainly not the part of our lives that we talk about in our sales copy.
I’m not saying those are the appropriate venues for discussing mental health issues – it depends on the situation…
…but the point is this: it’s so easy to believe that everyone else is crushing it in life and business except you – especially when the majority of our connections take place in venues where everyone is putting their best face forward.
In fact, if you’ve only seen me through the lens of any of those places, I’m sure it comes as a total surprise – perhaps even shock – to you to discover I’ve been going through hell the last 6 months.
On the outside, I don’t look like someone who’s been struggling. My nails are always manicured and polished, my makeup is always done, I dress well, I connect with people, and I smile bright.
That’s not a facade; all those things are part of who I am, how I see myself, and how I like to show up…
…but when there’s no physical indication of struggle, it’s easy to assume that the person we’re looking at has the world on a string.
If you’ve ever felt like what you’re projecting on the outside doesn’t match how you’re feeling on the inside, then you know what I’m talking about.
In reality, I’d bet money that more than half of us have struggled or are struggling with some form of mental health issue – maybe panic and anxiety, like me; maybe depression, maybe intrusive thoughts, manic-depressive disorder, ADHD, and maybe even suicidal thoughts.
So here’s what I want to say today: If you are suffering from any kind of mental health issue, please know that you are not alone.
What you’re experiencing is way more common than you think – especially as an entrepreneur.
You belong, and you’re part of a much bigger whole.
You’ve got a friend in me.
And while it’s been all over the media lately, it bears repeating – if you are contemplating suicide, please, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
You are worth it.
P.S. This letter is dedicated to my husband, my rock, and my business partner – Dush Ramachandran – who has provided me with unbelievable love and support through a time that has tested us more than we’ve ever been tested in our life together, and to our team here at The Net Momentum, who has continued to love me and support me through my hardest days.
If you would like to receive Wednesday Wisdom on a weekly basis, click here to subscribe.