I liken my consistent and sometimes constant sadness, (depression, in my case), to a parade of the blahs. I'm at the front of the parade, blowing a whistle, waving a flag made of the same sweater I've been wearing for five days, and wearing dangly earrings that are little vials of tears.
You're sad! So what. Well, you're certainly not alone. But let's also consider the winter blues, which everyone can relate to. We are in the middle of the winter. Or, arguably, the start finally. Snow is up to your hips. And while it affects your day-to-day in the cold and dark, it also affects your work. Particularly if you work for yourself.
When you have your own business, consultancy, startup - it's a lot of you. Maybe you have cofounders and employees, mentors and all the right friends - but it can still be lonely and confusing. Many, many entrepreneurs struggle with depression and other mental health issues, and it's something that has come to light only very recently. However, entrepreneurs and successful business leaders' struggles with mood is nothing new.
I struggle with this as someone who works for herself. Many, many others I know do too. In fact, Business Insider is calling it an "epidemic". According to their report, 7% of the general population reports suffering from depression, but nearly 30% of founders report dealing with it too. So you sure as hell aren't alone. In fact, you're in a lot of solid company. The article here talks about a UCSF study that reported out of 242 entrepreneurs surveyed, that HALF of them (well, 49%), reported a mental health condition.
So what about the greats? Across the board and industries, there are many at the top who struggle with the blues. Unfortunately, we only know the public stories and often the tragedies.
There are the obvious short-term helpers all centered around general self care. Beginning with eating well, sleeping, and exercising. They sound basic but, when you don't feel like moving from your couch remembering to do those basic things consistently helps. A friend of mine told me one of her tricks was to shower every day, without fail. Make a note in your calendar if you have trouble remembering to eat lunch, and the same goes for exercising. Find a class or type of workout you like, and make it as important as your next call. Nobody ever regretted a workout. In asking friends who also struggle - a consistent theme was to do something nice for yourself. Get a blowout. Take an hour off. Have a fun lunch with a friend you normally don't get to see. Keep it small and manageable.
Something crucial: stop comparing yourself to business porn. Well, at least that's what I call it - constant articles about what the best billionaires are doing before 8 am. What the secrets of the most successful people are. It can feel like you're reading a constant stream of others' successes, which in turn makes you feel awful. I can contend to this - and it might even be as specific as genuinely stopping yourself from looking at those types of articles. Someone sent you a list of what all billionaires eat for lunch? Nope. It'll only make you feel worse.
The other thing that doesn't help when you're feeling crappy is comparing yourself to other entrepreneurs vis-a-vis social media. One place that is particularly dangerous is Instagram. It always looks like someone is on vacation, or closing a deal, or on a private plane. You never get to see the context of the photo - and you never should be comparing your behind the scenes to someone else's highlight reel. You should also consider how much time you're spending on listserves with highly accomplished people. I am lucky to be a part of some of those communities, but it can really feel like you're the only one who isn't "killing it". When I feel badly, I do not read the emails. Because I just have to protect myself. It's ok to do that.
What about talking about this? Bringing the darkness into the light? Comedian and personal fictional husband of mine, Rob Delaney, talks and writes about this a lot. He wrote a particularly powerful post on this a few years back - you can read it here. I always hesitate to bring up these topics - telling myself to hustle through it, to just wipe a smile on my face and keep going. That can work to some extent, but knowing how many others, entrepreneurs or not, are also struggling with these issues can help you feel less crappy. More evidence? Read this article. Or this one. Or this one too. But even though I'm in the business of helping people feel great about putting themselves out there, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the flipside: that from sadness I learned too how to be creative in how I presented myself.
A lot of this conversation focuses on male entrepreneurs and mental health struggles. What's missing from the conversation is how difficult it is for women entrepreneurs too. There are a different set of expectations and sometimes it can feel like women are just "expected" to be more emotional, which is mostly trash. That being said, there's a lot people don't understand about running a business as a woman - from being discouraged in rounds of financing to balancing kids and a husband to other concerns like women taking on more personal debt as entrepreneurs than men.
Getting help takes balls (and ovaries), not cowardice. It's hard to bring these issues to light in a world where we all want to seem like we've got it all under control. I don't. I bet you don't either. But in the grand scheme of things, this bumpy road is what we all signed up for. Sometimes it feels like I can't find my seatbelt, and in those times I do consistently get and ask for help - therapy, medication, and a lot of Kleenex. If you want to know more on that, you can always email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are in a serious place of thoughts that could lead to your harming yourself or others, there are many resources for you. Here is the number for the national suicide prevention hotline. This stuff isn't worth messing with your life for. 1 (800) 273-8255.