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Did you know that it is estimated that about 5% of the population suffers from some form of depression? Therefore, there is a very good chance that you know someone who is depressed, or maybe it is something you deal with personally. You probably don’t realize you’re depressed, like I used to. Being depressed changed my life…in a positive way. Yes, in a positive way. Let me explain.
Light the wick, and the wick will burn in a measured and efficient manner and shoot its way toward the end. And when the force of the concussion affects whom it is directed, remorse and shame will inevitably follow. This was my life. It was not stable. I was often happy, naturally, just one of the guys. But on the inside, the smallest things, the nominal insults, the hands-off comments, the things most people ignore, became the match that lit the fuse. My anger never turned into a bodily expression, because I knew that would be the end of my career, my relationships, and me. But I simply couldn’t turn it off, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how irrational I knew. I was always inches away from another blast.
My name is Colin. I’m the founder and CEO of New Era ADR, a VC-backed startup in the legal field. Prior to working at New Era, I was general counsel at Reverb.com, a marketplace for musical instruments that we sold to Etsy in 2019. Prior to Reverb, I was an in-house attorney at Oracle and spent more than 10 years as a litigator at AmLaw 200 companies. Why do I tell you this? Not for my resume. That’s because, by some measures, I’ve been successful in my career. Despite that sassy temper, and the anger simmering just below the surface, I was always able to bury it and move forward professionally. But I’ll be honest, like I’m burning with a hot stove, it hurts. You can only internalize your feelings for so long before they drain your happiness, drive, and being. Like a mask, you wear a smile every day hoping and praying that you can pass without anyone seeing your truth – because your truth is ugly, deep or perhaps even dangerous.
Related: 4 Tips for Dealing with Founder’s Depression
I knew I needed help, but I was at a loss as to where to start. For as long as I can remember, I drove by like a real-life Harvey Dent. I was strong, optimistic and could run (as if it was a good way to live). Sometimes I think happiness is an illusion, and it may be overly cynical, but at least, it’s a fleeting and necessary emotion that balances you and makes life worth living. I did not have. I was burning from the inside. Even worse, I was confused and completely lost what had happened to me.
My episodes got worse. It became difficult for me to live with it, even unbearable. Finally, my wife asked me for help. But what does that mean? It was clear. He meant treatment. And here’s where it becomes more interesting. You see, I’m a big guy. I played football from high school through college. I still play competitive hockey (my friends might say that pushes it as an adjective). Several years ago, I owned a mixed martial arts gym, and I still train when I can. In other words, I am a stereotypical male archetype. In the void, I’d be the one to make fun of just suggesting a cure. It will show weakness and fragility. It would make me less of a person, or so I thought. But since there were no other obvious ways to help, I opened my mind to the idea, and what I learned was that all of my preconceived notions were complete and absolute.
I spoke to a friend who is an occupational therapist to see if she had any ideas. She did a little research and suggested I speak to a psychotherapist from her hospital, Terry Hall. Normally, I’d stay anonymous, but Dr. Hull literally changed my life. We met and I explained my symptoms, and within the first 10 minutes I calmly explained: “You’re depressed.” It was like an anvil hitting me in the head. when? What does it mean? Depressed people are wandering in the fog, not enjoying life, they are depressed and can barely function. I was fine. I can work.
But what I didn’t know is that depression manifests in many different ways, and two of the primary manifestations are anger and anger. It may also include episodes of sadness or confusion. The point is, you can’t be sure how it will turn out in your personal situation. However, the truth is that instead of being upset or overwhelmed, I felt overwhelmed. I wasn’t crazy or disabled. I wasn’t a broken spirit or a bad person. There was something wrong with me. She had a name. It was identifiable and possibly biological. Most importantly, it was treatable.
Related: Startup founders can’t afford to ignore mental health
I have been in therapy consistently for nearly three years. For anyone unfamiliar with therapy, it can range from a range of services, but at its most basic level, it can be nothing more than talking to someone and getting their unfiltered opinion of your feelings and the circumstances of your life that makes them appear in a certain way. It’s not always about lying on the couch and letting go of your childhood pain. I’ve never been to the Hollywood version of therapy. Instead, for me, it’s about talking about what happened yesterday and today, and making sure I have the coping mechanisms in place to keep that match from lighting up.
I like to think I’m a leader in discussing these issues, but the credit really goes to the brand athletes who have openly discussed their mental health struggles: Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Love, the list goes on. On the world stage, these athletes have had the courage to say “It’s okay not to be unwell.” Even the strongest and most talented of us are human. They are not immune to problems, and they have helped make it socially acceptable to ask for help. They deserve credit for being human more than great athletes.
I’m still far from perfect. My wife will tell you that. My friends will tell you. But now I’m working big and I can see above the clouds that used to dominate my life. I still suffer often. I’ve thought about medicine, but I didn’t go that route. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but it just didn’t make sense to me. Instead, I use the tools I learned in therapy to try to think about and address these episodes as they occur. My therapist taught me one of my greatest coping mechanisms, and I’m here to pass it on to all of you for free – sorry Dr. When something bad happens and seems confusing to you, take a step back and assess how bad it actually is. Is it really disastrous? Does it have the ability to affect you, your family, or your life? The truth is that while something might seem overwhelming at the moment, really dire consequences are rare. And when you’re not, say to yourself: “This is not an emergency.” Repeat until you are on your feet and responding appropriately. I use this tip two to three times a day, and it works. If you work for a startup or early stage company, you understand how difficult things can sometimes be. Remember, “This is not an emergency.”
Believe it or not, I am grateful for my depression. This may sound silly, but it is true. Before I knew what was wrong with me, I assumed I had some inherent flaw in the character. I was broken somehow. Now that I know what’s wrong with me, I’m thankful, because it gave me an unrestricted perspective. I have a greater appreciation for the little things. I stare at my son in amazement, because he can find joy in almost anything, and that brings me joy. I have more empathy for friends, colleagues and even strangers, because I have no idea what they might be going through. Remember, 5% of us deal with this. The good days look brighter while the bad days are more manageable.
I am a lawyer. I am professional. I am founder. I have depression. But I’m not broken, and I’m not embarrassed. I am human and I am grateful.
Related: How This Entrepreneur Overcame Depression When Self-Help Didn’t Work