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Did you know it is estimated that around 5% of the population suffers from some form of depression? So, there is a very good chance you know someone who has depression, or maybe it’s something you deal with personally. Perhaps, you are unaware you have depression, like I was. Having depression has changed my life… in a positive way. Yes, in a positive way. Let me explain.
The fuse lit, the wick would burn in a calculated and efficient manner sizzling and popping its way towards the end. And when the concussive force impacted whoever it was directed towards, remorse and shame would inevitably follow. This was my life. It wasn’t constant. Often I was happy, normal, just one of the guys. But inside, the smallest of things, nominal slights, off-hand comments, things most people would shrug off, became the match that lit the fuse. My anger never devolved into physical expression, because I knew that would be the end of my career, my relationships, and me. But I simply could not shut it off, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how irrational I knew it was. I was always inches from another explosion.
My name is Collin. I am the founder and chairman of New Era ADR, a VC backed startup in the legal space. Prior to New Era, I was the General Counsel at Reverb.com, a marketplace for musical instruments that we sold to Etsy in 2019. Before Reverb, I was an in-house attorney at Oracle and spent over 10 years as a litigator at AmLaw 200 firms. Why am I telling you this? It’s not to lay out my resume. It’s because, by some measures, I’ve been successful in my career. Despite that simmering temper, the anger boiling beneath the surface, I was always able to bury it and push forward professionally. But I’ll be honest, like being burned by a hot stove, it hurt. You can only internalize your emotions for so long before they sap you of your happiness, your drive and your being. Like a mask, you put on the smile each day hoping and praying you can get through without anyone seeing the real you – because the real you is ugly, visceral or maybe even dangerous.
Related: 4 Tips for Dealing with Founder Depression
I knew I needed help, but I was at a total loss of where to start. For as long as I could remember, I simply motored through like a real-life Harvey Dent. I was strong, bullish, and I could manage (as if that is a good way to live). Sometimes I think happiness is an illusion, which may be overly cynical, but at a minimum, it’s a fleeting and necessary emotion that balances you and makes life worth living. I didn’t have it. I was burning up inside. Worse, I was confused and completely lost on what was wrong with me.
My episodes worsened. I became difficult to live with, even intolerable. Finally, my wife demanded I get help. But what did that mean? She was clear. It meant therapy. And this is where it gets interesting. You see, I’m a big guy. I played football from junior high school through college. I still play competitive (my friends would say that’s pushing it as an adjective) hockey. Several years ago, I owned an MMA gym, and I still train when I can. In other words, I’m a comically stereotypical male archetype. In a vacuum, I would be the person who would scoff at the mere suggestion of therapy. It would show weakness and fragility. It would make me less of a person, or so I thought. But given there were no other clear avenues of help, I opened my mind to the idea, and what I learned was that all my preconceived notions were complete and utter nonsense.
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 therapist from her hospital, Teri Hull. Ordinarily, I would keep this anonymous, but Dr. Hull literally changed my life. We met, I explained my symptoms, and within the first 10 minutes she calmly explained: “You have depression.” It was like an anvil hitting me in the head. What? What does that mean? Depressed people walk around in a fog, don’t enjoy life, they mope and can barely function. I was okay. I could function.
But what I didn’t know is that depression manifests itself in a lot of different ways, and two of the primary manifestations are anger and rage. It may include bouts of sadness or confusion, too. The point is, you can’t be sure how it may show up in your own personal situation. The reality is, however, instead of being upset or confused, I felt overwhelming relief. I wasn’t crazy or malfunctioning. I wasn’t a broken soul or a bad person. There was something wrong with me. It had a name. It was definable and maybe even biological. And, more importantly, it was treatable.
Related: Startup Founders Can’t Afford to Ignore Mental Health
I’ve been in therapy consistently now for close to three years. For anyone unfamiliar with therapy, it can range from a host of services, but at its base level, it can be nothing more than talking to someone and getting their unfiltered take on your feelings and the circumstances of your life that cause them to manifest in a certain way. It’s not always about laying down on a couch and rehashing the pains of your childhood. I’ve never been engaged in 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 necessary to prevent that match from lighting.
I’d love to think I’m some trailblazer in discussing these issues, but credit really goes to the name-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 had the courage to say “It’s okay to not be okay.” Even the strongest and most talented of us are human. They are not impervious to problems, and they helped make it socially acceptable to seek help. They deserve applause for being human more than for being great athletes.
I am still far from perfect. My wife would tell you so. My friends would tell you so. But I’m highly functional now and able to see above the clouds that previously dominated my life. I still struggle often. I’ve considered medicine, but haven’t gone that route. Not because there is any fault in it, but it has not made sense for me. Instead, I use the tools I’ve learned in therapy to try and think through and address these episodes when they happen. My therapist taught me one of the greatest coping mechanisms, and I’m here to pass it on to all of you, free of charge – sorry, Dr. Hull. When something bad happens and it seems overwhelming to you, take a step back and evaluate how bad it is actually. Is it really catastrophic? Does it have the ability to impact you, your family or your life? The truth is, while something may seem overwhelming in the moment, truly grave consequences are rare. And when they are not, tell yourself the following: “This is not an emergency.” Repeat it until you’re back on your feet and can respond appropriately. I use this advice two to three times a day, and it works. If you work in a startup or early-stage company, you understand how difficult things can seem at times. Remember, “This is not an emergency.”
Believe it or not, I’m grateful for my depression. That may sound ridiculous, but it’s true. Before I knew what was wrong with me, I assumed I had some inherent character flaw. I was broken in some way. Now that I know what is wrong with me, I’m thankful, because it has given me unfettered perspective. I have greater appreciation for the little things. I stare at my son with wonderment, 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 may be going through. Remember, 5% of us deal with this. The good days seem even brighter while the bad days are more manageable.
I’m a lawyer. I’m a professional. I’m a founder. I have depression. But I’m not broken, and I’m not embarrassed. I’m human and I’m grateful.
Related: How This Entrepreneur Overcame Depression When Self-Help Didn’t Work