Dark Days And New Beginnings – An Entrepreneur’s Battle With Depression
The blood drained from my face as the screen loaded my bank balance of $2.43.
I was angry, confused, and frustrated.
How could this possibly be correct? It wasn’t fair.
My mind immediately began racing with all the reasons why this wasn’t fair.
I’m a good guy. I’m honest. I work harder than most. I actually care about the success of our clients. I do everything possible to ensure we provide remarkable service.
It was a Wednesday morning at 9:04 when I made this discovery. In two only two days, payroll taxes and my employees’ salaries were going to be drafted from the account. I would need over $2,700 to prevent these transactions from bouncing.
Fortunately, I had about $3,300 available on my personal line of credit. It would be just enough to cover these expenses and give me a little cushion. But that didn’t mean we were out of the woods.
At any other time in my past these circumstances would have sent me spiraling into depression. When negative situations like this come along my mind immediately takes me down the path of worse case scenarios and it does its best to remind me that I’m a victim – not as lucky as other people.
When I saw the balance of $2.43 my thoughts immediately started reminding me that I’m a victim – an unlucky one. After all:
- I work hard;
- I treat people fairly;
- I always try to do more than expected;
- I’m a continual student, always trying to learn more and improve my knowledge and skills;
- I’m a nice guy, and…
It wasn’t fair!
I have plenty of friends and colleagues who run businesses, and to be honest, most are self-centered. I mean that in the nicest way possible. They’re all good people. But their top priority is making money. They don’t seem to care about customer service, about putting their clients’ needs over their own. And they certainly don’t invest the time or expense to learn more to improve themselves and their skills.
Next, my mind immediately went to all the worse case scenarios:
- The bank will put a hold on my line of credit and I won’t be able to make a deposit.
- Some unexpected expense will hit my bank account.
- We won’t get any new business.
- I’ll need that line of credit money for a personal emergency.
- I’m going to go out of business.
- I’m going to go bankrupt.
- I’m going to have to go get a “real job”.
From there, my brain cleverly delivers the doubts and second guessing:
- Why did I even start this business? I never really wanted to build websites.
- I must not be a good entrepreneur if I can’t even keep money in my account.
- How can I claim to be a marketing expert when I desperately need more business?
Sounds terrible! Right?
Is that a pattern of thoughts you can relate to?
If so, then you know what happens next. Your brain begins the process of continually repeating these patterns of thought over and over and over. And what you hear over and over you slowly start to believe as true.
It’s a vicious cycle. And if allowed, it can become a deadly cycle.
I know from first hand experience, because depression is something I’ve struggled with for years. I’ve been to the point where I believed the only possible solution was suicide.
Last year I spent three months battling extreme depression. I hated my life, and honestly…I wanted it to end.
Things at work were stressful. Extremely stressful!
I believed all this stress was the direct cause for my weaknesses; the direct result of my lack of value.
I didn’t want to do anything. I literally wanted to stay in bed all day. I couldn’t sleep at night because I would constantly wake up soaking wet with sweat. And then for the next hour or so, I’d lay there suffering from a panic attack. My mind would race through all the worse case scenarios.
The next morning I would force myself out of bed and fight back the tears that wanted to well up in my eyes. I didn’t have the strength to face another day. Nor did I really care.
The silence and stillness of my office would depress me even more, so I started working most days from a coffee shop. The constant movement and noises seemed to help me feel a little more normal. This one decision ended up helping me get out of this stage of depression. More on that in a minute.
New projects would come along, and I would immediately begin thinking through all of the problems and issues the project would have. It got to the point where I didn’t want to take on any new projects because I didn’t feel I could handle any more responsibility.
On the other hand, when no new projects came along I would get even more depressed and stressed out. As the sole provider for my family and with employees and bills to pay, we needed new projects desperately.
At the urging of a friend, I began exploring treatment centers where I could admit myself. I simply didn’t know what else to do.
I reached out to friends and family. I tried reading and listening to a variety of different books and talks. I tried changing daily rituals and routines. Nothing seemed to help. I felt trapped.
A New Beginning
One day I was sitting and working in the coffee shop and a family friend happened to stop by my table to say hi. Much to his surprise, I began to share very specifically what I was going through, and he listened. Genuinely listened.
Previously, each time I would try to explain what I was going through, people would “listen”, but it was obvious they were only listening enough to try and find the right answer for me.
But this day was different. He listened. He asked questions and then he listened some more. By the time I had finished spilling my guts to him, he asked if he could share a story with me.
As he proceeded to share this story it was if I could feel a weight being lifted off my shoulders. His story wasn’t filled with “and here’s what you should do.” It was filled with emotion and personal information that most people would never venture to share. It was real.
It was filled with his weaknesses. It was filled with all the ways he let everyone in his life down. How he didn’t see any hope. How his entire world seemed to be falling apart – and he was the cause. It was real.
Unlike so many others I reached out to during this time, he wasn’t trying to use his story to teach me. His story didn’t contain bullet points, or a numbered list of things I should do to get out of my depression. He was simply being vulnerable.
Our conversations seemed to immediately crystallize two concepts for me.
- The first concept that became crystal clear was, “As a man thinketh so is he” in the bible from Proverbs 23:7 (and the title of James Allen book published in 1902).
- And the second was Thoughts –> Feeling –> Actions –> Results
Through his story I was convinced it very apparent that his thoughts are what lead him down his path to severe depression. As I sat listening to his story I remember clearly seeing how his thoughts, and nothing more, lead him to believe that his entire world was falling apart.
As he spoke it was if a fog that had covered my mind was being cleared away. It became very clear that my thoughts were the culprit of my severe depression.
Now the question was how: Could I gain control over my thoughts?
The first step was to begin carefully examining and exploring my thoughts, particularly when I started to feel anxious or overwhelmed. Here are some of the questions that I would ask:
- Why do I feel this way?
- What happened that caused me to think this thought?
- Is it true? Or is that only my interpretation of the truth?
It was easy to ask myself these questions, but I found it was extremely difficult to control or change my thoughts. It was as if they where controlling my mind.
It was at this point that I realized the need to gain more control over my mind, and the thoughts it was feeding me. But how? I began with a simple exercise that I had read about to stretch your ability to control your thinking. I guess some would call it a basic form of meditation.
Each morning I would spend three minutes simply trying to think only about my breathing. Then I would take a deep breath in for eight seconds, and then breathe out for eight seconds.
What a challenge! This simple exercise proved to be extremely difficult. What I discovered was as I would try to focus on breathing, my mind would race off on the million different things I needed to do that day.
When I found my mind racing my initial tendency was to get angry at myself. I would think, This is stupid, it’s not working, and I can’t control my thoughts.
But it was clear – it was working. This simple exercise made it obvious that I had little control over my thoughts. Like with any muscle, I needed to stretch my brain so that I could strengthen my ability to identify and change my thoughts. So I continued each morning with this simple exercise. I wish I could say that things got better overnight, but they didn’t.
The other problem I was still having was waking up in the middle of the night sweating, unable to go back to sleep for what felt like hours. I needed a solution.
I can’t remember where, or who, but somehow I stumbled across an app called Calm. This app brings you through 10 days of calm to help you learn the basics of relaxing and gaining control over your mind.
My wife and I would go through a five or ten minute Calm session each night before falling asleep. Through their simple but effective exercises I would often find myself peacefully dozing off to sleep. This app worked wonders for my sleep.
Also try the app Sleep Cycle to get a sense for how you are sleeping each night.)
The Battle Continues
I wish I could say that between the breathing exercise and using Calm my depression was magically healed, but it wasn’t. It’s still a daily battle to ensure that I maintain control over my mind and that I don’t allow the negative cycle of thoughts to start growing and compounding in my mind.
To help prevent this cycle I made a list of emotional triggers. Here’s how I did it:
-When even I started feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed out, or depressed I would ask myself, What triggered these feelings?
-I made a list of all the situations, conversations, and thoughts that seemed to be the beginning point of my feelings.
-Then, as I began to feel depressed or overwhelmed I simply looked through the list of triggers to see what may have started the snowball of thoughts and feelings.
I still occasionally identify new triggers by going through this process.
In addition to the three exercises above, here are a few books that helped me get through this time of depression:
–The Bible – I would read from the book of Psalms and Job.
Loving What Is by Byron Katie. She lays out four simple questions to help determine if the situation warrants your response:
- Is it true?
- Is it absolutely true?
- How can you tell?
- Now, how would you feel if the exact opposite were true?
The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read – period. This book is based on stoic philosophy and it is awesome! Through stories, Ryan teaches how to not only make it through tough or challenging times, but how to find the good in even the worst possible situations.
Choose Yourself by James Altucher – A fun, easy, read. Throughout this book James shares very candid stories from his own life and how he dealt with situations, often times, not so gracefully.
Depression is real. It took the longest time for me to even accept that I was suffering from depression. I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t have everything together, or that things weren’t going to get better – soon.
As entrepreneurs we are usually focused on improving and serving others, often to such a degree it’s to the detriment to our own well being. Unfortunately, depression amongst entrepreneurs is commonplace, and yet so few are willing to talk about it.
Even for me, writing and sharing these words makes me uncomfortable. What will people think of me? They will see I don’t have it all together. They will think I’m somehow less valuable. Those feelings and doubts are real, and I believe they are some of the reasons why entrepreneurs don’t speak up and speak out about this real problem.
Side note: It took more than five weeks for after writing this post for me to hit the Publish button. I kept talking myself out of publishing it out of fear. And knowing that these words are published for the world to see still makes me uncomfortable.
If you are suffering from depression, then chances are, after reading this article you are still saying to yourself, Yeah, but you don’t understand how bad things really are for me. I know because that’s exactly what I would have thought when I was at my low point with depression.
As difficult as it may be, please choose one thing from this article and begin doing it each day. At first it will seem as if it isn’t making any difference. That’s okay. Just keep doing it, and then after a week add one more thing. It will take a little time, but I promise things will get better for you.
If you’d like to connect and share what you’re going through, feel free to email me directly at wayne [at] uglymugmarketing [dot] com.
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