I’ve been living for the past few years in a limbo between journalist and entrepreneur, trying to build startups the way I saw them being built on stage at Disrupt and discovering that my skill and will to win are no match against the world. That’s fine. These days I’ll take it.
But for a few minutes in Chicago last May, I couldn’t.
That day was normal for me. I woke up, went and met some folks at a cool startup, visited at great guitar store, and had a mediocre deep dish pizza. I then went to an event where I gave my usual rant (and pissed people off) about how smaller market cities are having huge trouble innovating, and then went out with some good people to talk about cool stuff.
Then, on my way back to the hotel, I looked both ways on a busy, dark street and thought long and hard about stepping in front of a Chicago city bus.
Why not? I wasn’t helping. My first startup had failed and everything else was a slow burn. I wasn’t thinking about my family. I wasn’t thinking about my existence on a global scale but on a local one. I could turn off this brain once and for all and I thought everyone would be happier.
I got help. I discovered I was anhedonic and chronically depressed – I couldn’t feel happiness. I had been traveling through life in a haze. I drank a lot to hide this from myself – after all, if you’re hosed you don’t worry about not feeling anything – and I traveled obsessively and spoke on stage so I could feel something, anything, better than the flat grey note that played constantly in my head.
I feel better now. I have a lot of digging to do. I wonder if you’re in the same position.
I’m noodling on this because of Colin Kroll. The specifics of Kroll’s specific story are unclear but an overdose is definitely in the mental illness wheelhouse. Maybe he was having a blast, flush on investor money and celebrating a win. I won’t judge.
But he’s dead. And I don’t want you to follow him.
Any of us could end up gone for any number of reasons associated with entrepreneurship. There is the stress, the overwork. There is the sense of failure even amid the greatest successes. There is deep frustration and deep anger. Entrepreneurs are high performers who are used to getting As in life. When that same life gives you a D- you feel that it’s your fault, that your dreams of success are gold foil over a rotten sweet.
This isn’t true. We all have to work to remind ourselves of this. A startup, like any creative endeavor, is doomed to fail but its very existence is a miracle. We do it not because we want to make millions but because we want to fix something broken in the world. I write to share cool things with you all. I make startups to help bring to the next level of innovation. But I let these efforts get in the way of life. I thought my failures were systemic, that I was proving that I was a failure over and over again and that I had visible proof through my failed efforts. My startup wasn’t me, but I didn’t know that.
In the dull, hot blush of a depressive episode, the embarrassing moment you look at yourself and see nothing but junk, we have to remember that we are making real efforts, building real things, moving way ahead of the pack. The world will catch up.
There are lots of ways to get help. Ask around. You’ll be surprised to hear that your friends and family know great shrinks who can help. You’ll be surprised that going to meetings or talking to someone on the phone can be a great way to assuage mental grief. You’ll be surprised to know that there are people out there for you. Email me if you need help: firstname.lastname@example.org
This shit is hard. Don’t make it harder by letting it fester.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. It provides Spanish-speaking counselors, as well as options for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. It is only available in the United States. A 24-hour an Online Chat in partnership with Contact USA is also available.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (ESP) can be reached at 1-888-628-9454
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Deaf & Hard of Hearing Options) can be reached at 1-800-799-4889