My Old Friend Depression
For the last couple months I’ve been in and out of an episode of depression. It’s partly because of relationship issues, but I think the primary reason is lack of purpose.
I knew coming in to 2013 that this was a risk. At the end of 2012 we decided to throw in the towel with StatsMix (fortunately a buyer stepped forward). I’m fortunate to be in a position where I don’t need a steady income for a while, so I vowed to give myself all of 2013 if necessary to figure out what I’m doing next. I’ve since looked at several opportunities, but none has really gotten me excited yet.
In March I decided to spend the month in New York. A friend of mine let me rent out his apartment while he was travelling. Big mistake. I basically drank too much, complained about sirens at 3 am and broke up with my girlfriend. I didn’t really do much except sit around the apartment, drink and catch up on Breaking Bad, Mad Men and House of Cards. I did eat lots of the great food New York is known for and go on a few spur-of-the-moment dates. But aside from a few side trips to medical marijuana conferences (a business opportunity I’m exploring), March was almost 100% unproductive.
At the end of that trip I went straight to Los Angeles for a men’s group meeting. This is a group of about 100 men who get together four times per year to work on personal issues (mental health, money, “life hacks” etc). I absolutely needed a brain reboot by the time I arrived. The first day was touch and go. I was overcome with fatigue (a sign of depression) and a general feeling of apathy about life.
Eventually I summoned the energy to show up and it turned out to be a great experience.
The theme of the event was dealing with emotional trauma. We broke up into small groups, and each attendee in my group had to get up in front of the others and essentially relive all the traumas they could remember experiencing in their lives. It was a powerful experience and I felt, well, purposeful, while helping out my fellow travelers. But ultimately I concluded that trauma is not the source of my problems. In particular I learned something I already knew: I had a great childhood compared to a lot of people in the world, and my struggles as an adult are garden variety.
Nonetheless the focused intensity of the exercises allowed my depression to fade away like morning mist, and I felt very present and productive. But as I told my group leader, the exercises per se didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had a purpose. They could probably have locked us all in a room and asked us to solve crossword puzzles for four days and I’d have gotten similar results.
Back in Boulder, reality returned. It was truly great to be back in my hometown after so much time on the road, and I resolved to get on the right track. Unfortunately the fatigue returned (I suspect from a juice diet I tried for a few days) and for about a week I was nearly catatonic.
About 12 years ago a friend of mine committed suicide. We weren’t close, but we had worked together, had a lot of mutual friends and had even contemplated starting a company together. I remember thinking how hopeless he must have felt in those final days, and how I wished he’d shared those feelings of hopelessness with me and others. I would not have been able to cure him, but perhaps he might have realized how common those feelings are and not felt so alone in the world.
So unlike in the past, I openly shared my feelings with friends. If someone asked how I was doing, I usually replied “shitty – I’m in a depression.” To a person they were empathetic and offered support in however way they could. None of them had a cure per se, but some offered to just hang out with me, and I think that feeling of connection gave me energy to start doing other things. Meditation, exercise, business networking etc.
One thing that’s different this time: I’ve decided to stay off medication. Zoloft has been a big help for me in the past. I went off it in February and am sure that’s part of the reason March was such a struggle. I’m going to continue staying off it for the time being, but I have my therapist on the speed dial if I ever get suicidal. (We actually talked one day while I was in New York and it was very helpful.)
Note: I am not anti-medication at all. I strongly recommend people try it when they are depressed. I’m just experimenting with being drug free for a while.
While I’m not out of the woods yet, I’m definitely on an uptick and hopeful that I can maintain the momentum. If you see me around town, don’t walk on eggshells. Ask me how I’m feeling. Or tell me how you’re feeling. I’m a big believer in the power of vulnerability and try to model it my everyday life.
And that’s the point of this post. I’m not looking for any validation. Rather, I hope that someone who is feeling down will find this post from Google or Facebook or whatever and realize you are not alone. If you have no one to talk to, contact me. I can’t cure you, but I will be your friend.
Hat tip to Brad Feld, who has been a role model for me on this and many other issues.