Depression and anxiety are thieves

Perfectly Reasonable

Somewhat selfishly, I co-opted this month’s Word Carnival topic to talk about mental health. It’s not something we tend to talk about very often and we – collectively, as a race – are drowning to death in denial.

Depression and anxiety are thieves. They steal time and experiences away from us.

WTF Marketing was founded out of equal parts desperation and gumption – I’ve said as much before. I dedicated all of TWO sentences in my origin story to talking about the fact that I even got depressed in 2010. I made a joke (based in reality) about my hair going gray. This is only a little bit of the story.

I got so depressed in 2010 about my “situation” that I didn’t want to be here anymore. By “situation” I mean my self-worth tanked, along with my work ethic, ability to concentrate or make decisions, and desire to do anything besides sleep – also known as a few of the key signs of depression, but I didn’t call it that. I just thought I was lazy (contrary to all available evidence otherwise) and couldn’t get my shit together and I didn’t know why. I didn’t even know that I was depressed except for being upset about these “weaknesses of character” that were dragging me down on a daily basis.

Did you read between the lines there? I was depressed about being depressed without even realizing that everything I was upset about WERE SYMPTOMS OF FUCKING DEPRESSION.

Fortunately, my doctor realized what the hell was going on – he put me on Wellbutrin and not the Adderall I was there to ask for. He also suggested I start talking to someone I trust about how I felt. So I started reaching out to my friends who also owned their own businesses. I started identifying earlier when I needed help, whether it was double-checking my assessment of a situation or exploring different angles of a problem. I started doing regular meetings with fellow freelancers and going out to events and teaching more and more. My self-worth improved immensely. My work ethic and concentration improved hour by hour. I made decisions like I was the Captain of the Enterprise. I changed my situation drastically. A year later, I got off Wellbutrin with a new and hard-earned respect for mental health.

You don’t really get “cured” so much as change your habits to fight back.

This isn’t a sympathy play; it’s incredibly hard to write these words that make me seem… weak or damaged somehow. I’m telling you this because I’m not someone that people generally think of as “depressed”.

I’m Nick Armstrong; he who can and does joke about anything, faces adversity with a smile, and who people go to for solid advice. Hell, I still don’t think of myself as someone who gets depressed, even though I know better.

The truth is: everyone can, and based on statistics, almost everybody does (to some degree). It’s so easy to take things out of context, let small bad decisions spiral into big habits, and anxiety is the ultimate amplifier (whether it’s about going broke or losing the respect of loved ones or failing to live up to our “ideal” self) – it makes bad things seem worse.

We’re doggy-paddling neck-deep in a shit-stream of denial about what constitutes “good mental health” – especially entrepreneurs and freelancers. We are expected to Reagan up and bootstrap our mental health into STFU mode while grinding away until we’re swimming Scrooge McDuck style through a pool filled with money.

That’s nonsense and we need to stop it. Please, for the love of you, stop it.

In a way, depression and anxiety are cousins to alcoholism – you don’t even think you have a problem per se. You just drink and the problem becomes evident to those around you. Depression and anxiety seem to work in a similar way… you have a particular response or pattern of thought and the problem starts to become evident to those around you, but you’re mostly oblivious. They become uncomfortably comfortable, a sort of itchy, destructive security blanket of habit.

If you think alcoholism, depression, or even anxiety are choices, you need to take 5 minutes and watch this clip from The West Wing. John Spencer’s character Leo McGarry explains it perfectly.

I’ll say it again: you don’t really get “cured” so much as change your habits to fight back.

If someone else looked at your business, the rates you charge, and how you work, would they think it was normal? Or would they think you were killing yourself slowly with a heavy daily dose of entrepreneurship?

We owe it to ourselves to take an sickeningly close “your breath smells like stale coffee” look at mental health in small business owners.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that self-worth (physically manifest in the rates we are comfortable charging) is anchored in our mental health – good, bad, or missing. That working non-stop and sacrificing our own success, happiness, and completion in favor of our clients’ and not balancing both or setting appropriate boundaries is a signal of diminished self-worth, poor mental health, and even self-loathing.

I’m not talking about volunteerism. I’m talking about giving away the farm.

But Nick, you’re saying, bills gotta be paid, man.

Sure. But you’d be able to pay ’em easier, with less work, if only you had the will and mental fortitude and self-worth to charge people what you’re worth. Lacking one or all three shouldn’t always be ascribed as a weakness of character, since missing one or all three are also tale-tell signs of possible mental instability in the chronically underpaid, undervalued, overworked freelancer/small business owner.

Given all those adjectives, are you even surprised “mentally unstable” is somehow related?

Depression and anxiety are thieves, but because they’re the thieves we know, we absentmindedly give the habits which cultivate them a free pass.

Let’s not – we owe it to ourselves to have our friends and family (and even a few fellow entrepreneurs) look at our habits and say, “Gee, that doesn’t seem healthy.”

Do it today.

This post is part of March’s Word Carnival. Each month, a few of us small business bloggers get together and talk about the same topic in our own ways. This month, the topic was Mental Health and Small Business. The other bloggers are awesome and well worth your time to get to know, definitely give ’em a read!