I've Had Suicidal Thoughts as an Entrepreneur. Here's How I Learned to Cope With Depression.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
With my head in my hands, tears flowing down my face, the feelings of fear, worry, overwhelm, and sadness would take over my entire body, so much so that my instant reaction would be to self-sabotage myself.
My sequence went like this: Alcohol, smoke, drugs (typically cocaine), gamble. It happened over and over again for years.
At the time, I had no idea that my addictions were linked to the bullying that was unhealed from my childhood and that the opposite of addiction, is in fact connection.
I was so disconnected from myself and others, I didn't know who I was.
My drive to succeed was strong and in 2015 my company generated its first million dollars in revenue. I went from living in a friend's bedroom in Bristol, England to moving to La Jolla, California in 2016.
The more material success I got, the more lonely I became. I got my first Ferrari (rented) within a month of moving to the USA and would drive it down to the beach and do laps so people would look at me. When my co-dependent relationship finally broke down I upgraded the car to a $240,000 version and moved into a bigger 1.5 acre home, this time was a basketball court. I called it "The Ranch."
My behavior came from the lack of love for myself and I needed to heal. I no longer party, take drugs, I stopped that a long time ago. My last drink was in June 2017 and while my life is certainly not perfect, I'm in the best place emotionally than I have ever been in.
What I want to share with you here is what worked for me to overcome not just my depression but also my anxiety, overspending, fear of judgment and honestly even being terrified of looking people in the eye. Suicide rates are notoriously high with entrepreneurs, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't have suicidal thoughts in my darkest moments.
[Editor's note: If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741) to get the help you need.]
1. Talking about events from your past
I'm starting with the most important here because it had the biggest impact on me. For many years I had shame around events from my past (for example I had sexual experiences with other boys when I was young) that I never wanted to talk about. I call these 'Black Balls'. These are the events from the timeline of your past that you have kept hidden. It's your secret(s), the thing that you will take to your grave. What happens when we keep this locked inside is that we don't accept who we are. This is very damaging to the nervous system. When events from the past are unresolved, they cause internal conflict and chaos. This is by far one of the biggest causes of depression in my experience. Suppression = depression.
2. Meditate for more than 10 minutes
Many CEOs and entrepreneurs tell me that they don't have time to meditate, but they are also stressed out and depressed. When I started my meditation journey, I would use apps like Calm and Headspace for 5-10 minutes which helped me a little, but it wasn't until I went to India on a Platinum Partnership trip with Tony Robbins that I started to learn a lot more deeply about the importance of longer meditations and consistency to get deep into my subconscious to heal. In my experience, breaking through the 30-minute mark and then shifting to the hour is the game-changing move, but few can do it without the right structure and accountability. You only "get it" when you get there.
3. Be okay with looking really stupid in front of people
I spent years worrying about what people thought of me and had social anxiety. As I mentioned, I wouldn't be able to look people in the eye, especially men because I was bullied by men. A big shift that happened for me was when I started Improv comedy classes because I was forced outside of my comfort zone. After 8 weeks solid of Improv classes (you can find these locally or online), I pretty much obliterated my social anxiety and I started to go out more. Improv gets you out of your head and into the present moment, the opposite of the compulsive, erratic, impatient behavior that's normal when you're in the race to "crush it."
4. Start creating the habit of saying "yes" to social connection
I want you to consider that your business could well be an addiction for you. Remember, an addiction is something you can't stop. The impact of this, especially on relationships is devastating. I spend a lot of my time helping entrepreneurs first to re-establish a connection with themselves, but then with the people around them who unintentionally have pushed away because of their addiction. A very quick way to start to change the brain's mental associations is to change the habit of "no" to "yes" when you are invited to connect. My two excuses were "I'm too busy" or "I'm too tired". Both of which were self-sabotaging statements to keep me safe from rejection.
5. Choose to soothe yourself in a healthy way
We have healthy soothing and we have unhealthy soothing. Healthy soothing would be taking a walk, listening to music, and stimulating the brain in a way that doesn't damage the body. An unhealthy method would be for example alcohol, drugs, etc. The impact of unhealthy soothing is that this lowers energy which then impacts thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and our confidence. Over time this starts to erode other parts of your life. We become agitated, irritable, frustrated, and difficult to be around. For me, I had to change my personal environment. A penguin can thrive in the Antarctic but can't in the Sahara. Chose your environment wisely and be willing to say no to 'friends' that pressure you.
6. Develop your Emotional Business Intelligence
Top performers who are both successful and deeply fulfilled have high levels of emotional intelligence and the most important way to develop EQ is through self-awareness. We develop self-awareness by going inward, slowing down, having the right coaches, mentors, and guides to break out habitual patterns. This is the process of taking something from unconscious to conscious awareness which allows us to choose to take positive action. For example, if you have had 30 years of anger issues that are impacting your marriage and client relationships, and you are unaware that the anger is caused by your father leaving when you were 10 years old which has not been energetically resolved, you would continue being angry. When you're made aware, you see what causes the pattern and can move forward to healing.
7. Become aware of your Key Emotional Indicators (KEIs)
Business owners love key performance indicators (KPIs), but when it comes to improving our mental health, key emotional indicators are incredibly important as it can start to dramatically reduce depression. The next time you feel great, start to write down everything that negatively triggers you. You will notice how your energy shifts and your thoughts go from positive to negative. Once you have identified the trigger, you start to become aware of what you may need to heal or work through with a professional rather than allowing the trigger to continue. If for example, it's a post from an ex-partner, it could be as simple as snoozing from seeing them for a certain period of time while you work through the pain of the breakup.
8. Develop a healthy energetic routine
While many talk about the benefit of a morning routine or an evening routine, it's important to look at it from an energetic perspective. If you were a battery, and your energy was at 10% your thoughts would be negative. So every day, it's your job to ensure that you are high energy. At a foundational level, this is in direct relation to your consistent habits with meditation, nutrition, exercise, and sleep. I've found that when someone goes consistently for a minimum of 42 days with these habits, they shift into a new level of performance where they understand how they can feel vs how they felt. This is because we get used to feeling "normal," when in fact this is very low energy, high stress and worry. This is not normal for an entrepreneur, it's the danger zone.
9. Figure out who you fear judgment from the most
When someone says to me, "I worry what people think," my first question is, "Is it people or is it a person?" If I asked you to share your new book with a random person from the street, you probably won't be too worried, but if it was your ex-boss or father to who you have attached a big emotional charge to then you would have a stronger fear. Once we can identify the often influential or respected person that holds the emotional weight, you can start to resolve that but understand it will be painful before it feels good. You have to be willing to go through the emotional pain of resolving the issue, or your patterns of fear will continue.
10. Step into F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real)
Breakthroughs in depression come on the other side of fear. In the state of fear, we are thinking a thought that is not serving us. The next time you feel fear, start to become aware of what you are thinking. Imagine a plane with an adult and a child. The plane starts to rock side to side and the child is happy and smiling but the adult is in complete fear. The reason? The adult is most likely pulling mental references from movies or news items of plane crashes, with the ultimate fear of death. Because the child doesn't have the same references, the brain doesn't pull those stories into the present moment which shuts down the body. Be aware both of what you are thinking and the stories that you are creating.
11. The happiness calendar
Most people put in their calendar activities that will bring energy low and cause depression. The next board meeting, the marketing activity that you don't enjoy. I need you to see your calendar as an energy calendar. If you don't look at your calendar and you don't feel good then you probably don't have anything to look forward to. When you start to look at your calendar this week you can be excited, joyful, and enthusiastic about your week vs being stressed about it before it's even started. Before you start your workweek, start to get conscious about the things that could drop you into depression, and pull them out of your calendar. Start to design your life around feeling good.