How I Got the Upper Hand on Clinical Depression
By CJ McClanahan
In 2010, a team of researchers from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, conducted a comprehensive study to “investigate the prevalence and characteristics of mental health conditions among entrepreneurs.”
The study, which focused on 242 entrepreneurs and 93 demographically matched comparison participants, found that 49% reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions.
What kinds of issues you ask? Just the everyday chronic ones like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, as well as bipolar diagnosis and ADHD, among others.
By comparison, in the non-entrepreneur population, lifetime mental health issues were recorded by 32% of the respondents.
What this survey is saying is that there are almost double the number of unstable entrepreneurs as there are unstable non-entrepreneurs.
There are almost double the number of unstable entrepreneurs as there are unstable non-entrepreneurs.
The question then becomes, are people twice as likely to become depressed if they become take up entrepreneurship? Or...
Does entrepreneurship attract individuals with a propensity for mental health issues at a higher rate than those that don’t take the entrepreneurial journey?
Looking at my own struggles and experiences with clinical depression, I’m not all that surprised by these numbers...but that doesn’t mean normal is good.
My battle with depression
It was the fall during my senior year of college and, from the outside, my life looked perfect.
My grades were solid. I had a lot of great friends. I was the president of my fraternity and looking forward to enjoying the parties with my friends, the football games, and making the most of my last year.
Life was great… and then, one day, I woke up and dreaded going to class.
The next thing I knew, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I confined myself to my room for most of the day. Over the next couple months, it got much worse. I dreaded everything, including trivial hygiene like getting dressed and brushing my teeth.
It was as if a thick, dark fog had settled in my mind and no matter what happened, I couldn’t snap out of the funk.
It wasn’t a memorable event like 9/11. Instead, my depression started out much like a catching a cold, with symptoms, with that popped up over time and grew in severity. However, one thing I do remember very clearly was the phone conversation I had with my dad on one morning as I crouched behind a bar in my room in my fraternity.
For no apparent reason at all, I felt incredibly sad all the time. I explained to him how I could barely get out of bed in the morning and was skipping most of my classes.
“Dad, I think I’m going to have to drop out of school,” I said. “There’s no way I can pass any of these courses when I can’t concentrate on anything.”
On the other end of the line there was a long pause….
After what seemed like an eternity, my dad finally said, “Don’t worry, son, we’ll figure this out.”
Even though I lived in a house with 75 close friends, I never felt so alone in my entire life. I considered telling my roommates, but decided against it when I thought about what I would say if one of my Brothers told me that he was “sad” all the time.
After feeling this way for a few weeks and trying to tough it out, I came to the conclusion that something was seriously wrong -- this wasn’t just a phase anymore. I mustered up the courage and scheduled an appointment with a university doctor. As I sat in the waiting room, I felt embarrassed and imagined the doctor rolling his eyes and telling me to "suck it up."
To my surprise, that wasn’t the case, not at all. As I rattled off what I was feeling, it didn’t take long before she said it sounded like I was suffering from clinical depression.
Depression? Me? How is this even possible? I wondered. This was the spring of 1993.
Depression isn’t like other ailments
Unlike most chronic diseases, where a simple blood test or MRI scan can reveal if there is a problem, diagnosing depression is very subjective.
You can’t put it under a microscope. It can’t be seen on an x-ray. People don’t set up Caringbridge pages for severe depression, and I’d wager you’ve never posted on Facebook in solidarity of someone claiming to be experiencing panic attacks.
With depression, the vast majority struggles silently. They don’t tell their friends, they don’t tell their family, and they sure as hell don’t tell their coworkers that they are sad, stressed, and it keeps them awake at night.
Instead, depression wants us to struggle alone. We condition ourselves to think it’s less desirable to be perceived as weak, or worse, unstable, than trying to figure it out on our own and failing miserably.
Fortunately, it appears that some workplaces are starting to wise up, though I believe it’s going to take more than virtual reality headsets and tiresome mandatory video trainings to solve this epidemic.
In 2017 study conducted by Mental Health America, more than 17,000 U.S. employees were surveyed across 19 industries by Mental Health America regarding their job satisfaction and how they felt about work:
- 70 percent stated that they were thinking about and/or actively looking for a new job,
- 63 percent reported increased mental health and behavioral problems,
- 36 percent of respondents felt that they could rely on supervisor support.
This type of research is leading to helpful strategies for helping address mental health issues in companies around the world. So as a working nation, we’re slowing moving in the right direction.
If you work in a large corporation with a progressive HR department, be grateful. Chances are good that there’s helpful resources for employees (and even their families) suffering with anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
The same isn’t true for entrepreneurs, however. When you run a small business, and you’re suffering from depression, you feel like you’re on a deserted island.
You’re too busy juggling the finding new customers, managing a team, balancing the books and delivering top-notch product or services to work through your overwhelming sadness and despair.
I know from experience, clinical depression is rough... like rubbing up on lava rock rough.
Clinical depression is rough... like rubbing up on lava rock rough.
We expect to passionately attack each day to get our small businesses up and running. We try to convince ourselves we understand it will be frustrating, require long hours, and consist of setbacks, and we’re up for the challenge.
But when it’s like that day after day, month after month, year after year, it’s easy to see how it can be hard to get out of bed in the morning.
How I overcome my depression
If you’re one of the two-in-three entrepreneurs that struggle with mental health issues, here’s some good news. I’m now going to blow your mind with the most revolutionary psychosomatic techniques your going to drop to the floor in gratitude to and be cured forever, and ever!
Just kidding. I mean, while that’s not out of the realm of possibility, the five strategies I list below are not new. They’re not patented or complex. But they work for me. Many other people say they do too, and when you basically have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, why not give them a go?
Seek Opportunities to Share Your Story
Depression thrives in isolation. Even in a full room of your closest friends, depression can make you feel like you are all alone, and that you can only resolve your issue on your own.
However, just one empathetic ear can make a world of difference. They may not have any brilliant advice, but they can validate your experiences and shoulder some of your burden.
Though they may not have had an idea of what was going on, there were a handful of individuals that cared enough about me to listen. Their support helped me through some dark times.
Exercise helps relieve depression in both the short and the long term . It does this by releasing endorphins (the body’s feel good hormones) and causing your nerve cells to grow which improves the way your brain functions. In fact, some believe exercise can be just as effective as medication.
Early in my struggle with depression, my psychologist made certain that I exercised as much as I possibly could. Now, every time I workout and exercise, I feel better (physically, mentally, and emotionally) for at least couple of hours and it helps me to get to sleep quicker and sleep more soundly.
I’m not suggesting you need to run a marathon to alleviate your depression, but there are tons and tons of moderate exercise routines that can make a big difference in the way you feel.
Live in the Moment
On of the worst aspects of clinical depression is when we are in the middle of an episode, we obsess that the feeling will last forever.
I remember asking myself, “What if I feel like this next week during the big presentation? What if I still feel this way come winter? What if this is the new normal?” Allowing our minds to drift further and further into the future like this is what can lead people with clinical depression to consider suicide.
For people with clinical depression, I recommend you live in 1 hour (or 1 day at most) increments. It’s important to recognize that we have almost no control over how we will feel tomorrow, next week, and on. We can only focus on our behavior in this moment because tomorrow has absolutely no trouble taking care of itself.
There’s a big difference between feeling sad and being clinically depressed. It’s similar to the difference between a spring rainstorm and a Level 5 Hurricane.
Clinical depression is a debilitating disease - no different from diabetes or cancer. And just like these ailments, it’s most effectively treated by a medical professional. If you have any of the symptoms of depression, I recommend that you get some professional help.
You can start with your family doctor, but eventually, you should see a specialist who focuses exclusively on mental health issues.
I’ve been accused of being a little bit of a control freak. I deserve this. Whenever I run into a challenge, no matter how small, I buy 3 books on the topic, watch videos, listen to podcasts and layout a project plan to fix the issue.
For the first 20 years since my diagnosis, I read every book, have tried every tactic, tried every diet, all in an effort to eliminate depression from my life. I assumed that lots of effort will eventually deliver the desired results.
This works in most areas of life. If you want to lose weight, get to the gym and watch your diet. Interested in hitting your sales numbers - make more calls!
About 5 years ago, however, I learned there is a law of diminishing returns. At some point all of the effort to feel “better” stops delivering any value at all.
After reading yet another several books from author Cheri Huber, I came to the realization that I have to let go and recognize that I’ve done everything I possibly can. Constantly wrestling with emotions in a never ending battle to “push” depression out of your brain doesn’t work.
For me, understanding that I will always be sparring depression helps me be more aware of when it rears its head. At times, I’ll be too tired and worn down, and I’ll lose the bout, and that is okay. Instead of striving for a perfect record, I simply strive to improve it over my lifetime.
Clinical depression is a part of my story, but I don’t let it define me. I’m a father, a husband, a friend, a brother and one of the 2-in-3 entrepreneurs with an ailment that makes life challenging at times.
Whereas the majority of people dealing with depression keep it to themselves, I’ve spent decades seeking to understand mine. Not only has it helped me work through my depression, it’s made me a better husband, a better father, a better friend, and a better businessman.
I have hundreds of hours of therapy, and have had thousands of conversations on the subject. This means that I am possibly further along in my journey than you, and that’s okay. You will get there too if you work at it as I’ve suggested above.
In the end, every single one of us are flawed; no photo on Instagram or Facebook post can change this. If you apply the strategies I’ve outlined, you will start to learn more about the forms your specific type of depression takes and how to handle it.
Was this article helpful? Show you support and SUBSCRIBE now to get more content like this every Friday.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a certified or licensed mental health professional or therapist. None of the information I’ve provided should be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may be experiencing signs of depression or something else, you should seek out professional medical advice.