Tackling Depression as an Entrepreneur

Apr 21, 2022

I've suffered from anxiety and depression for most of my life. I had finally managed to really get my depression under control for the first time in my life...and then I started my business. Just like that, I felt like I was back where I started: struggling to get out of bed in the morning, not getting any work done, and spending my days with a deep sense of hopelessness.

Turns out, I'm not the only one. In fact, a 2015 study by Dr. Michael Freeman at University of California San Fransisco found that one in three entrepreneurs suffers from depression.

In this episode, I talk about how entrepreneurs can begin to tackle their own depression, including leveraging a combination of therapy, energy management, journaling and reflecting, and communicating with industry peers.

I am not, nor do I pretend to be, a medical professional. None of the tactics I share in this episode are intended to be substitutions for psychotherapy or psychiatric treatment. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

In today's episode, I want to talk about entrepreneurship and depression because, oftentimes, the two can go hand in hand. In fact, there have been studies shown that entrepreneurs are, in fact, suffering from depression at higher rates. We can speculate all day long as to why that is, and some of their students’ studies do, in fact, give some reasons why that is the case, but in today's episode, I want to talk a little bit about my own journey with depression as an entrepreneur, and what I have done, and what I am still doing, to continue overcoming it. 

I have suffered from depression for at least 12 years, and in all honesty, probably longer. I was in this place right before I started my business where I had finally, for one of the first times in my life, gotten my depression under control. I was on a combination of medications that was really working for me, and things were going well. Then, I started my business, and just like that, everything came right back up. It was the same place that I was at before. I was suddenly feeling really depressed and unmotivated, and this thing that I thought I had solved or fixed…it turned out that starting my own business took that all away. 

That was several years ago now. I am overall in a much better place, but I am still prone to significant depressive episodes that are still happening, no matter what combination of medicine I'm on, or what I'm doing otherwise. They're still a part of my life, and what I have done in the past to work on my depression has been really simple. It's been a combination of therapy, medication, and coping mechanisms, such as exercise, eating healthy, things that I know that when I do them, I feel a lot better. And these are generally the things that anyone should do if they are struggling with depression. 

But as an entrepreneur, I have this set of three other tools that I keep in my tool belt that I am able to use to work through my depression as it relates to my business, and specifically as it relates to my identity as an entrepreneur. I'm going to share those with you today in the hope that if you find yourself in similar situations, that you might benefit from some of these things as well. Of course, before I go into them, it is important to note that none of what I'm about to share with you is a substitute for therapy, for medication, for working with a licensed medical professional through your mental health crises. What I have found, though, is that these tools that I'm going to talk about do, in fact, complement therapy and possibly medication. 

When we have depression, when people have depression in general, one of the big, big symptoms is that there's no focus or no energy, and what focus or energy there is there's very little of it. That is one of the hallmark symptoms of depression, and it can be really crippling and debilitating. What that means then is that what energy and focus you do have needs to be treated like absolute pure gold. It is priceless. It's really important what you do with that focus and energy. When I have been struggling with depression, when I have had tiny, tiny amounts of focus and energy, I have used that energy to create more energy. 

Let me tell you what I mean by that: There are certain things in my life, specifically in my business, that I know are life-giving to me, and there are other things that I know are life-draining for me. For example, things that are life-giving to me are working with clients, creating content, writing, recording podcasts, anything like that that is really creative or that lets me work directly with the clients that I'm here to serve. Those things are really life-giving to me. On the other hand, things that are really life-draining to me are things like updating my QuickBooks (my bookkeeping), taking care of administrative stuff, doing marketing and sales stuff for my own business. Those are things that generally tend to drain me more than they give me life. 

This is important, because what you can do if you have tiny, tiny amounts of energy and focus, if you spend that on things that you know are life-giving to you, there's this snowball effect of sorts, and it gives you more energy and focus. Sometimes, it won't give you more energy and focus, but even then, using what little you have on things that are life-giving is going to do a whole lot more for you, and for bringing you out of your depression spell or episode, than doing things that you find life-draining. 

For example, I have been going through a depressive episode over the past few weeks. I was lying in bed the other morning, and I was just thinking, Oh, God, I can't. I can't do any work today. I was really struggling to force myself to get out of bed, so I made a deal with myself. I said, “Okay, Jacob, you know that recording podcast episodes is life-giving to you, so go record one 10-minute episode. Then, check in with yourself after that. See how you feel. If you want to call it quits for the day, go ahead and do that, just call it quits for the day. That's fine.” What I found after I did that, after I got up and recorded that podcast episode, was that I had created more energy by doing something that I knew was going to give me life. 

The second thing that I do when I'm really trying to pull myself out of a depressive episode is spend a lot of time writing and journaling and reflecting. Now, this is somewhat similar for me, in that it is one of those things that I know does give me life, but that's not the only reason I do it. The reason I do it is that when I am depressed, I'm really caught up in my head, in these vicious-thinking cycles of thought that are doing more harm than good, and writing and journaling is what helps helps me get it out of my head, get it onto paper, and start to work through it. 

For me at this point, I just sit down with my journal and my favorite fountain pen, and I'm off to the races. But if you don't know where to start with that, if you're struggling with, like, what do I write about? I don't want to write. I really recommend looking at Julia Cameron's very, very famous book, The Artist’s Way, specifically looking at her piece on the morning pages and her philosophy around that. That is what really got me started with daily journaling and daily reflecting, and she has a lot of prompts, and it goes into more depth about creativity as a whole, which I also highly recommend. It is a truly amazing book, but if you do nothing else, just look at the section on the morning pages and try that because, for me, that has been really, really massive in getting out of my own head. 

The third thing I do is talk about it. Talk about it with your therapists, yeah, of course, but talk about it beyond that. For me, that looks a lot like talking with industry peers and mentors, whose opinions I value and whose role is not to fix it or to say the right thing, but just to talk it out to them and share it with them. Actually, a couple weeks ago, when I was really at the height of this depressive episode, I posted on Facebook. I said, “Look, ya'll, I'm really struggling. Here's where I am, and here's what I'm trying to do to get out of it.” 

I really struggled with posting that because it was on a page where I am showing up as an entrepreneur, as a coach, but I did it anyway because I knew that I needed to talk about it, not just with this private select group of people, but that it was a conversation that really stretched beyond that. And I got such a great response on that post. I got people who were sending me prayers and good vibes and healing thoughts. I got people who were sometimes offering advice. Really, the big thing that I got was a lot of other people who were saying, “Yeah, me too. I'm really in that space right now, too.” One of my good friends, a client of mine, actually commented. She said, “Dude, we're in the same boat today.” 

Having that solidarity was really important for me, and it showed me that I'm not the only one. I know, cognitively, that I'm not the only one suffering, but when you actually talk about it and hear from people you know and love, who are saying similar things, that's when the solidarity really comes into play. I highly recommend, yes, talking with your therapist, of course, but don't just keep it to that select group of people. Talk about it with people that you might not otherwise mention it to, because you might be surprised at their reactions and what support they may, in fact, end up being able to offer you. 

Thank you so, so much for joining me for today's episode of the Client Attractor Show. I'm your host, Jacob Ratliff, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow for our next episode.

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