From Depression to Startup – Part 1

Part 1: Starting Up After Being Down

I have spent my last few months working on a startup. Specifically, I’m planning on launching an online store that will sell stylish, high-quality dress socks. On many occasions, I have been asked “What made you decide to start this type of business?” Depending on who is asking, I could give one of two canned answers. I could either say that I am really into fashion, or alternatively, that I think this type of business shows a lot of financial potential. But those answers would gloss over what is undoubtedly a more important reason: that I’m starting this business to help rebuild my life after suffering from a lengthy years-long bout of depression.

The last time I held down a steady job was over six years ago and I was 30 at the time. At that time, I was working at a demanding corporate finance job, and it was increasingly obvious that my mind had become more of a liability than an asset. I had battled depression for most of my adult life, and it was a fight that got tougher as I got older. Life slowly had lost the zest and excitement of youth, and felt more and more like a purposeless grind.

My mind would race so much at nights that I slept very little. When my alarm clock would sound in the morning, I would wake completely exhausted and consumed with anxiety. I would lie in bed as long as possible, hoping that my crippling fear would somehow dissipate with a few extra moments underneath my blanket. Instead, I would rise out of bed in an even greater state of panic. I would often show up to work late, and while I was at work, my mind would be too scattered to keep myself focused on my tasks. Things that would normally be easy to do felt difficult, and difficult things felt impossible. Eventually, I became too hopeless, too tired, and too broken down to show up for work. So I quit my job.

I thought I would take some time away from work in order to right myself. But weeks became months, and months became years. In that time, things managed to get even worse. Not having a job left my mind readily available to indulge in my swirling negative thoughts of emptiness and despair. My life felt pointless in the moment, and worse yet, it seemed equally pointless if I were to extrapolate how my life might be even if I got better. I was completely unenthused by the prospect of reclaiming my spot on the corporate ladder, soullessly climbing it until I became old and grey. There had to be more to life than this. And in search of what that was, I spent day after day lying in bed, trying to figure out the very reason to get out of bed.

After years of searching, I never found that reason. But I got out of bed nonetheless. Even though I couldn’t find some profound, earth-shattering purpose for my life, that didn’t mean I couldn’t at least enjoy my life doing fun things and spending time with people that I cared about.

Recovery from depression has been slow, and has been characterized by a mix of healthy progress and difficult setbacks. I feel fortunate to have benefited from medication, therapy and a great support network of family, friends and my dog Freddie. But even with these great resources, I still have moments when I feel empty and anxious, when I would prefer to stay in rather than trying to face the day. Working on this startup has given me something enjoyable to focus my efforts on, and has helped me to stay present in the world around me. More importantly, it has helped me to avoid being stuck in my own head. For me, this startup isn’t just an exciting project or my livelihood, it is an integral part of my recovery.

So here I am, now at the age of 36, trying to climb out of a six year hole in my life where the prime years should have been. However, I can’t dwell on the lost years of my past. All I can do is look ahead and move forward, one foot at a time. Or perhaps more fittingly, one sock at a time.

In the months to come, I hope to share with you my story of both starting up my business and my continued recovery from depression. I’m starting up this business on my own, and I’ve heard that being a solopreneur can often be an incredibly lonely experience. Being able to share this experience with you certainly makes me feel less alone.

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