Tech entrepreneur opens up about depression
“You’re not depressed! Just go outside, do some sports, hang out with your friends.”
This is an all-too-common response by those who have never experienced the truly crippling effects of depression – one of the most common illnesses affecting the mental health of some 264 million people worldwide.
Here’s a confession. I used to be one of those people who dismissed the devastating realities of depression. “I’m too strong-minded,” I used to think. “Depression is for weak people.”
Well, karma smacked that arrogant notion right out of me years later.
It was in October 2016. I was on top of the world. I’d just gotten back from my honeymoon, which my new wife and I spent exploring New York and Miami. After years of entrepreneurial hell, my business finally started to take off. My dreams were coming true and I felt invincible.
However, just like an Instagram post that depicts life through a carefully selected filter, my life was not perfect. There was one thing missing. It had been a year since my wife and I started trying for a baby. If you’ve ever gone through it, you know just how frustrating this experience can become.
That’s when my ‘strong-mindedness’ started cracking. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it’s so clear in retrospect. I even remember the very moment it happened.
I was sitting in my hotel room when I noticed a small lump on my neck. Before I knew it, I became obsessed. I was prodding it, poking it, inspecting it closely in a mirror. It was bugging me, but I wasn’t yet aware of the obsessive nature of my behaviour.
After all, I’ve always been an anxious person. The tendency to overthink is what guided me in business and helped me make smart, calculated decisions. I’m an ‘overthinker’. That’s just who I am.
What I didn’t realise at the time is that this was the first time in my life when these overthinking tendencies switched gears toward a destructive pattern. Lacking that awareness I continued my life as usual. Work, home, friends, family. The lump on my neck was still there, but I wasn’t overly concerned.
Then it hit me. I woke up one morning with a terrible pain in one of my testicles. It was swollen, which only exaggerated my fear. “What if it’s cancer? What if I can’t have kids? What if I die? What if the lump on my neck is cancer and it has now spread!”
To say that I was freaking out is an understatement. And then I did the one thing you should never do. I Googled my symptoms. (Seriously, never do that! No matter how small your symptom is, you will always end up diagnosing yourself with cancer.)
Because of the circumstances outside of my control, I had to wait for four weeks to get a scan. Long story short, it all came back clear. Thankfully! But the damage had been done. The four weeks of paralysing fear and anxiety propelled me into the dark world of depression.
It started with physical manifestations of anxiety – tingling hands, muscle tension, headaches, heart palpitations, etc. This was uncharted territory for me. How could a mental illness have so many physical manifestations?
While still convinced that I was dying, I had to keep living my normal life. I had family responsibilities, bills to pay, business partners who depended on me, and my wife and I were still trying for a baby. I kept dismissing my symptoms. I didn’t confide in anyone. It was my secret and I was determined to ignore it until it went away on its own.
Surprise, surprise! That didn’t happen. I started getting detached from my everyday life. I would nod my head as people were talking to me, but I wasn’t really processing any information. I sat in meetings, at a restaurant with my wife, or listening to a podcast in my car, but all I could think about was that I was dying.
Eventually one of my business partners said to me: “You’ve got health anxiety.” Turns out he’d been through it himself and he urged me to seek help. It took me a full year to actually take his advice and another year to get back to feeling like myself again. In the course of my treatment, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, which developed into depression.
I can honestly admit that those two years were the hardest thing I’ve ever been through (and, hopefully, ever will). It required a lot of work, patience, and commitment, both from me and my loved ones.
However, something beautiful and life-changing came out of it and, in retrospect, I am happy to have been through it. I became more self-aware. I have a stronger grasp of my strengths and weaknesses. I know when to slow down. I handle stress in a healthier way. I am a better husband, friend, and business partner. I’m also now a proud father. I understand the value of listening to what your body and mind are trying to tell you. The old me didn’t.
I’m also no longer quick to pass judgments on others. My own experience of keeping my mental condition a secret has taught me that you never know what another person is going through. Sure, someone may appear ignorant, but what if they are actually experiencing a panic attack?
Depression is a serious illness that should not be underestimated. I can’t stress that enough. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I promise. And my message to those battling depression is that there is a silver lining once you come out on the other side, you’ll be a better version of yourself.
You’ll be in tune with your emotions, more empathetic, and more aware of your surroundings. You will learn to appreciate things you used to take for granted. You will re-evaluate your priorities and live a fuller happier life.
And, most importantly, do not try to be a hero and battle it on your own. Do not be ashamed to admit your condition. Seeking help doesn’t make you a weak person. I now know that.