A little less than a suicide
If I could physically will myself to death, I would have done it by now. Like a thousand times over.
Last night I attended a start-up war stories event where investors and founders shared some deeply personal details from their own entrepreneurial journeys. And, for the second time in a week, I heard some very frank and refreshing discussion about the mental health issues which are undeniably present in the entrepreneurial community.
When I was studying, there was a fair bit of emphasis put on the importance of managing health and balance while launching a new business. But the way it was framed was kind of like: “Eat a vegetable. Go outside sometimes. If you’re insane enough to undertake this with a spouse waiting at home, try to occasionally acknowledge that they still exist.”
All good advice.
But where was the discussion about the anxiety and isolation that inevitably come with launching a business? After all, only a special kind of crazy person does this, right? Unless, I guess, they are well-subsidised, and money and security and risk are kind of irrelevant to them… The rest of us, well, the rest of us are out here fighting the good fight. Pouring every available penny (and then some…) and every available hour and all of our strength and courage and resilience into our hopes for a better kind of life. And, in Anteater’s case, maybe a better kind of world.
Suicide seems quite the hot topic at the moment.
Whether it’s this news cycle’s absurd knee-jerk social media outrage about 13 Reasons Why, or the utterly heartbreaking loss of Chris Cornell (I may have turned into an idealist entrepreneur as of late but I will always, always at the deep, dark heart of me be a musician and a kindred spirit to all musicians), there is no mistaking that people are talking about it.
Depression breeds dangerously quickly alone in the dark while we are all so god damned busy distracting ourselves with frivolous things and actively not talking about it.
In the Q&A for last night’s session, I pushed the issue somewhat uncomfortably. “It’s great to have entrepreneurs openly acknowledging their own personal experiences with mental health. What support is in place to help with these issues?” And the answers came as they were always going to. “The community is so supportive. Just reach out to someone. Anyone. And don’t push yourself to breaking point. If you or someone you know is in crisis, here’s a number you can call.” All of which I understand. All of which is very well-meaning. But most of which puts the onus on the person in trouble to help themselves.
What if they can’t? And what about people outside the ecosystem? What about the solo-preneurs who are developing apps in the middle of the night or building product prototypes in their garage? How do we stop them from reaching breaking point?
Suicide is like cancer. We all have some relationship with it. We all know someone or know someone who knows someone. We have all brushed up uncomfortably against it somewhere along the line. For me, it has appeared in many guises.
It was my college boyfriend who I couldn’t figure out how to keep alive except to tell him that if he killed himself, I would kill myself too.
It was visiting flatmates and friends in grey dressing gowns under fluorescent lighting in mental health wards of hospitals after they made very sincere efforts to end their lives and failed and, sometimes, later tried again.
It was the unparalleled musician and unlikely friend for whom this post is titled who sadly succeeded in ending his life; whose handwriting still lives in frames on my walls and whose influence continues to permeate every creative facet of my life, many years after his loss.
But the acute pains of youth seem to have mostly subsided now. And I find myself more often surrounded by those who are very-very-not-ok-but-not-explicitly-in-the-midst-of-a-defined-crisis.
And sometimes I am one of them.
I feel fucking obligated to get out of bed tomorrow. And so I do. As such, I have thus far always been able to pull myself back from my breaking points. But I do know with absolute certainty that I have experienced the fullest possible extent of human sadness, loneliness and isolation. And I know that if I could simply have willed myself to death in those moments, I would have done it a thousand times over. And I know that I am not alone in feeling that way.
So what do we do with those people?
I don’t think anyone I know is in immediate danger of ending their life. But many are still in danger. Whether they are drawing into isolation and shutting down. Or self-medicating. Or self-harming in one of a thousand active or passive ways. What can I do to help them?
When I pushed further, I found that globally there are initiatives being put in place to help. I was pleased to learn of The Founder Wellness Pact which works with founders in accelerator programmes to “provide an environment that allows them to thrive as humans and entrepreneurs” by putting founder wellness at the forefront of each meeting and educating members to recognise signs of depression.
This is an excellent start.
But what can I do locally? How can I help the real people in my life? I find myself wrestling with this today. I don’t know the answer yet. But I know it starts with talking about it.
And I am reminded, again, how lucky I am in so very many ways.
Because I feel strong enough to talk about it.
Because I am ok today.
And because I’m pretty sure I have people around me who will notice when I’m not.