Last week I wrote a post about how VC is more EQ than IQ and that I spend a fair bit of my time managing people and evaluating my own reactions and decisions to make sure I am being fair, considered, objective.
That same day a colleague opened a breakfast conversation by saying “there were two things I wanted to talk about…the first is, are you OK? You have looked quite unwell and I think, unhappy all year. And its not just me who thinks that”.
That was a punch to the guts.
Strip everything else away and I’m just a woman with the same vanities as everyone else. I am ashamed to say that comment made me go back through all my instagram photos this year to gauge whether in fact I did look unwell or not. Ok maybe I’m more vain than the average girl. (Verdict: If I had more time (ok, scratch that, if I made it a higher priority) I probably could look better, but for a 40+ year old woman, I reckon i look OK).
Then I thought about the unhappy part of the comment. Am I unhappy? I thought about this part the most….both in a true sense (am I unhappy) and in a perceived sense (have I portrayed unhappiness or is he reading impatience, frustration or intolerance as unhappiness). The truth is, I have never been happy. Ever. Try as I might to think of a time where I could genuinely say I have been happy, I cannot. I can think of times where good things have happened but I never really allow myself to enjoy those moments because well, there are so many other things to worry about or do at the time and there is not time to rest on laurels, I should just get on with worrying about or doing those things…. (sound familiar to any of you?)
What even is happiness? Is it joy? Is it contentedness? I have certainly had the former but its always fleeting. If its the latter, I have genuinely never felt this. Those who follow me on twitter know I have (and will forever) carry the monkey of anxiety on my back my whole life. When I was five, my parents had to come to my school and advise all the teachers to spank me or punish me if they caught me biting the skin off all my fingers (which I used to do until my fingers bled and I couldn’t use them. I still do that btw, so this is a case in point that spanking doesn’t work). During my early adolescent years, I refused to sleep at night because I was so utterly, categorically scared of the dark (this actually extended into my adult years which transformed into a mortal fear of being kidnapped, raped or murdered by an intruder). When my parents would very occasionally go out without my sister and I, I would sit at the back window for 4 hours until I saw the headlights of their car pull up to the garage because I was convinced, CONVINCED! they would die in a car accident. Now , middle aged, it manifests as and has been diagnosed as generalised anxiety disorder, which is most of the time manageable, but sometimes yields panic attacks which I’ve had quite a few over the last year. Anxiety is the bette noir of contentedness. I have genuinely never felt content.
Now with all things like this, it can be a double edged sword. As I mentioned at a panel session I was invited to a couple weeks ago, that I believe my anxiety disorder has helped me in my work — it drives me to be ridiculously prepared for everything, I’m never late, my anxiety trained belief that I can (and should) control more than I need to (or can) means that I’m more productive than most (and attempt more than most). Some with anxiety would disagree with this manifestation, for some, anxiety roots them impotent to do anything. In my case, anxiety has the opposite effect. When I sat at the window as an 8 year old willing my parents home because I was mortally fearful they wouldn’t return, I developed a belief that me sitting at the window was responsible for them returning safely. Which is of course bullshit. Nonetheless, over the years the personal antidote to the things that make me anxious is to take control wherever possible. And control is the crux of anxiety for me. It should be no surprise that I was a perfect candidate for an eating disorder as a teenager, which is exactly what happened. Now, it’s almost a joke amongst my partners at work about my tendency to catastrophise (see fear of parents dying and being raped and murdered above) but its useful because it gives them an early read on small problems that can turn into big problems if not addressed. The lack of contentedness from my anxiety, translates to never happy with the status quo, which drives me to always do more, be more.
I am, I confess, quite mentally unfit. And right now, if the pristine physical manifestation of my brain could be Serena Williams, right now it looks more like Oprah. But both of these women are still fierce, so whatevs.
So, what does this all mean? Well, yep, I probably wouldn’t consider myself happy. But no less than I’ve ever been. My mood probably oscillates up and down a few degrees from the median every now and then. Right now I’m in a dip, because there is so much going on, so much outside of my control, and I’m in a state of overwhelm. Overwhelm and lack of control is gasoline to my mental illness fire. This is transient though and I am old enough to know that now.
What I will do, which I have learned from Brad Feld both from written word and in person, to work on my mental fitness is take a sabattical or a hiatus. This was meant to happen today — I was supposed to be on a jetplane this very minute bound for a silent retreat in Peru where I would be completely off grid. This got cancelled at the last minute for reasons outside my control. C’est la vie. But, it will happen. It has to happen.
So, to those who have been or are concerned. I’m fine. I could be more well, I could be more happy. But so could you.